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Morning Report: The Problem With MLB’s Trade Deadline

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The bulk of the trade talk surrounding the Pirates this year involved the rumors of Felipe Vazquez being discussed with the Dodgers. By the time the deadline rolled around, the Dodgers addressed their need for a lefty reliever with a replacement level guy, opting to hold on to their top prospects, rather than spend big to get one of the best relievers in the game.

Honestly, can you blame them?

Major League Baseball is designed for teams like the Dodgers to win with little effort. Their local TV deal pays them more per year than any team’s payroll, including their own. At the time of the deadline, they had a 15 game lead in their division, along with a 6.5 game lead for home field advantage in the NL.

The Dodgers haven’t locked anything up officially, but they’re basically guaranteed a division title, and have a strong chance of getting home field advantage. They didn’t need to make a trade to ensure all of this. They were already so far ahead of everyone else that other teams needed to make a trade just to have a shot at catching up to them.

The Dodgers are the extreme, but this same story is happening in almost every other division in baseball. The Braves were 6.5 games up in the NL East on July 31st. The Astros were 8.0 games up in the AL West. The Yankees were 7.5 games up in the AL East.

Only two divisions had a close race. The AL Central saw the Twins leading the Indians by three games. However, the third place team in the division was 19 games back, and Cleveland had a 2.5 game lead on the first Wild Card spot.

The NL Central was a tie on July 31st, with the Cubs and Cardinals in the lead, and the Brewers one game back. The Reds were 6.5 games back, and the Pirates were 10.5 games back.

If you’re counting at home, that’s nine true contenders for the six division titles, with all of the close races coming in two divisions.

That doesn’t mean that the other division winners were able to sit back like the Dodgers and do very little. The Astros made a splash by getting Zack Greinke. Of course, they were also one game up on the Yankees for home field advantage, and two games up on the Twins. The Braves boosted their bullpen. The Yankees and Twins were both quiet.

MLB has become a three tiered league. There are the super teams, which right now consist of the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, Astros, and likely the Braves going forward. These are teams who either have big pockets, a lot of home grown talent from a successful rebuild, or both.

The next two tiers are the teams competing for a Wild Card spot, competing for one of the few division races that are close, and the teams who are still holding out hope because technically they’re in it, even if they don’t really have a strong chance to contend. The last group are the teams currently blowing it all up, not even trying to contend as they go through a rebuild.

There are some teams who will always be in that second contending tier, and some who could move up to the super team tier at certain times. But about two-thirds of the league will be stuck jumping back and forth between the second and third tier, depending on their current window of contention, and whether they’re working on a rebuild at the moment.

This could make things more difficult at the trade deadline going forward. You’ve got a few teams who really don’t need to make a trade, since they’re so far ahead of the competition. You’ve got more buyers and teams in a holding pattern than you do sellers, which means the cost is high for the middle tier. The teams who don’t really have a realistic chance at contending probably aren’t paying those prices, which leaves very few teams who are buying, and actually willing to pay the price to buy talent.

The solution would seem to be getting into that top tier where you don’t have to worry about buying at the deadline. But that tier is reserved for teams with deep pockets and a good plan. For a team like the Pirates, the only solution would be to end up in the top half of the second tier, although that might require them to drop down to the selling tier from time to time in order to launch them back to the contending tier.

PLAYOFF PUSH

Indianapolis has 28 games left. They trail by eight games in the division and 6.5 games in the wild card.

Altoona has 27 games left. They trail by 13 in the division.

Bradenton has 29 games left. They trail by 6.5 games in the division.

Greensboro has 27 games left. They trail by four in the division and 1.5 for the second best record, which could possibly get them a playoff spot.

Morgantown has 27 games left. They trail by 3.5 games in the division and 2.5 games in the wild card spot.

Bristol has 23 games left. They trail by 4.5 in the division and they’re 2.5 out of the second playoff spot.

GCL Pirates have 24 games left. They trail by nine in the division.

DSL Pirates1 have been eliminated from the playoffs.

DSL Pirates2 have clinched a playoff spot

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 9-7 to the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday night. The Pirates will activate Steven Brault (and Richard Rodriguez) for today’s game. Brault last pitched in the majors on July 5th, giving up one run over four innings to the Brewers. He suffered a left shoulder strain in that last start. His previous start, which was one run over 4.2 innings, was also against the Brewers. Brault made a rehab start with Indianapolis five days ago in which he allowed two runs over four innings. The Brewers are countering with veteran right-hander Chase Anderson, who has a 3.73 ERA in 94 innings, with 90 strikeouts and a 1.20 WHIP. He faced the Pirates back on July 7th and allowed two runs over four innings. He also faced them in late May (two runs over five innings) and early June (two runs over six innings), so you can expect him to allow two runs tonight.

The minor league schedule includes Indianapolis sending out James Marvel, who will get his first start since being named as our Pitcher of the Month for July. He has a 2.12 ERA in five starts with Indianapolis, picking up 30 strikeouts in 29.2 innings. The GCL Pirates have a doubleheader today. First round pick Quinn Priester will get one of the starts. He has a 2.25 ERA in 20 innings, with a 1.15 WHIP and 24 strikeouts. Altoona starter Pedro Vasquez has allowed two earned runs in each of his last three outings, though he threw six innings in his last start and six total innings in the two prior starts combined. Greensboro will send out Colin Selby, who followed a 2.36 ERA in five July starts, with five shutout innings and nine strikeouts on August 1st.

Bradenton needs to finish yesterday’s suspended game, which is a 2-1 lead with one out in the bottom of the eighth (extra innings since it was part of a doubleheader). When that’s completed, they will play one nine inning game with no starter listed, though it appears that Conner Loeprich could make the start. Morgantown is sending out fifth round pick Grant Ford, who has allowed one run over his last 13 innings. He has struck out 15 batters in his last eight innings. Bristol’s Adrian Florencio makes his eighth start. He’s coming off of three runs over five innings in his last start, which was the third time that he has faced Greeneville already this season.

MLB: Pittsburgh (48-64) vs Brewers (58-56) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Steven Brault (4.15 ERA, 53:32 SO/BB, 60.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (56-56) @ Norfolk (44-68) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: James Marvel (2.12 ERA, 30:10 SO/BB, 29.2 IP)

AA: Altoona (56-57) vs Richmond (41-70) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Pedro Vasquez (2.83 ERA, 74:19 SO/BB, 92.1 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (60-49) @ Charlotte (66-44) 5:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD

Low-A: Greensboro (67-45) @ Greenville (49-64) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Colin Selby (2.85 ERA, 80:24 SO/BB, 79.0 IP)

Short-Season A: Morgantown (25-23) @ Mahoning Valley (22-28) 7:05 PM  (season preview)
Probable starter: Grant Ford (3.05 ERA, 24:11 SO/BB, 20.2 IP)

Rookie: Bristol (20-24) @ Danville (19-27) 6:30 PM  (season preview)
Probable starter: Adrian Florencio (5.01 ERA, 27:12 SO/BB, 32.1 IP)

GCL: Pirates (12-20) vs Twins (17-14) 10:00 AM DH (season preview)

DSL: Pirates1 (26-29) vs Indians (21-31) 10:30 AM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates2 (44-11) vs Giants (23-31) 10:30 AM (season preview)

HIGHLIGHTS

From Indianapolis on Sunday, Will Craig sets a career high with 21 homers. This one went 403 feet

Kevin Kramer makes a nice throw from left field to get a runner trying to advance on a fly ball

Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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