Is MLB’s Non-Waiver Trade Deadline Too Early?

in sports •  6 months ago

When people ask me what my favorite sports are, I usually answer “Basketball, baseball, world football, and American football” in no particular order. When it comes to American football, I don’t watch much of the NFL pro league, but I really enjoy the college game. To that list, I should add one other sport also, which is “the business of baseball.”

When it comes to the business of sports, there’s nothing so entertaining to me as Major League Baseball in North America with its huge quantity of trades, free agent signings, and roster management decisions. Following the endless machinations of the teams’ front offices is like an entire off-field league.

Sure, fans in other sports can get excited about their favorite team signing or drafting an important player. The NBA, particularly, is getting very exciting in the offseason as basketball stars change teams. But even in basketball, it’s still a handful of interesting names moving around. There is no sport quite like baseball for the sheer number of additions, subtractions, and opportunities to tweak each team’s roster.

Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros.

The business of baseball

Transactions occur year-round, but there are some key points to watch on the calendar for fans of ‘the business of baseball’. One is the winter offseason, when many contracts expire, setting off “Hot Stove” frenzy among hardcore fans. They watch as their favorite teams vie to sign or trade for the best talent and complementary pieces, keeping roster costs within their budgets. In the past, most major free agent signings and trades were completed before Christmas, but more recently teams have been signing players later, right up until their spring training camps start in February.

The second most interesting time of the year for the “business of baseball” fans comes at the end of July. This is called the non-waiver trade deadline and it arrives just past the midpoint in the MLB season. Since the season begins in late March/early April, teams have been playing for nearly four months straight by July 31. By then, the teams should know how good their players are and how good the team’s chances look for finishing well and making it into the post-season playoffs.

Yankee Stadium, home of the New York Yankees. Public Domain.

After July 31, it is possible to add players via trades with other teams, but only if those players pass through waivers, a process under which other teams sometimes can claim them and foil the trade. So any non-waiver trades must be completed by the end of July. And that makes July 31 a special date on the calendar because fans are almost guaranteed to see some players change teams in the days and weeks leading up to it. July 31 blockbuster “deadline day deals” also occur in most years.

Teams that are doing well become “buyers” at the July 31 trade deadline, often negotiating to add useful players from other teams that meet particular needs (e.g., a second-baseman or a left-handed relief pitcher). Teams that are underperforming may become “sellers”, trading away good players to contending teams. In return, the underperformers are able to dump salary and/or to add younger prospects to help re-stock their systems affordably for future years.

Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. Public Domain.

The classic rebuild

The classic “seller” technique is a full-scale rebuild. If you look at the Houston Astros, for example, the team’s ownership and fan base put up with tough times. For several years, Houston was in the cellar in the standings. It kept a small payroll, had few notable players, and traded away assets for prospects and affordable long term pieces. Its poor finishes also put the Astros in prime position for amateur player drafts, where Houston had some top picks and selected some of the top young players in the nation to add to their system.

Fast forward: In 2017, the Houston Astros won a championship. And they did so with a very talented young team. In other words, the team has financial control over most of these players for the next several years. Houston may win more than one championship over the next few years, and certainly will compete for them every year. How did the team assemble such a talented, affordable group of players? By tanking, accepting last place finishes and poor play as it reloaded for this future, multi-year run for the glory. The Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves put up with some lean years, drafted and traded well, and also are emerging from rebuilds with some very young, talented teams.

Guaranteed Rate Field, formerly known as U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox. Public Domain.


Some teams have trouble entering that full-scale rebuild. Three examples are the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, and Texas Rangers. The Orioles have been flailing around for years, often average in quality but never really challenging the division’s top teams, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The bigger market teams consistently outspend and outperform the O’s. The Orioles have suffered under some of MLB’s worst ownership in Peter Angelos, who has been willing to spend money on occasional splashy free agents, but who consistently vetoed and blocked trades that would have made the team much better over a multi-year period, though they finally were smart enough to trade off a few assets this year for prospects. The White Sox and Rangers, also, have been hesitant in the past to leverage the team’s best talent into future prospects and building pieces.

AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Public Domain.

What about two teams that could have done more, but essentially stood pat?

The Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants both faced “Come to Jesus” moments this July 31. Their stories could not be more different over the last 10 years or so. Washington has entered more than one of those seasons (and even the post-season playoffs) as favorites to win a championship with an extremely deep and talented roster. Yet not only do the Nats not have any World Championship trophies; they’ve even had trouble getting very far in the playoffs. In past years, we’ve seen player fights in the dugout towards the end of their season. There have been rumors of discord in the management ranks. And the front office has hired multiple managers, but reportedly not given any of them the benefit of the doubt as far as trust.

