I’m not sure how the trade deadline got to be on July 31st. I know that it has been July 31st since 1986, and before that it was June 15th. I just don’t know why the league decided to change the date, and why July 31st was picked.
Here’s what I do know. Two changes have happened since the 1986 season.
1. MLB moved to a three division and wild card system, doubling the amount of teams that would make the playoffs.
2. MLB much later added a second wild card team.
The result of this is that you have more opportunities to make the playoffs. Because you have more opportunities, you’re going to see more teams with a shot, even if those teams aren’t even good teams. Take today’s trade rumor. The San Francisco Giants are 45-51. They rank 4th in their division. There are 20 teams in the majors with a better record. Yet they’re not interested in trading Hunter Pence because they’re only 4.5 games out in a weak division.
It’s the same way around the rest of the league. With a third of the season remaining, 22 teams are within ten games of the playoffs, including current division and wild card leaders. Only eight teams in baseball are 11+ games back of their division or a wild card spot.
In a week and a half the trade deadline will arrive. So far the names on the market have been weak. That’s probably because there are only eight teams who could be considered sellers. You could probably consider more teams sellers, but those teams might not feel the same way. They might not be wrong either. The Dodgers were 30-42 on June 21st. A month later they’re 49-47 after a 19-5 run. So why wouldn’t the Giants consider themselves in contention? They don’t need to go 19-5 to be legit contenders in the NL West. In fact, if they do go 19-5, they’d have a .533 winning percentage, which would currently rank first in the division.
What Major League Baseball needs to do is move the trade deadline. They’ve added six playoff spots since the year they determined the trade deadline should be on July 31st. That means you’re going to have even more teams in contention on July 31st, and fewer teams looking to make deals.
MLB should move the trade deadline to August 31st. You might still have a lot of teams that are within ten games out of their division or a wild card spot, but ten games is a lot to make up in one month. You might have teams thinking they have a shot of making up ground with two and a half months to go, but some of those teams are definitely going to be sellers with a later deadline.
It’s not like MLB doesn’t already allow trades beyond July 31st. That’s just the non-waiver trade deadline. Teams can still make trades in August, although players have to clear waivers for a deal to happen. We saw that last year when the Los Angeles Dodgers traded for the entire Boston Red Sox team. So just remove the waiver restriction and allow trades through the end of August (teams are allowed to trade in September through waivers, but those players aren’t eligible for the playoffs).
There’s not really a good reason to stick to the July 31st date. That date was decided over 25 years ago, and MLB has undergone two major changes to the playoffs since then, putting more teams within shot of contention on July 31st. Moving the date back would create more activity, all while allowing real contenders to add for their playoff run, and allowing the rest of the teams to rebuild for future years.
Links and Notes
**Episode 3 of the Pirates Roundtable can be viewed here. This week’s episode features James Santelli as the host, along with Ed Giles of In Clemente Weather, Michael Waterloo of Pittsburgh Sporting News, Steve Petrella of MLB.com, Cory of Three Rivers Burgh Blog, and Brian McElhinney of Raise The Jolly Roger.
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.