The Art of the Deal
The MLB July 31 non-waiver trade deadline came and went, and in general, it ended up being a relatively uneventful trade market overall. Jake Peavy, Ian Kennedy and Matt Garza were among the biggest names traded this month, but most of the trade chatter came and went with nary a move to be made.
The Mets did not make a deal in July, to the chagrin of many Mets fans. That got me thinking about this Mets team, the future of this organization, seemingly on the cusp of phasing into the "building" stage of the rebuilding process soon.
One of Sandy Alderson's first significant moves as New York Mets general manager was a deadline deal in July 2011, when he traded Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler. That deal looked pretty promising at the time, and it only looks even more like a heist for the Mets these days.
This year, Alderson and the Mets found themselves in a similar situation, with a right fielder in Marlon Byrd in the midst of an excellent season, emerging as a legitimate trade candidate.
In the end, however, the trade deadline passed and Byrd remained a Met, just as Scott Hairston did in 2012. Holding onto Hairston in a lost season raised some eyebrows last year, and standing pat with Byrd will likely raise more eyebrows (as well as some questions) this year.
Of course, Byrd is no Beltran, and Hairston probably is no Byrd either, and the market can change for a variety of reasons. But evidently, Alderson did not care much for the offers he received for Byrd, and he wasn't willing to make a trade just for the sake of trading.
All the reasons for trading Byrd were obvious. He's 35 years old, making the league minimum, having a career year after nearly retiring in disgrace after a PED suspension a year ago. He's one of the better sluggers in the NL this year, and his glove has been surprisingly stout as well.
He might be the frontrunner for NL Comeback Player of the Year, and while he definitely had trade value for all those reasons, ultimately the Mets never got a suitable offer, by their standards.
Now, the question shifts to this: What are the benefits, tangible or intangible, to keeping Byrd around? The biggest argument, the one that will likely be cited the loudest and most often, is the "compete and finish strong" argument.
The Mets want to build on their winning month of July and keep that momentum going through August and September. Keeping the veterans who may not be here in 2014 won't necessarily set them up any worse in 2014 just because Byrd (or LaTroy Hawkins, or David Aardsma) wasn't traded for a marginal piece in July 2013.
The second part of the argument for why it makes sense for the Mets to have kept Byrd falls in line with the long-term organizational success that the Mets have begun to establish. Be steadfast on what you'll accept in a deal, stay firm to that, and let that reputation of a tough negotiator help spread around the league in the future.
I believe Dan Lewis was the first person I saw who touched on this on Amazin Avenue a few days ago, and the logic is pretty sound. If Alderson and the Mets draw a line in the sand, and refuse to cross it, that can lead to some tangible benefits in the future.
Essentially, the Mets can say "we want X and we'll take no less than X." Even if a potential trade partner scoffs at the Mets' demands, the Mets won't bend, they keep the asset (in this case, Byrd) to prove a point. The point being, you either make the deal on our terms or you don't make the deal at all.
That's the kind of tough negotiating that netted them Wheeler from the Giants. The same steadfast approach that netted them Travis d'Arnaud AND Noah Syndergaard from the Blue Jays. That no-nonsense style might mean you don't get any tangible benefit today (in Byrd's case), but it could mean that another team caves in a later deal, as San Francisco and Toronto did.
So, yes. Maybe the Mets would've been better off trading Byrd for some team's ~8th-20th best prospect. Maybe that return was unrealistic. But trading Byrd for anything, just because he's not going to be on the team next year, might not be as productive in the long run.
Granted, I was very much in favor of trading Byrd, and I believe I was in the majority there. It's not every day that the majority of Mets fans are on board with a decision to sacrifice the present for a future return, yet the Byrd trade rumors somehow managed to turn everything on its head for a few weeks.
The bottom line is that Byrd is still with the team he started the season with, and he's not alone. The majority of rumored trade targets ended up staying put league-wide, and only a handful of the names that did get moved project to have a major impact with their new teams.
The underlying root of the problem, in my opinion, is that the addition of the second wild card spot in each league has really thrown a wrench into the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
With so many teams teetering on the edge of playoff contention, along with a handful of teams who are too delusional to admit that they're not, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for deals to be made by July 31.
Maybe it's a classic case of small sample size, but since the extra playoff spot was added in 2012, the expected midsummer trading frenzy has slowed to a trickle, or so it seems.
Perhaps MLB should move the non-waiver trade deadline back to August 15 or so, enabling the playoff picture to clear up and shake itself out a little more. Otherwise, the true franchise-altering megadeals might become exclusive to the winter time. Not that there's anything wrong with that.