More than any time in sports, the MLB Trade Deadline can alter the future of an organization and even its culture. With hopes of attaining the highest honor, clubs can lose sight of long-term player development, unloading prospects for big-name talent. The best clubs, however, can prioritize, making strategic moves while maintaining minor league talent.
The Trade Deadline is a crazy time. Teams use the market for a multitude of reasons. Specifically, teams aim to acquire playoff assistance, dump unfavorable contracts, or simply clear space to start over. More than anything, fans must realize that the deadline is a deeply personal time, providing extremely different situations to different teams. There is no set formula, no manual on how every team should handle themselves.
Ultimately, to me, a team’s tendency to buy, sell, or remain idle depends on a few things. For teams like the Cubs, youth factors into their decision making, along with their perceived likelihood to reach/win a World Series. With such a young, talented roster, Chicago can afford to shell out prospects for the likes of Aroldis Chapman. Frankly, they are where every team would like to be: young, talented, and able to be aggressive. Needless to say, such a position didn’t come without supreme patience.
Next, one can examine the New York Yankees, a team simply trying to start fresh. Wandering in the post Derek Jeter Era, the Yanks are full of unwanted contracts, patiently waiting to stockpile, develop, and explode. As such, they were poised to sell, ridding of Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, and Carlos Beltran. In doing so, the Yankees transformed their farm system nearly overnight, providing excitement for the future.
Above are two extreme examples; for the most part, teams may fall somewhere in the middle, afraid to make big moves due to a fear of depleting their respective Minor League systems. In the following paragraphs, I will explain why such a strategy should be celebrated equally as those previously mentioned. Prospects, in a way, should always be a priority. The Cardinals are a prime example to explain why.
As I've said, I think Tilson's ceiling is a 4th outfielder. Bader/Hazelbaker/Pham make this a very low risk move
— CardinalsFarm (@CardinalsFarm) July 31, 2016
To me, teams should always make their farm system nearly as important their Major League product. Such a claim comes down to one word: culture. Every good organization has distinct culture, a specific method and style that defines their success. If you examine the Major Leagues, teams like the Cardinals, Giants, Red Sox, and Royals stick out. By no coincidence, these are the teams that consistently compete at a high level. Such culture is difficult to install, and even more difficult to preserve. It takes phenomenal leadership from all involved, and a relentless commitment to the creed.
Perhaps most importantly, baseball culture must be top to bottom. From rookie ball to the Bigs, players must understand what they are playing for, and what their organization values. By the time such prospects reach the Majors, they are surrounded by an atmosphere of familiarity, better suited to handle failure and sustain success at the professional level.
With high-profile deals and constant depletion of farm systems, organizations can run the risk of interrupting a culture or jeopardizing its future. Players that are unfamiliar with a culture are not set to thrive, unless they are a part of an exceptional group of ball players. Primarily, it serves best to develop a player fully in your system, watching them grow, knowing their tendencies and strengths better than any scouting could possibly accomplish. For this reason, it remains the best option to maintain prospects, increasing the staying-power of your club and their chances to repeatedly take cracks at a World Series.
In a game filled with chance and unfairness, it is simply unreliable to bank on big deals and constant movement in the system. Even with the most talented roster out, a team isn’t ever guaranteed success in the playoffs. For this reason, it is best to adopt a model of consistency, rolling out prospects year after year who can help the team try to beat the odds.