The trade deadline is July 31st. Anticipation for the deadline begins a few weeks, maybe a month, before the 11th hour. But the work that goes into making a big deal is practically a year-long process.
As a journalist, it’s easy to get lost in the immediacy of breaking news. Many of us work our sources trying to find out who will snag the Cliff Lee’s and Roy Oswalt’s of that year, but few of us pay attention to the process.
It’s not the destination, it’s the journey, right?
While milling around various ballparks the past few months, I started to pick the behind-the-scenes brains in baseball.
None of the details were shocking, but I found the leg work to be quite interesting. The sheer number of people and hours it takes to land one player put into perspective the tenuous nature of making a deal.
I don’t think it will come as any surprise the work starts early, but I was taken aback by how early.
Most teams begin to really assess their needs in May, but the real planning is already taking place during the offseason. One team employee told me it’s not unusual for him to be in a casual meeting with front office officials during the winter when he’s suddenly writing names on a napkin.
Even before a club heads to Spring Training, they need to have a dual plan in place. Plan A will be necessary if a team is in a competitive position and is looking to buy. Plan B (the less desired) comes into play in the event a club has failed to meet expectations and feels the need sell.
And these plans are not of the simple, ‘buy versus sell’, variety.
Teams have specific players already in mind who they may want to have wearing their uniform, and which players of their own they’d be willing to sacrifice.
Months before the season, scouts and front office officials look at each team in the league, trying to determine which might be interested in their own veteran players in the case of a sell scenario.
On the flip side, these same clubs know the needs of each opposing team in the event they are buyers. This allows them to have a tentative package of prospects and/or Major Leaguers they may be willing to give up in order to gain a key piece.
Teams have, at the very least, an idea of potential targets and sacrificial lambs before the first pitch of a season is even thrown.
I was also a little taken aback by how long these executives and scouts can keep a secret. Club employees say most teams begin exchanging names and setting the ground work for potential trades as early as mid-June. However, deals almost never come together for at least another month; often during the final minutes of deadline day.
And after all of that leg work, the final decision usually comes down to one guy–the general manager. In some cases the team president may have a say (as well as the owner), but the onus almost always falls on the GM.
When the final moves are made on July 31st, only the front office will know how long they’ve been in the works.