Saturday, July 05, 2014

Time-Is-Moneyball

There is a certain rhythm to a baseball season. It starts off in a mad rush, with small hot streaks by bad teams and unknown players exciting all sorts of cloud cuckoo-land extrapolation. (See: This April's Miami Marlins, and everyone who thought they'd win 100 games based on their first week).  Then it settles into the process of shaking itself out, as good teams separate from bad, and injuries knock off contenders without depth. Flashes in the pan fade out until everyone's got a pretty good idea of whether they're contenders or pretenders, and then the trade talk starts. This tends to be a ton of nothing until July, at which point trade talk starts bubbling up ahead of the July 31st deadline. 

It is, as they say, the way things done. Teams will wait until the last minute to be sure to extract the best possible deal for the pieces they're attempting to move, which means that acquiring teams get that much less of their new players, which in turn makes them that much less interested in surrendering quality for them, which kind of defeats the purpose of the whole thing, and, well, oy.


Which is why what the Cubs and the A's did is so interesting. Yes, yes, it's a meeting of the Moneyball minds, with Billy Beane on one side, and the dread Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer beast on the other. And yes, the Cubs moved two of the most desirable trade commodities on the market in one swell foop while the A's pillaged their farm system, including uber-prospect Addison Russell, for two pitchers who just might be having career years. And yes, adding Russell to a Cubs system already stacked with bats raises all sorts of questions about what they're going to do with all the Javier Baezes and Arismendy Alcantaras of the world, seeing as they already have a Starlin Castro and teams are generally discouraged from putting 4 shortstops on the field at the same time.

No, what's really interesting about this is that it's 27 days ahead of the deadline. No messing around, no playing coy - the A's figured out what they wanted and paid the price to get the maximum use out of it. Getting Samardzija and Hammel now as opposed to four weeks from now? That's 10 starts' worth of difference. Time before trade deadline is the new market inefficiency, and Beane just made that explicit. Now the Angels and Mariners have to respond now, or risk giving Oakland a month's advantage with their new toys. That means richer potential hauls for teams they deal with, too, because the pressure's on in ways it wasn't at the deadline in years past. Already sources are reporting the Angels are close to a major league deal [edit: they just got themselves Joe Thatcher and Tony Campana, which is like responding to artillery with a loud fart], which means the Mariners can't be far behind, and...

Time, they say, is money. Which means money is really time. And that means Moneyball is Timeball, and the A's just put everyone else - and the traditional rhythm of the game - on the clock.
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