July is my favorite time of year. It’s filled with festivals, fireworks, baseball and most of all, trade rumors. With the July 31st trade deadline looming, every team must decide to be buyers, sellers, or to stand pat. It’s glorious self-reflection with the possibility of real change for teams in races, and real hope for teams building for the future. That is, until the sandwiches interfered.
Don’t get me wrong — I like pastrami on rye as much as the next guy — I’m talking about compensatory draft picks. For those that don’t obsess about player movement rules, sandwich picks are the slang term for a type of compensation draft picks a team receives if certain free agents sign with another team. Depending on how good the player is (according to Elias Sports Bureau), the signee’s former team receives a draft pick from the signing team, or the draft pick plus a “sandwich” pick between the first and second round. I’ll spare you the gory details, but that’s the basics.
So why have they ruined July? Because GMs have gotten wise to the deadline trading game. When the natural order of things ruled the landscape, players were auctioned off at the deadline for whatever prospects the highest bidder would offer for the mercenary player. In recent years, GMs have hoarded their useful players instead of trading them to contenders, choosing to take their chances with draft picks rather than another team’s prospects. Last season, the Washington Nationals were the most notorious offenders, refusing to auction Alfonso Soriano to a contender. This year, don’t expect to see Adam Dunn or Mark Teixeira swapping shirts.
A GM can reasonably expect to get two top prospects if a decent player leaves via free agency, one from the signing team and one as a sandwich pick. This becomes the minimum “hurdle rate” for sellers, as they require value equating to at least two top prospects, plus the offset in bad PR a team inevitably incurs when they sell a player. Selling teams demand a handsome price for their wares because of the value of the picks, a price that buyers haven’t been willing to pay. The result has been a boring July for fans.
Let’s look at the big moves from the last several trading deadlines. Frankly, these years have been a collective yawn at the trading deadline.
2006: The biggest trade involved major leaguers being traded for each other. Carlos Lee went to Texas for Francisco Cordero, and Julio Lugo to the Dodgers for prospects in rental deals. Several moderately useful players swapped teams, but the Yankees, Red Sox, and other major players stood pat at the deadline. There were a record 34 sandwich picks in the 2007 draft. The Lugo trade will be the one to watch, as the D-Rays got Joel Guzman and Sergio Pedroza, while the Dodgers got 2+ months of Lugo, Pick #20 (Chris Withrow) and Pick #39 (James Adkins).
Notables Traded: Carlos Lee, Bobby Abreu, Jeff Weaver, Julio Lugo, Sean Casey, Greg Maddux
2005: The deadline was exceptionally quiet in 2005, with the biggest trade on deadline day involving Geoff Blum. A few other names traded places, but ’05 was among the quietest years in memory.
Traded: Preston Wilson, Eric Byrnes, Randy Winn
2004: The Mets and Dodgers were buyers, acquiring Kris Benson and Brad Penny respectively. If Mets fans needed to be reminded, this was the year they shipped Victor Zambrano for Scott Kazmir. This was also the year of the four-team Nomar trade, with the Cubs and BoSox ostensibly being the “buyer” from the Expos and Twins.
Traded: Carl Everett, Paul Lo Duca, Kris Benson, Nomar Garciaparra, Brad Penny
As we look back at 1999-2003, we’ll look at a few reasons why the trade deadline has become such a bore. Take a look at the prospect lists and think about which group you’d rather have. Obviously not all names are included, only some significant prospects (or prospects at the time).
I’ll note a couple of things. First, there are good names on both sides, but I think I’d take my chances with the fellas on the right. Second, this doesn’t include the compensatory picks the teams got, which are either in the second half of the first round or in rounds two or three. In essence, this is merely a partial list of the bounty of compensatory picks.
It’s easy to see why GMs would be reluctant to make a big trade without getting some pretty handsome prospects in return. It’s not uncommon to hear a fan, writer, or staff member surmise that they’d simply be better off with the draft picks than what they were offered in a trade. Thanks a lot, sandwiches.
I can’t characterize sandwiches as inherently bad. Be sure, I’m no fan of faux sandwich “wraps” and their kin. They help keep a semblance of competitive balance by compensating teams that lose free agents. And it’s not like they’re a new twist, as they’ve been around in some form or another since 1981. But I also hate the prospect of another boring July. My daily checking of rumor sites should be worth something. I’d like to see a rule instated where the compensatory pick goes to the team a player left, which the sandwich pick goes to the whatever team the player started the season with. So, in the case of the Julio Lugo trade, the Red Sox #20 pick would go to the Dodgers and the #39 to the Devil Rays. Which pick is first will depend on whether the signing team drafts in the top 15. Mostly, it just lessens the “hurdle rate” and incents teams to make deadline deals. Keep the sandwiches, but give me back my July.