The Myth Of The Stupid Boring Deadline
The Mariners didn’t do anything on Wednesday, in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline. That’s not really fair — they did plenty of things, taking plenty of calls and doing plenty of research. If you suggested to the Mariners on Wednesday that they didn’t do anything, the executives would laugh in your face. They were at work. They were busy. But they didn’t, ultimately, make a deal. The roster that was remains the roster that is, despite the roster having a number of perfectly tradeable players. The Mariners weren’t the only team to stand pat. The Giants didn’t do anything. Lots of teams didn’t do anything. People have said this was a slow and boring deadline, perhaps in part owing to the reality of two extra teams qualifying for postseason play.
It actually feels like people say that almost every year. Almost every year, people feel like the trade deadline was boring, and I know this year a lot of Mariners fans were thinking about potential moves, potential prospects. There are few things fans love more than trades, and the opportunities to discuss them. The Mariners gave their fans no trades to discuss, at least not trades that actually happened. The overall trade deadline was light on stars and light on concrete activity. People say they’re bored. People say this deadline was lame. I’m pretty sure they’re wrong; I’m pretty sure they’re missing the point.
The trade deadline is only in very small part about trades that take place. The excitement about the trade deadline, I mean. Let’s say a trade happens. Let’s just say. Let’s say it involves your favorite team! That’s exciting! For a very short time. Do you know how quickly the average person gets over transactions? Do you understand how amazingly and sometimes disappointingly quickly we adapt? Trades are exciting because they represent change. T will represent time points. At T1, you have a roster, and at T2, you have a different roster, because of a trade. Between T1 and T2, there was change. But then you’ll hit T3, and T4, and T5, and so on and so forth. You perceive the most sudden change immediately. After that, you feel the change less and less. Eventually, a changed roster feels like a normal roster. After the initial rush of talking about what you got and what you lost, you get familiar with the new reality. That which is familiar is particularly unexciting, relative to when things are exciting.
We love when trades happen, even if they’re bad trades, but it’s a fleeting high. It’s an ephemeral whiff of emotion. The minute a trade gets announced, you start getting used to it. Within a surprisingly brief period of time, your team is just your team, and you’re rooting for the same stuff. Fans of good teams want wins, however. Fans of bad teams want progress, however, or maybe even losses. You start to forget about the trade because more important than a trade are the games. The games are the heart of the season.
The trade deadline is somewhat about the trades, but so much more than that, it’s about the possibilities of trades. It’s about all those solid rumors and nonsensical rumors, about imagining whatever you want because who knows what some team might do? Until the trade deadline, anything is possible, anybody might become available. And you start to care even about the lesser players. Bud Norris isn’t very good, but he’s trade-deadline interesting, and he was the subject of countless rumors leading up. It was almost anticlimactic when Norris finally got moved. The real thrill of it was thinking about Norris moving, and where he might go and what he might get and what the implications might be.
The appeal of the trade deadline is the circus. Or, let’s think of it as an amusement park ride, a roller-coaster. The trade deadline is a ride, and even if nothing real substantial happens in the end, was a roller-coaster not worth it because no one gave you a big stuffed animal when you got off? In the weeks leading up, you get to fill your time thinking about countless possibilities. You get to think about which pieces to move, which pieces to get, what might fit where. You get to follow rumors — and there are millions and millions of rumors — and then you get to speculate on validity and significance. Around the trade deadline, baseball keeps a fan engaged. The next rumor might be five seconds away. It might be something you’d never heard before. Nothing’s certain until the deadline passes, and even then, we’re always warned that trades can be announced afterward, since they need to be approved. So it’s more like people can’t calm down until half an hour after the deadline. This year, the post-deadline trade was Drew Butera to someone for something, which in a sense is appropriate, but it doesn’t matter what happened. It doesn’t matter what happened. It mattered what we thought could happen, in our heads, at the time.
In terms of stuff to discuss, there’s no such thing as a slow trade deadline. Especially now in the Twitter Era. Everything gets tweeted, no matter how worthless, and sometimes the messages are contradictory. Every reporter with a source tries to get his voice out there, and that’s content, that’s fodder. We all know it’s absurd, we all know it’s unhealthy, but we all follow and click. We all become rumor addicts, even when we’re advising people not to become rumor addicts, because it’s fun and creative and ultimately it’s all stupid so why not participate in some more of the stupid? Active trade deadlines are awesome. Inactive trade deadlines are awesome. The excitement of the former just ends a few hours later than the excitement of the latter.
Here’s all the evidence you need that people love the trade deadline: every year, people complain that they’re bored by the outcome. Which means that, every year, people get into it, regardless of the year right before. There’s no such thing as a boring trade deadline. That’s just the come-down talking, after the drugs.