Geoff has a good post up on his Mariners blog this morning about why the M’s aren’t ready to start trading quite yet, seeing as how they’re still hanging in the AL West race at 5 1/2 games back.
The question I have is this: Will anyone be ready to deal by July 31? OK, the Washington Nationals will, and the Baltimore Orioles probably will. But outside the beltway, Bud Selig appears to have finally achieved the parity he has sought for so long — with a lot of help from the wild card.
Check out the standings in today’s newspaper. Pay particular attention to that new-fangled category called “WCGB.” That’s “wild card games behind.” In other words, how far each team is behind in the wild-card race. For those without a paper handy, here it is.
As of today, only two teams are farther than 7 1/2 games behind in either their division race or the wild card race. That’s the Nationals (18 games behind in the NL East, 15 games behind in the wild card), and the Orioles (9 1/2 games behind in the AL East, 9 games behind in the wild card).
Everyone else, at least at the moment, can fool themselves, or be bullied by their fans, into believing they are in contention. Or at least close enough not to bail.
Consider the NL West, where the Dodgers are running away with the division race by eight games over the second-place Giants, and have a double-digit lead over everyone else. Due to the fact that the Cardinals are leading the National League wild-card race with a paltry .544 winning percentage, even the Colorado Rockies, who just fired their manager and are eight games under .500, are just 6 1/2 games out of the wild-card race. The Giants are just one back.
Houston, which sits last in the NL Central, is five out of the wild card. The Florida Marlins, four games under .500, are 4 1/2 back. Which one of those teams is prepared to blow up their season? As Geoff points out, the Pirates ventured into the trade market last week to deal All-Star Nate McLouth, and they are getting an extreme backlash from their fans.
The American League is similar. In the AL West, last-place Oakland is 7 1/2 behind the first-place Rangers, and 7 back in the wild card (the Red Sox, no surprise, lead the wild card at .579). Last place Cleveland is nine games under .500 but just seven back of the first-place Tigers in the Central. Even the Orioles, with a little bit of a run, can get into that netherland of borderline contention.
The next seven weeks prior to July 31 are likely to lead to further separation. But there’s still going to be a majority of teams in that no man’s land — mediocre record, but just close enough to think that they’re only one player, or one hot streak, from sneaking into the postseason.
As always, the management of those teams has to take a good, hard, honest look at their chances and decide if, for the long-term health of the team, they can afford NOT to take advantage of what is likely to be a bona fide seller’s market. The Mariners, and Jack Zduriencik, are almost certainly going to be among those teams having to make that hard call.