For the San Francisco Giants, the trophy case looks better: the team has won three titles in the last decade. Thanks to good pitching, defense, smart management, and timely hitting, the team has bumbled its way into the playoffs several times and beaten teams (including Washington) that were probably more talented on paper. But that reign came to an end just as the newest live ball era launched with teams beginning to hit many more home runs. The Giants’ roster was not built for that, its pitchers are aging, its minor league system is low on replacement talent, and it now faces several years of bad contracts for older players who can no longer contribute the way they once did.

July 31 works as a trade deadline because the numbers show that a team which is underwater at that point has little-to-no chance of making the playoffs. If there is little such chance, then why pay for salaries that can be shed? Why not trade players who are in demand in order to re-stock for future years? Nothing to lose, right?

Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals. Public Domain.

In early July, it was clear that both the Nationals and Giants would need to play better if they would have any chance of being trade deadline “buyers”. Other marginal teams rose to this occasion, such as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Oakland Athletics, both of which went on torrid winning streaks to dominate those key two-week stretches of baseball to the point where both have a healthy chance of making it to the postseason.

If they would not be buyers, should they be sellers? Both the Nationals and Giants ended up around a middling .500 record when July 31 came this year. By most accounts, they would need to be several games better in the standings to have any real chance. But at .500, there is still a small chance. There are several modern instances of teams being 5-8 games back in July and going on runs to win their divisions.

Teams that aren’t ready to sell

Unless Washington retains its top star, Bryce Harper (who is a free agent after his contract expires at the end of this season), then this year may be the end of its window with the current roster. Based on what I’ve read about Washington’s mismanagement, I think he’d be crazy to sign again there, but he’ll probably go to whichever team offers him the most. Point is: Washington’s front office will probably have a lesser team next year. They almost have to go for it this year, don’t they? Or they could throw in the towel and build for a future which probably won’t include the front office regime, which might be kicked out before such a rebuild bears fruit.

PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Public Domain.

With San Francisco, the Giants are a team that fills the stadium for almost every game. It’s near downtown and going to a baseball game right on the water of San Francisco Bay is a fun, pleasant experience for many people. It’s fair to say that S.F. may not need a high performing team to make money on tickets and concessions. But would a bad team still draw fans?

The Giants may be one team that can afford to stay around the middle of the pack, let expiring contracts expire, and hopefully add just enough pieces that they can remain competitive most years. The team has some really bad contracts, though, and without going over the luxury tax threshold next year to bring in some younger talent, it will be hard for the current team to maintain respectability for the next couple of years. To make matters worse, the team’s minor league system is devoid of high level talent because this team has not drafted well under the current regime. So any real help must come from the outside.

So perhaps both Washington and San Francisco have little alternative but to put on a brave face and pretend the teams have a chance. If they go on winning streaks within the next month, they still can add players for a postseason run if they clear waivers.

I still would argue that both of these teams missed a prime opportunity to trade talented, in demand players or expiring contracts that could have helped other teams at this juncture. Brandon Belt or Will Smith should be in great demand from the Giants, just as Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson should be from the Nats (to use just two examples per team). Think of the talented prospects that either GM could have leveraged out of those deals. And yet, they stood pat at the deadline, even in hte face of a seller's market for relief pitchers.

Compare their lack of return to the deal that the Yankees got two years ago when they traded relief pitcher Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians. That trade netted them Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield, two of the games most talented and elite prospects.

Miller Deal.png
Screenshot from

I think both the Nationals and Giants are in denial and that they made mistakes in not taking the opportunity to improve themselves for the future. It doesn’t need to be a full teardown; some other teams have gotten really good at adding key players who can contribute within a year or two, meaning that they do not have to suffer through a 5-year rebuild.

And yet, I can respect that the deadline may have come just a few weeks too early for each team to throw in the towel on its chances for this year.

Does that mean the trade deadline is too early? What if it were moved forward by 3-4 weeks, well into August? That would create some better certainty as far as each team’s chances of making the postseason playoffs. And it would more clearly label which teams are buyers and sellers. That would make the speculation less fun, but it might do a better job of serving the interests of baseball.

Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians wears "Mr. Smile" on the nickname jersey day. Creative Commons via by Eric Drost. Other images public domain unless otherwise indicated.

