MLB Trades Can Also Affect Teams' Psyche
by Robert Ferringo - 07/28/2008
I wonder which would be harder to get rid of right now: tickets to a Cleveland Indians or Pittsburgh Pirates game, or a three-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom house somewhere in the wild and wacky wilderness of Western Pennsylvania?
The Indians and the Pirates have given up on life. These clubs, once hopeful, have finally come to grips with the brutal reality of economics and class in Major League Baseball. Both rosters have been splintered by upper management in recent trades as players who weren't good enough to guide either organization into playoff contention are now being charged with putting some hope-crazed competitor over the edge. In the meantime, with nearly one-third of the regular season still to be determined, the players in Cleveland and Pittsburgh are left to fall on the sword for the sake of The Future and The Organization.
The plight of these two squads raises the issue of handicapping teams before, during, and after the MLB trade deadline. The casual fan generally only sees the physical act of The Trade. They see the names shifting, they see the new uniforms, and the focus settles on the benefactor of these deadline deals. Determining how the upper-echelon teams will get even better by acquiring talent at the trade deadline is easy. It's obvious. But true handicapping is being able to calculate the effect that these trades have on the Losers that is tricky.
For example, did you realize that the Oakland A's have gone just 4-10 since dealing Rich Harden to the Cubs on July 9? At the time of the move the A's were 49-42 - the same record as the New York Yankees - and just five games out of the Wild Card spot. But the trade of Harden, the team's ace, clearly sent a message that management was not committed to this roster, this team, in this year. Clearly the brass didn't think that Oakland was a threat, so they made a move to "build for the future". The message was clear. And even though the trade only should affect Oakland every fifth day it has clearly done a number on their psyche.
The Harden Trade was a move that may or may not have been a reaction to the Milwaukee Brewers dealing for C.C. Sabathia on July 8. The Tribe dealt big C.C. from Cleveland in the sunset of a 10-game losing streak. Naturally, the Indians were hammered the day of that trade and lost again the following afternoon. However, they went on to win seven of eight straddling the All Star Break, as if they were thumbing their noses at the Indians management after having the Break to collect themselves. But then they took another hit last Saturday, as veteran Casey Blake was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Once again, the Indians lost that day and lost the following afternoon.
It was even worse for Pittsburgh. They actually dealt their most reliable hitter (Xavier Nady) and their best reliever (Damaso Marte) in the middle of a game! They had to pull the pair and leave it to the to the rest of the club to figure out where they stood. Again, the Pirates lost that game on July 25 and have not won any of the two games since the move. Reality has hit them with the force of Manny Ramirez's maple through a Paul Maholm fastball.
Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Oakland are a combined 12-20 since making their respective trades. And that mark is bolstered by the Indians' modest 8-7 mark. However, in analyzing the lines on their games since then there really has not been a seismic shift away from these weakened warriors. Conversely, the four teams that immediately benefited from the trades - Milwaukee (11-5), New York Yankees (2-0), Los Angeles Dodgers (2-0), and Chicago Cubs (8-8) - have combined to post a 23-13 record.
That means that gamblers who faded the teams that gave up the better players in these main MLB trades and played on the clubs that scored said players would have gone 43-25 since July 8. That's a 63 percent winning percentage and money in the bank.
Yet, here's where the issue lies: the top-tier teams that received the better players are all marquee organizations and fuel for square bettors everywhere. People were blindly throwing money at the Brewers, Cubs, Yankees, and Dodgers already. After the trades the lines on these teams have simply gone through the roof. There is no value there for bettors. However, a safer and more lucrative betting strategy may be to simply play against the teams that give away the better player in these deadline deals rather than trying to chase the public and -200 lines on the rich teams that have gotten richer.
Having one of your star players - or even one of your regulars - traded has a ripple effect on the entire club. All of a sudden everyone moves up one slot in the order. Or all of a sudden there's some part-timer or some call-up starting in the field. It not only has an obvious effect on the talent of your squad - bad teams don't get better by trading their best players - but it also has the lingering psychological impact on a squad. These trades tell the teams, "You're not good enough." So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that these clubs perform poorly.
Keep this in mind when you're handicapping games over the next few weeks as many maneuvers - both minor and major - are going to change the landscape of Major League Baseball.