I nearly choked on my Rice Krispies this morning when I logged on to MLB.com while eating my breakfast and saw the headline story: Jason Kendall’s move from the A’s to the Cubs. Admittedly, my reaction was largely due to my Oakland allegiance; this wasn’t exactly a blockbuster trade of seismic proportions. Still, it’s a trade that is indicative of a few wider trends that we will see unfolding in MLB over the next couple of weeks.
The A’s have had a very disappointing season so far, bedevilled by a fateful combination of injuries and poor performances (with Kendall himself being one of the chief culprits in respect of the latter). An eight-game losing streak has put them twelve games behind the Angels in the AL West and realistically has all but finished their shot at making the play-offs. While a complete “fire sale” is unlikely, A’s GM Billy Beane has started making some moves with an eye to 2008 rather than trying to salvage this season.
The practice of “rebuilding for next year” is made possible by the threat of relegation being absent in MLB. Whereas struggling teams in the Premiership turn to desperate lengths to retain their top-flight status, an MLB team (as in other North American sports) can cut their losses and use the time to gear themselves up for the following season. Like anything, this structure has positives and negatives. The safety net afforded MLB teams can lead to complacency and there are several teams who constantly seem to be “rebuilding” (Mark Teixiera recently made this point about the Rangers, for example). Of course, few teams will openly admit to giving up on a season. The wildcard has reduced this problem to a degree as many teams will still find themselves with an outside chance of the play-offs by the time the trade deadline passes (by my reckoning, seven teams in the AL have a shot right now, eight – possibly nine – in the NL). Several teams will throw the towel in early though and they will be easy to recognise: they will be the teams trying to trade front-line players away.
The flip-side of the Kendall deal is the impact it will have on the Cubs. On the back of a tremendous run of form, the Cubs have clawed their way to within 3.5 games of the NL Central leading Brewers. This is the time of the season that the teams who are challenging for a play-off spot try to add those extra couple of bodies that could make all the difference down the stretch. Whether Jason Kendall is likely to make a huge difference in the NL Central race is debatable, but it’s probable that most of the deals that take place over the next two weeks are going to be of a similar nature. There are just fourteen more days until the trade deadline passes and the main news on the grapevine is that there is no news. It’s a seller’s market right now and it seems as though few teams are prepared to part with the level of talent required to pick up an impact player at the current market rate.
While very few (if any) will involve big-name players, we could still see quite a few deals completed over the next two weeks as it becomes clear who are the sellers and who are the buyers. Knowing Billy Beane, don’t be surprised if the Kendall trade is far from the only deal he gets involved in.