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MLB Trade Deadline Approaches:    Share

30 July 2010

4 o’clock on Saturday afternoon marks the Major League Baseball Trade Deadline.  For sports fans who desire more excitement than just your 15 regular season baseball games every day, this provides a little bit of excitement and some news to follow.  Typically the last week of July is full of rumors and breaking news releases about teams in the playoff hunt making a key move or two.  It can be a good indication of a team’s view of itself, as the teams actions in the market are reflections of their chances for the rest of the year. 

So who are the buyers?  Usually the buyers are the teams that are leading in the standings or very close and looking to make a push.  They are typically willing to part with some young, talented players in their development (farm or minor league) system.  These teams are willing to take on the salary and risk of an older star for some instant results of getting into the playoffs in the current year. 

And the sellers?  See the Seattle Mariners for your typical profile of a team willing to sell some talent at the trade deadline. The Mariners are a team that "has been" since the turn of the century and thought they were in better shape than they really are.  They traded for Cliff Lee in the winter (off-season) and traded him away about six months later, when they realized they had no chance to win anytime soon.  Since Cliff Lee’s contract expired at the end of the 2010 season, and Seattle had virtually no chance to re-sign him, they figured they’d get something for him instead of paying him his $9 million and then watching him walk away at the end of a losing season.  The Texas Rangers are in the playoff hunt, so they were willing to trade some prospects to Seattle for the chance to get Cliff Lee for the end of the season and into the playoffs.      

The player that is traded as the deadline approaches usually has one or more of the following attributes: is overpaid, will be a free agent at the end of the season, or a good/great player on a bad team.  When a player is overpaid and the team is not going to make the playoffs, it makes it very hard for management to justify paying his salary and watch their team lose day after day.  Players with less than a season left on their contracts are a liability if the team does not think they will re-sign him at the end of the year, and therefore get nothing for the investment of that player’s salary over the last half of the season.

Occasionally players move to more than one team during this trading period.  This year, pitcher Edwin Jackson is rumored to be one of these types of players.  The Arizona Diamond Backs traded him to the Chicago White Sox on Friday.  Reportedly the White Sox are in talks with the Washington Nationals to exchange Jackson for slugger Adam Dunn.  These types of moves are common at the deadline and tend to lead to scenarios that benefit more than two teams.    

Late movers that will create an impact: the Philadelphia Phillies (interestingly enough the team that traded Cliff Lee away after acquiring him at the trade deadline in 2009) traded some youth to the Houston Astros for veteran pitcher Roy Oswalt.  This gives Philly (trying to catch the first place Atlanta Braves in the National League East division) a good third starting pitcher and allows Houston (who have lost 17 more games than they’ve won) to save some money and build a bit for the future.

Even though it’s referred to as the trade deadline, technically players can still be traded this season.  They just have to go through a longer process called “clearing waivers” where every team in the league has the opportunity to claim the player before he can be traded.  This makes it very difficult to trade someone who is worth much after the July 31st deadline. 

One liner:  "Who’s running the Phillies anyway?  They traded away Lee and made a move for (the much less talented) Roy Oswalt only seven months later."

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The Basics

Baseball Regular Season:

Major League Baseball (MLB) is divided into two leagues, the American League (AL) and the National League (NL).  Each league is further divided into three divisions, west, central, and east.  The regular season lasts from early April through early October.  While NL teams mostly play other NL teams and vice versa with the AL, there are occasional times in the regular season that NL teams will play AL teams.  During the regular season, each team plays 162 games.   These games determine who will go to the playoffs—each division winner and one “wild card” team from each league.   
Baseball is a statistics crazy game—true fans will quote batting averages, fielding percentages, slugging percentages, and just about any stat that you could think of for their favorite teams or players.  We’ll explain the ones that you need to know throughout the season. 


Win (for a pitcher):  A pitcher must complete five innings of pitching and his team must be leading when he exits for him to get a win.  A pitcher with 15 wins in a season is doing well; 20 wins is the recognized plateau of excellence.

ERA:  Earned Run Average.  A statistic which measures how many runs a pitcher averages surrendering to opposing teams based on pitching nine innings.  For instance, a pitcher with an ERA of 2.00 would on average give up 2 runs over the course of 9 innings.  ERA’s are always measured to the hundredths.  An ERA of under 3.00 is considered good.  An ERA under 2.00 is excellent and only a handful of pitchers are able to sustain an ERA under 2.00 for an entire season.

Pinch Hit:  when a player that did not start the game comes in to bat for a player that did start the game. 

Batting Average:   How often a player gets a hit.  Batting average is calculated by dividing the number of hits by total chances to hit.   If a player walks or is hit by a pitch, such actions are not counted as a chance to hit in calculating the batting average.  A .300 batting average (getting a hit 30% of the time) is considered to be above average for a MLB player.

Mendoza Line:  A euphemism for a .200 batting average.  The term came from a reference to Mario Mendoza, a light hitting infielder in the 1970s that usually batted around .200.  A player that is hitting around the Mendoza Line is lucky to still have a job in the Major Leagues.