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I still prefer football to all sports, maybe because I'd like to be a footballer tomorrow, our different choice differentiate our choices
Baseball is a good game too but after football. Hehehe


It's a great game also!

The stadium will look very nice to see, where it is located?


Those stadiums are in the U.S.


This stadium is really nice to see!

Very comprehensive article. This would be the argument for an strategy video game or a table game. It reminded me of the movie "Moneyball".

Similarly interesting is the business strategies behind F1.

The NBA, particularly, is getting very exciting in the offseason as basketball stars change teams.

That’s true, especially when James is changing the teams.

Nationals and Giants are in denial and that they made mistakes in not taking the opportunity to improve themselves for the future.

I’m actualy really surprised especially when it comes to Giants. I had pretty high view about this team. All I can say is that teams such as NY Yankees are actualy investing in their youth. That’s the potential future. I’m not sure if there is any other team who raised their own players so consistently. Even though Yenkees are not at their top recently, they have the most successful team of All and I believe they eventually will again. With that said, solely based on a young talent and spending ability the best teams with brightest future are in my opinion Yankees, Astros, Braves and Phillies. But that’s my opinion.
Anyway great article about team’s drafts and their deadlines.


Yes, those are the best teams right now and for the next few years. The Dodgers and Red Sox might belong there also for now, but I'm not sure their minor league systems are as deep as the ones you mentioned. The Giants could be better on paper, but they rely on a lot of older players and when that happens, some injuries are inevitable. Unless every player on that roster overperforms over the next few months, they won't be in the playoffs.

As a huge sports fan, I have always been a big watcher of trade deadlines. I love seeing team jockey for position and the big name players move to new teams and try to fit in. To be perfectly honest, I have never been a fan of baseball teams being able to make trades after the deadline. I get that the players need to pass through waivers but I think that once the trade deadline has passed then the teams should stick with what they have. I would suggest moving the deadline a week or two later and get rid of the trades after the deadline. Like you said, teams have been playing for months now and know what they have.


Exactly. Then they wouldn't need that second deadline in August. And teams would know exactly what they need.

It's interesting how two different perceptions of the same event will change one's opinion. I don't like baseball's free agency because it involves so many moving parts, which is exactly why it seems to intrigue you. I definitely prefer the NBA and NFL's trade markets as they are much easier to follow.

I grew up pretty heavily invested in baseball playing it in high school and working to earn a scholarship in college. When that dream didn't materialize I pretty much stopped paying attention to the game. I can't remember the last time I watched an entire baseball game on TV.


It's a lot to sit through unless good teams are playing, but a lovable game nonetheless.

I'd love to add something of worth here @donkeypong, but sadly, this is way out of my league (pun intended :)

If Brian is up to it, I'll ask him to pop over because he loves this kind of stuff and tries to talk to me about it, but stops when he sees my eyes glaze over haha


Send him over! I hope both of you are doing well.


I'll do that! We are hanging in there as well as we can. Some good days, some bad ones, but we try to enjoy every day regardless. What else can we do? :)

The transactions between team players in baseball are very interesting. Starting because unlike other sports, as players can easily reach 40 years of age playing, and that does not influence much team chemistry as in football (say) because each player plays in a position and individually. The most important thing is that you can find talent everywhere in MLB, that league is full of talented players that can be acquired, as well as the young promises that can climb from the AA and AAA respectively.

Another alternative is to be able to find players in the list of free agents, once the contract with their previous teams has ended and they can compete in the negotiations.


That's true. The game is a sum of individual performances; there are fewer opportunities for teamwork than in many other sports. And yes, there are many sources of talent, some young and some old!



Love Bartolo Colon....still pitching at age 45 which is very rare.

I'm not very fond of baseball, but my husband is, it's true what you say in your publication, besides a sport is a whole business, shopping, sales, changes.... you see that you are a big fan, you know a lot about baseball, and I learned something else today


Thanks for the comment!

Hello friend how are you, the business of sports is something that very few people dominate, but I can tell you that when they sign a Venezuelan is a great joy
You are a fan and I notice it because of the so emphatic and interesting way that you write that even me that is not baseball is captivated with this post

I am Venezuelan and it is a great pride that a person like you speaks about baseball that is very important for us since we have very good teams in venezuela if you ask me my favorite are
The tigers of aragua


The Venezuelan players are great!


Thanks, it's a pride!

