Out here in Los Angeles, the Dodgers have infamously won only one playoff game since 1988. But they've been in contention for a playoff berth nearly every season, especially before the non-waiver trading deadline. Not surprisingly, the team has consistently been what you would call a "buyer" that entire time. And it has pretty much gotten them nowhere -- they've been doing a steady jog on the also-rans' treadmill.
This year's team was considered by many the favorite to win the National League West but has now lost 13 of its last 14 games, its worst two weeks since a franchise-record 16-game losing streak in 1944. That's right -- 62 years! And yet with their deficit a barely surmountable 7½ games, the question remains: Are fans willing to let the front office start waiting till next year, now?
News flash to the executives: On message boards Wednesday throughout Los Angeles, a popular answer was yes.
Buy or sell. That's the traditional trade-deadline dilemma. It's an intellectual discussion that disguises a battle of machismo. If you're a seller, you're a loser. You're walking away from the fight.
But even if you're walking away from a fight that you can win, maybe you can still walk tall.
Every day of the year, every team wants to improve -- on the field and off the field. That much we can agree on. And yes, sometimes you can improve by trading the prospect for the star, and sometimes you're better off doing the opposite.
The problem is that for some, being a seller carries the sting of surrender. If you give up a veteran to acquire a youngblood, you're giving up on the season. Supposedly.
As a result, contending teams face considerable pressure to get older. They're legitimately trying to get better as quickly as possible, but many of those moves end up being a waste of time, born of desperation. In the wild-card era, a majority of teams remain in playoff contention, exacerbating the crisis. Everyone's trying to get the few veterans who are available, and suddenly the flea market is full of madcap shoppers fighting over used tambourines.
Who's up for having real choices?
First of all, just because you want a veteran doesn't mean you can't trade a veteran. The Giants, for example, have a 40-year-old Moises Alou on their roster, a player whose time on this baseball earth is limited. When he hasn't been hurt this season, Alou is OPSing .915. Putting aside for the moment that he's the manager's son, he's a prime option in the outfield or at designated hitter for a serious World Series title contender. And the Giants, while still in the running for a National League playoff berth, are not much more likely to win the Series than John Gibbons is to take forget-me-nots to Shea Hillenbrand.
Why shouldn't a team like the Giants be allowed to consider trading Alou, or Omar Vizquel, or Jason Schmidt, for players who can keep the team above water in 2006 but also, more importantly, will keep them from drowning in the years to come? A younger, more anonymous, but still-established player for a true World Series contender can be an impact performer for a team in the current NL slogfest. Characterizing the trade would require a little more subtlety than the buyer-seller debate allows for, but in the end, both teams would be well-served.
Beyond that, of course, there is the deal that dare not be considered: a playoff-contending team trading productive veterans for prospects. Almost every adult baseball fan today remembers the White Flag Trade of Deadline Day '97, when the Chicago White Sox, three games out of first place in the American League Central despite a .500 record, sent away veterans Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin and Roberto Hernandez for six much younger names, including Keith Foulke and Bobby Howry.