Winds of change are sweeping across the landscape of MLB rules. A group of rule changes were recently announced. Several of these changes were deferred until 2020 allowing teams time to adjust. However, note this change which is effective immediately:
Trade Deadline: The trade deadline will remain July 31st; however, trade waivers will be eliminated. Players may be placed and claimed on outright waivers after July 31st, but players may not be traded after that date. (from official MLBPA release cited above, italics by this author)
Yes, you read correctly. August (and September) “waiver trades” are now history.
Impact Of The End Of Waiver Trades
Simply put, teams must make final assessments a month sooner whether they are realistic contenders and then make decisions about bolstering their roster or becoming sellers. Let’s look at some examples.
Contending teams often have injured key regular or role players they expect to be back by late July or early August. In the past, they often put off until mid August the decision whether to rely on these players for the stretch run and playoffs. Now unless they have sufficient in house depth, they must make their personnel moves prior to August first.
Borderline contending teams must decide well ahead of July 31 whether they are buyers, sellers or will simply stand pat.
Teams must fully fill in and set their depth chart prior to August 1 since it will no longer be possible to obtain outside help if a player goes down to injury after July 31.
Role players or emergency injury replacement players previously acquired in August cost the acquiring team 5-6 weeks of salary. Now such players are going to cost 2 full months of salary. We do not know how this will impact performance evaluation and leveling of cost versus talent returned.
Will the changes favor buyers or sellers? Only time will tell.
How Might The End of Waiver Trades Impact The Reds?
During the just past off season, the Reds assembled a bridge team to allow them to more effectively compete immediately while internal prospects continue to develop. This strategy hinged on acquiring established veterans who did not incur long term obligations for the Reds. The plan gave the Reds flexibility to bail out if the season went south by trading all or some of these veterans for future prospects during the season. If these veterans are traded, the Reds also figure to save significant money on payroll. To this end, the Reds opening day 25 man roster and MLB Injured List contains no fewer than 7 players who will be free agents at the end of 2019. Courtesy of Cot’s Contracts, here they are:
The first 5 players are players 2 through 6 among the highest paid Reds this year (Joey Votto is #1; $25M). The combined salaries of the 7 free agents, $65.375M, represents just over 50% of Cot’s projected Reds 2019 opening day payroll.
The answer is clearly, yes, the change in the trade deadline rules may have a significant impact on the Reds.
Let’s look at some specific cases involving the Reds free agents and the trade deadline change.
Probably Going Nowhere
Is it too far out on a limb to think that of the 7 free agents, the Reds possibly are only seriously interested in retaining Puig and perhaps Alex Wood? I think not.
Yasiel Puig’s value depends on him returning to the level of play he displayed earlier in his career (13.8 fWAR in 2013-2017); but, the Reds will be patient with him, especially as long as the Puig factor plays well with fans.
As the axiom reads, a team can never have too much left handed pitching, especially among starters. Alex Wood fits here; but, he needs to get healthy and perform effectively to demonstrate he can maintain on both accounts. Of course ironically, if he is hurt, he also has diminished or no trade value. Thus one way or another, as long as his injury doesn’t turn out to be a long term chronic situation, I believe the Reds will try to hang onto Wood.
Let’s count these 2 out for now as trade candidates.
Traded If Healthy
Speaking of injury brings us to Scooter Gennett. Last season saw a soap opera about whether Gennet and the Reds were negotiating a long term deal. Gennett has already publicly expressed discontent this spring about the lack of progress toward an extension. Signs are that nothing is cooking here, especially with Derek Dietrich looking like Scooter V.2 for $2M this year and under team control (4th yr. arbitration) for 2020.
Gennett’s injury could be the Reds situation most impacted by the change to the rules. He is projected to be out 8-12 weeks from opening day. That’s late May at the earliest and pushing towards July on the long end. Noticeably, the Reds did not put Gennett on the 60 day IL. I believe this is because they want him back on the field absolutely as soon as possible to build a trade value.
Traded If the Money Works
Matt Kemp has supposedly been on the trading block since the day he joined the Reds. Kemp will make $21.675M this season which works out to $3.625M a month. His cost along with the fact other teams know the Dodgers passed $7M along to Reds toward his salary (and want their share if they take him) are probably strong reasons why he is still a Red. With new system, the Reds are going to be trying to convince someone to take 2 full months of Kemp’s salary versus 5 to 6 weeks if he were a mid to late August add on. Even if Kemp is playing well, this looks like a tough sell unless a contending team is beset by serious outfield injuries. But the Reds will try their best.
I’m agnostic about the remaining guys. If the Reds are hanging towards the edge of contention, they will probably hold onto Tanner Roark and David Hernandez. However unless the team is absolutely in the thick of things, it should be just as easy to let them go on July 31 as it would have been then or later in the prior system. If these two are pitching decently, the issue is team performance, not individual money. They are classic deadline movers. And Zach Duke? A team can never have too many lefties; but 2 others in the pen and Cody Reed at AAA should be inducement to move Duke whenever the chance arises.
A final caveat. If the Reds continue to slum along around a .400 winning percent come June 1, all bets are off. Any of of the upcoming free agents could go along with many other players. Otherwise, come August 1, remind me how well I’ve done.