Another great post my friend - of course being "thesportsguy" I too love baseball amongst the other sports that you list at the beginning of the article. I love the trade deadline as well. I have a unique perspective of it - my team is the Milwaukee Brewers - a small-market club, that throughout the 90's and early 2000's always kept a tiny payroll and never really were close to contention when the trade deadline would roll around. So for all those years when I was a kid, I hated the trade deadline as it approached, because it meant that we were once again going to trade away our good players for a bunch of scraps (the perception when you are young - why did we just trade our only All-Star for a bunch of guys I've never heard of! ugh! lol). Of course, as I've gotten older, luckily the Brewers have actually had a couple of competitive seasons and this year, in particular, has given the fan-base much hope. So it was a very exciting and entertaining trade deadline as we had an opportunity to be one of the busier "buyers" in all of baseball.

As for the Giants, I completely agree with you. They made some moves in the off-season and acquired more large-contract, aging talent like you talked about (Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates). They were unable to take advantage of the incredibly slow-start by the Dodgers and when the Diamondbacks had a three-week stretch of awful baseball back in May. They've been a .500 team basically for the majority of the season and probably should have known by now that if they couldn't take advantage of the woes by the rest of the division early in the season, they aren't going to be able to catch them now and should just have sold, sold, sold. I think the Nationals just weren't prepared at all for the trade deadline and found themselves still not believing they were in the position they were in (talented-team with high expectations, under-performing and battling to get to .500) and couldn't decide to be 'buyers' or 'sellers' and the trade deadline kind of just happened to them, instead of them making something happen at the deadline. Great, great article!


An excellent analysis. Go Brewers!

Great article. I'd add that trades are complicated. The Giants and Nationals may have stood pat for a number of reasons. Maybe the Giants weren't truly ever all in for this season and are content holding until the massive free-agent market hits this winter? They've graduated a lot of talent the past few could be with a lot of team controlled players, they best move is to stand pat? Thoughts?


That's possible. As I understand it, the Giants would pay a huge penalty for exceeding the luxury tax threshold this year (due to their past activities), but after this year, their penalty resets, so it's just the normal excess they would pay if they sign someone bigger this offseason. They do have some money coming off the books with Pence and McCutchen, etc., though Cueto will have to stay. So yes, this is probably a transitional year. The minor league system, is not good, so they may have to spend in free agency to improve the team.


For sure, they could use some re-loading of the farm system. Also, since the big free agent class ahead is coming...getting other teams to take on contracts is a challenge.

Oh we don't have baseball as a game in our country. I have not even heard that you can learn it here. I only remember as a kid watching American movies,that was where I saw what is baseball and that a game like that exists

Hi @donkeypong, I've seen lot of times you posted about baseball game blogs. Actually I'm not a big fan of baseball when you followed before. But after read your baseball blogs, My mind carrying out to baseball pavilion slowly. Now I know some rules of this game. But ma country very down from the world ranking.

The classic “seller” technique is a full-scale rebuild.

It's better technique and given better example about Houston was. They rebuild instantly using above technique. Sure...There are so many developing techniques indeed provide skills of players.
I've looked San Francisco Giants skills through website video. Yep..they improved much better and now they're being top level I guess. Also I think baseball have came best trading world. Absolutely brilliant consideration blog of baseball this time. It's expand my knowledge and increase my passion. Thanks Tom.

I love sports a lot
By defining football I love to practice it and to watch it
I wish you all a very wonderful article indeed

You left out the NY of the worst teams this year and yet they didn't make any trades at the deadline. Then the Mets lose their next game 25 to 4. Really terrible.

I've driven past PNC Park every day this week and I can't believe that place is 17 years old now, best park in baseball.

This is a very random thought, but I think an mlb team should build a polo grounds 2.0 for a new stadium. Would be very cool to see, definitely would draw more fans, especially if it’s the Rays, who need a new stadium

As a Brewers fan, I think that a trade for Archer would work, they have a great pitching coach and defense, so it helps any SP they get. Also could see them grabbing Cabrera like you said, but Dozier is also on the list. He's having a down year but definitely has the history of a 2nd-half player and his power numbers aren't bad as is, and the Brewers middle infield situation is...

