Trades could be hard to find this year
Teams willing to stand pat and develop from within
June typically brings with it a certain level of anticipation in big league ball.
Nearly three months are in the books, and a quick scan of the standings frequently lures the fans of teams in contention to wait with bated breath for the kind of blockbuster trades that will make their summers that much sunnier.
Alas, it could be a long wait. In fact, it might be a wait unrewarded.
For a variety of reasons, the trade market simply isn't what it used to be. So, as was the case last summer, we're far less likely to see a deal that moves the needle nationally -- Mark Teixeira to the Braves in a six-player deal on the July 31 non-waiver deadline, for instance -- than we are to see a series of below-the-radar swaps.
Think catcher Rob Bowen being moved from the Padres to the Cubs for fellow backstop Michael Barrett last June 20, then being sent to Oakland for catcher Jason Kendall three weeks later.
Or outfielder Kenny Lofton going from the Rangers to the Indians for a Minor League catcher a few days before the July 31 deadline.
Or the classic salary dump that was the Giants shipping Matt Morris' $9.5 million salary for 2008 to the Pirates for fourth outfielder Rajai Davis at the deadline.
Not exactly the kinds of moves that make a fan base demand to know when postseason tickets will be made available. Of the aforementioned six players, only Bowen remains with the team he was with after last year's deadline. Morris has retired, and Lofton is unemployed.
What's the holdup? Let's start at the top -- both of the standings and within front offices across both leagues.
And as July approaches, 24 of 30 clubs were no more than 8 1/2 games out.
"Take a look at the standings," said White Sox general manager Kenny Williams, one of about 20 GMs with whom MLB.com recently spoke in an effort to break down the various trade-market influences. "There's a lot of parity in both leagues, not to mention the fact that there are teams contending that perhaps didn't expect to be in this position of contending. There also are teams on the bottom who expect to contend in the second half.
"That combination will compress the market in such a way we haven't seen before."
Ah, the "P-word." Parity. It's long been a dream of baseball's big-wigs, and consider it a dream achieved.
The Rays, who had the worst record in the game a year ago, have been at or near the top of the AL East all spring. The no-name Marlins have made names for themselves in the big-name NL East. And the revamped A's, who conducted what everybody outside general manager Billy Beane's inner circle viewed as stunning fire sale over the winter, have been quite warm in the AL West.
"Parity, as much as anything, makes it difficult to move players at the trade deadline," Braves GM Frank Wren said. "You've got so many teams now that are unwilling to give up."
Adds Indians GM Mark Shapiro: "The reality is there's a tremendous amount of parity in the game. There are not a lot of teams clearly out of it."
Even teams that appear to be out of it don't think they are.
"The teams that have come on late and made a late playoff push has made it hard for teams to say that they are truly out of the race in July," said Pirates GM Neal Huntington, whose club was 11 out in the NL Central as of Wednesday morning. "As a result, teams will be more hesitant to let go of players if the possibility is still there for a late push."
The reigning NL champion Rockies were 19 games under .500 and eight games back in the NL West as of Wednesday morning. Perhaps emboldened by their white-hot finish to the 2007 regular season, they're far from ready to wave the white flag, shop their pricier wares and start re-tooling for 2009.
"We have an idea of when that point comes, but I will tell you we're not at that point yet," said Colorado GM Dan O'Dowd, whose banged-up club is currently trying to make do without infielders Troy Tulowitzki and Clint Barmes and made due for a stretch without outfielders Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe. "Collectively, we've played about as badly as we can play in every area, and our injuries are no excuse for how we've played. But I do think there is a run in this club."
And the Rox know a little something about runs. See: September/October, 2007.
"I don't have a crystal ball or else I'd never make a mistake in this job and I'd be the best general manager there ever was, but I don't believe in flukes," O'Dowd said. "I believe we were a good ballclub last year. I believe there's too much talent and there's too much experience in big games and pressure situations for us not to collectively put things together and go on a run."
Another undeniable market influence is the increasing value placed on younger players. A trend started more than a decade ago with low-revenue teams locking up some semblance of cost certainty by signing their blossoming first- and second-year studs to contract extensions that took them through their arbitrations years.
Now that trend has expended to the point that teams are signing such stars in the making earlier and for more years, often through what would have been their first forays into free agency. See: Longoria, Evan.
"My view," said Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, "is that there are fewer impact players available because many of the impact players are locked up."
Many of the GMs who chimed in felt the market might pick up as the non-waiver deadline draws closer. Some clearly -- very clearly -- didn't.
"It's getting tougher to make trades," said Reds GM Walt Jocketty. "I get a sense in talking with clubs that a lot of them are frustrated with the way they're playing. The time to put the club together is in the offseason. It's very hard to make adjustments during the season.
"I don't know if it will be any different this year or not. There are more clubs that are underachieving than what we've seen in the past."
Added Melvin: "There is no market. It's still too early for any of that."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. Several staff reporters contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.