Friday evening, the first major trade of the 2020 trading season was completed, as the last-place Red Sox continued dismantling the team that won 108 games and the World Series just two years ago. The Red Sox sent relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree to the Phillies for righthander Nick Pivetta and minor leaguer Connor Seabold.
We stand today just nine days until this year’s trading deadline, August 31. I believe I can state with some degree of confidence that the Cubs won’t make any trades before that deadline.
Why am I so confident in that declaration? Just check out what Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said about trades in this article by Patrick Mooney at The Athletic, first, regarding baseball being played during the novel coronavirus pandemic:
“Every team is going to be cognizant of who they’re bringing in and how responsible they would be and how much you can count on them,” Epstein said. “Also, if acquiring the player puts them in an untenable situation, it might be hard to acquire somebody who’s got a great setup with their family in a certain spot geographically.
“Then you’re going to pull them out of there and put them into a situation where they’re not set up to have stability or set up to have success. You have to weigh it from that end, too. Impact on our group and on the execution of the protocols, but then also impact on the individual and making sure you’re asking something realistic of somebody.”
The Cubs remain the only team that hasn’t had a single player test positive for COVID-19. And given the disruptions to many teams’ schedules — including the Cubs having games postponed in St. Louis — it wouldn’t seem likely that Theo & Co. would want to acquire a player from outside who could potentially bring the virus in. That isn’t meant to accuse anyone, simply to note that there’s still quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding the virus and it does appear that the Cubs have taken the protocols quite seriously. Further, it’s possible that a player who’s acquired by trade decides he can’t uproot his life and decides to opt out at that point. Per this Baseball America article:
Among the chief concerns in the majors is, with players able to opt out of the season, teams run the risk of acquiring a player who subsequently opts out following a trade. In response to an inquiry from Baseball America, a Major League Baseball spokesperson said the league has not put any mechanism in place for a trade to be reversed if a traded player opts out.
Oh. That really makes trading problematic. Further, teams are limited to trading only players within their 60-player pool for 2020, although they can also include PTBNL who might not be in that 60-player pool. The problem with the latter is that teams have even less information about those players, since they haven’t played at all, anywhere, this year.
Theo also talked about the Cubs’ financial situation and noted it’s not really any different from anyone in baseball in 2020:
“Just about every team in the industry — maybe every team in the sports world — is over budget in the big picture when you look at what’s happened to revenue,” Epstein said. “When that happens, you have to weigh any expense, whether it’s a player expense or any (other) expense. You have to weigh taking on any additional expense with the impact — and then put it in the context of the big financial picture — and decide if it’s something that is worth moving forward with.”
Lastly, even with MLB now permitting sharing of data and video between teams regarding the players at their alternate training sites, there’s still not very much information regarding minor leaguers who teams might make available in a deadline scenario. No one is playing real games at the alternate sites, so there really is no empirical data about players, nor has any scout been permitted to watch workouts at alternate sites nor are they allowed to attend games at MLB parks. So any actual data on minor leaguers in games is a year out of date, and anything about MLB players can only be gleaned from video, clearly not an ideal situation for scouting. Further, regarding the sharing of data, the Baseball America article linked above states:
Only about 20 of the 30 teams have opted in so far, according to ESPN, an estimate front office officials confirmed was accurate to BA.
But beyond the fact that not all teams have opted in, executives who have examined the data coming out of alternate site camps say it’s not substantive enough to make a trade based on it.
From a Cubs standpoint, there’s this from Patrick Mooney’s article:
Cubs officials have raved about Adbert Alzolay’s improvement during baseball’s shutdown and at the South Bend training site, which showed in a spot start against the Cardinals. Perhaps a healthy José Quintana will function like a trade-deadline addition. The Cubs aren’t going to suddenly acquire a hitter with a bigger name than Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Willson Contreras or Kyle Schwarber.
Bryant’s hurt and Baez is having a miserable season, but it’s certainly not impossible for either of those players to turn it around and hit like they have in the past. Contreras is drawing walks but otherwise not hitting. Not mentioned by Mooney is Tyler Chatwood, who’s had some success this season and could be close to coming off the injured list.
The Red Sox dumped players because they’re pulling up the rear in the tough AL East, and it’s possible that the 5-17 Pirates might make some deals. Beyond that, though, 23 of the 30 MLB teams are within two games of a playoff spot entering Saturday’s action. Between that, financial concerns and the pandemic, why mess with things?
I believe this will be the quietest trade deadline in MLB history as a result.
Will the Cubs make a trade before the August 31 deadline?
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