We Filipinos are more on Basketball...I admire those different Baseball Parks that are so huge, you people are really fan of Baseball. Thanks for sharing @donkeypong

Dude I’m a huge mlb fan and would definitely like to have a conversation about baseball.also do you think the brewers will beat the Cubs in there division

I am gonna trigger some people here (mets fans) DeGrom will be a cub before the deadline as cubs will trade adison Russell albert almora jr and alozay and a few people from the farm now you might say but what about position players ill give u a lineup 1 rizzo 2 zobrist 3 bryant ss baez Lf shwarber cf happ rf heyward and thats a great lineup expeccially adding degrom for the rotation along with lester having an amazing season i dont see how the cubs dont make this trade and the cubs would make a huge postseason run so bye now

Actually you are a man in which all the side is good! It feels good playing basketball balls! But football is such a game! The game that everyone loves. Personally I love football too much. I understand the whole blog! Your thinking and writing style is always wonderful. @donkeypong

I think my team, the bucs, should get Colon and archer, plus barraclough or however you spell it

I thought you like cricket too?

Hi guys ur are amaizing I am 5 month ago use steemit and after 5 month I can't earn any money I want to ur help guys i want to steemit pawer any body give me same sbd I want to buy steemit pawer.. I am waiting for ur help


where are you from ? if you are From Pakistan, Contact me, I will teach you how to work on steemit.


That's good of you to offer.

Dear @donkeypong sir, very nice to know about the business of baseball but little bit sad you didn't like my favourite game cricket, it's not so bad but i like baseball too, that very interesting game.

Wonderful post sir.Ilike your post.It's a very very beautiful post.Thanks sir!!!

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I am aslo a huge fan of base ball.i also like football but the most of my likings baseball is at the top

i like this sport

@donkeypong All sports are very good, in particular I really like contact sports, such as boxing or free fighting. and of course football, our country is a fan of this sport, here are divided into two types of people, those that are river and those that are by mouth.
Argentine soccer has a lot of legend, Maradona, Messi, Fillol, Ardiles.
Thank you very much for sharing all this information about sports
I wish you a great day

I dont even know the difference betwen handball, baseball and basket ball the only thing I know is ball ends all...

I am soccer player and it was a hobby of mine from childhood.
As a sportsman, I also love the game of baseball, even though it was my play time at school used to be.
But, to be honest if I had realized this ballpark is so magnificent and elegant.
I will visit one time in this magnificent stadium to watch directly.
Would have been nice
Thanks for this @donkeypong

It's my favorite sport, I like the yankys of New York. And all sports are a business, but they are very exciting and fun, I love sports

Baseball is a lovely sports but I always prefer football and cricket the most.
I have never played baseball but I have played plenty of football and cricket, cricket at national level.
The stadium looks wonderful though.

The stadium will look very nice to see, where it is located?


The stadium will
Look very nice to see, where
It is located?

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I'm a bot. I detect haiku.

My hobbies only play soccer, and even then at the national level, not at the international level. About your hobby, I salute almost all the sports that you master. this is amazing @donkeypong, I have much to learn from you.

I think it's like in every sport, the highest bidder takes the best player, and if you really play very well they will be willing to pay whatever it takes to have you on your team! I don't really know much about sports but I try to understand it as well as I can :)

I've long been hearing of American baseball, never knrw the nitty gritty of it. You blew me off, you're a reputable commentator.
Love the stadium too.

Well, I can clearly tell you love baseball. How do you feel about hockey? You into that sport at all? I find hockey to be pretty much the only one I can get into. I've just never been able to get interested in football/soccer/basketball or baseball, sadly. I think the high speed aspect of hockey as well as the aggressive vibes on the ice kinda keeps my attention focused on it.

Just genuinely curious since I didn't see you mention it among your favorite sports :)

I love ur posts.i have a got.his colour is white. Everyday i bathe him.i love football too much.those stadiums are so nice.where those one?maybe in is the king of all game in the world.....hate the cricket..heeeee

Great post. I like that you love sports. If you ask me what my favorite sport is, I would not hesitate to say that it is Parkour. Although it is not a sport as such but a discilplina is my most

I will make myself available for whatever team is willing to properly compensate me. Although I would prefer to play for the Yankees.

Congratulations @donkeypong!
Your post was mentioned in the Steemit Hit Parade in the following category:

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hi Baseball game is my favorite game

A great and intriguing contest. Mine is on it's way. :)
I've upvoted, followed and resteemed

Wow base ball is really an interesting game most times I watch some of their major events on TV.
Too bad base ball in Nigeria is nothing to write home about

@donkeypong What good pictures! to see them is like in the middle of the game! sports are exciting! and more if you're in the same stadium. greetings from Venezuela!!

To the question in your title, my Magic 8-Ball says:

Without a doubt

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