When it comes to the MLB trade deadline, it’s clear August is the new July.
Perhaps at least partially due to the addition of two more wild-card berths last year, teams are holding out longer than ever to determine if they are in the playoff race. That trend was demonstrated a month ago, as the Rangers’ acquisition of pitcher Matt Garza was the only July move of significance by a postseason contender.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were part of the silent majority that declined to make a deal prior to the non-waiver trade deadline. Since then, however, the Bucs and other clubs have been reportedly scouring the market in advance of Sept. 1, when playoff rosters must be set.
Trades can be still be made, but any bartering at this time of year must involve the complicated and cumbersome waivers system. Essentially, deals have to receive “permission” from other teams before being validated by the MLB league office; other clubs can claim a player to block him from going to a rival above them in the standings, thus scuttling the potential trade.
But those obstacles haven’t stopped teams from trying to put deals together, as Pirates general manager Neal Huntington has alluded to recently. Last week’s hot rumor involved 32-year-old Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, a former American League MVP who has erupted in August.
On Monday, reports indicated that 30-year-old Mariners first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales was up for grabs. That surely got the attention of the Pirates, who could use a more reliable option than Garrett Jones at the long end of a first base platoon. Morneau would be intriguing in that spot as well.
There is a problem with trying to acquire Morneau or Morales before Sunday: the waiver system gives every AL team a shot at claiming those players before NL clubs get a sniff. That antiquated procedure makes it more likely the Pirates deal for an NL player this week, which highlights the report by CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman that Mets outfielder Marlon Byrd was claimed by an unknown team Tuesday morning.
Byrd, 35, is making less than $1 million this year but his production befits a much larger compensation level. He’s been worth 3.9 wins above replacement (WAR) thus far, which would be the largest total of his 12-year MLB career; his .848 OPS is also well above average for a corner outfielder.
Considering his age and track record, the pending free agent wouldn’t be a long-term answer for the Bucs, but all they need is a few good weeks from a player. Especially with left fielder Starling Marte out with a nebulous hand injury, Byrd could be the best fit among the players on the waiver-trade market.
As Heyman mentions, the Reds have waiver priority over the Pirates, bringing in the possibility Cincinnati claims Byrd simply to keep him from joining a divisional rival. The Reds trail the Bucs by three games for second place in the NL Central.
The waiver process adds a level of intrigue – and gamesmanship – to typical trade discussions, but it isn’t prohibitive. Get ready for more rumors and reports as baseball’s second trade deadline brings just as much heat as the first.