Why the MLB 2024 Trade Deadline Could be a Dud

With so few teams out of the playoff hunt and league standings tightly packed, there are few clear cut sellers to feed the market.
Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen during spring training workouts at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick near Scottsdale on Feb. 20, 2024.
Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen during spring training workouts at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick near Scottsdale on Feb. 20, 2024. / Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY

When Major League Baseball expanded the playoffs to include a third Wild Card, one major goal was not only to increase competition, but also to resolve the perceived problem of teams tanking. In 2023 the trade deadline was relatively quiet up until the last week or so, when there was a flurry of activity.

Activity prior to the July 30th , 6 P.M. ET trade deadline could be even more suppressed. A cursory look at the Wild Card standings shows that there are just five teams that can be considered out of the races. The Angels, A's and White Sox in the American League and the Rockies and Marlins in the National League are all at least 9.5 games or more out of the Wild Card.

One of those teams, the Marlins, already traded their biggest chip, Luis Arraez, to the Padres. Another, the Rockies, are known to abstain from full on sell offs at the trade deadline. With only five clear cut sellers in the market, the movement is likely to be slow up until the very end.

Of course a few other teams will join their ranks over the coming weeks. But determinng who that might be is guesswork. The Mets are 28-36, but just 3.5 games back of the Giants for the 3rd Wild Card. The Nationals and Pirates, two teams that usually occupy the bottom tier in the league tables, are just 2.0 and 1.0 games out of the Wild Card.

Sandwiched in between them of course are the Diamondbacks, 1.5 games out of the Wild Card. They're hanging on for dear life, hoping to get healthy in the starting rotation in the next month and make a second half push.

In the American League the Astros are 5.5 games out of the Wild Card. They've managed to stay within striking distance despite even more rotation injuries than the Diamondbacks. But they still have one of the best offenses in the league, a great bullpen, and a rotation with Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, and Ronel Blanco pitching well.

Another injury or two to their pitching staff may push thee Astros over the edge however. The Rays are only four games out of the Wild Card, but have a -65 run differential. They may have been a little lucky to stay as close as they have. The 2023 World Series Champion Rangers are 3.5 games out of the Wild Card but will soon get Max Scherzer back.

It's not difficult to project a scenario where two more NL teams and three more AL teams join the ranks of sellers over the next 30 days . But that's far from guaranteed. Even if that's the case, that still leaves just 8-10 teams in "sell mode".

With such an imbalanced market, what we are likely to see is that the few trades that do get made will be more costly than usual for the buyers. Here again, if the Diamondbacks are still hovering within a game or two of .500 but there are three or four teams ahead of them, are THEY going to be the big buyers that overpay for trade deadline help? Probably not.

There is an opportunity for any of the fringe contenders to decide to sell early and extract a high price, such as what the Marlins did. While waiting for a bidding war to break out over a player is usually the preferred strategy, the earlier a buying team acquires their target, the more potential gain there is in seasonal production.

From a Diamondbacks perspective, it would be wise not to expect too much movement until much closer to the deadline. Mike Hazen has expressed many times his belief that it takes until the last week before asking prices become crystallized . That's been born out by his trade deadline behavior where the vast majority of the team's moves have occured over the final few days.

This year the D-backs are likely to remain in that last minute mode with Hazen standing at the switch, deciding which way to go. Eduardo Rodriguez and Merrill Kelly are not expected back for another month or so. (Neither has stepped on a mound yet, and have only been playing catch from 75-100 feet).

Until they know where they stand with those two pitchers and whether they can return healthy, the D-backs will be unable to determine if they are buyers or sellers. Of course there is always the possibility of a hybrid approach, where the team both buys and sells at the same time, or two potential buyers match up well enough to trade from excess and improve their rosters.

Where those opportunities might lie is more difficult to assess, but we'll be diving into the specific player analysis and potential matches from a D-backs perspective over the coming weeks here at Inside the Diamondbacks.,


Published
Jack Sommers

JACK SOMMERS

Jack Sommers is the Publisher for FanNation Inside the Diamondbacks, part of the Sports Illustrated network. Formerly a baseball operations department analyst for the D-backs, Jack also covered the team as a credentialed beat writer for SB Nation and has written for MLB.com and The  Associated Press. Follow Jack on Twitter @shoewizard59