Monday, March 24

Wheeling and dealing

I've read more analysis of trades and potential trades these past few seasons than I probably should have, and I've noticed one generally accepted truth that I wish to challenge: the notion that a team should never make trades within its own division. There are four ways in which I want to address this topic.

First, we have the assumption that a team's standing within its division and the quality of its rivals dictate its success. This was perhaps true back in the pre-wild card MLB (Quick digression: if you still think the Wild Card is a bad idea, you need to have your head examined. That's the height of stubbornness.), but not so much now. Considering that in total the NFL has four wild-cards, baseball has two, and basketball essentially ten, the division structure doesn't carry the weight it once did. This is particularly true in basketball, where the conference is by far the most important entity. It's probably most relevant in baseball, with the unbalanced schedule and with Boston and New York frequently claiming the AL's lone WC. Football is of some importance, since you play division clubs twice, but it's not essential to take home a division crown to succeed. Look at the 2005 Steelers, if you dare. or the 2007 Giants. My point is: success against division rivals is not so important that you should avoid making potentially team-improving deals simply because a division rival is involved.

Second, and more fundamentally, is that there's no hard logic behind this view, only a vague sense that you'd rather not make your chief competitors better. Well, of course you don't - you don't want to make any team better! When you make a trade, you're trying to get the most possible value for your organization while giving up the least. People tend to consider an intradivision trade only in terms of who the enemy club gets from you, ignoring the fact that you are taking some of their assets as well. Trading is not a one-way street, and it's easy to lose sight of the "take" part of the give-and-take.

That having been said, I'll agree that smart GM's can and should prefer to make deals with non-division clubs. Many trades benefit both sides (otherwise, why make them?), and if that's going to be the case, you'd rather it be with someone you don't see so often. Still, having a preference for out-of-division swaps is far different than dogmatic avoidance of in-division moves.

Third, not all division rivals are created equally. Saying that the Tribe would prefer not to deal with the tough Tigers, for example, is one thing, but arguing that they shouldn't make a deadline deal with the lowly Royals to put themselves over the top is not smart thinking. Likewise, if your team's roster happens to be in disrepair and rebuilding is required (thankfully, no Cleveland team currently fits this bill), you need to make deals with whomever is convenient to get back on the road to respectability, especially since your division rivals' abilities aren't really going to come into play for you until a few years down the road.

Finally, we come to my fourth point, which is that improving one's team should always be the number one priority. If your team makes a good trade, one that improves your club and/or organization noticeably, you have improved yourself with respect to at least 30 other teams! This whole argument of not making intradivision trades breaks down when you consider that such a policy advocates NOT improving yourself with respect to 95% of the other teams in the league just because you might be helping out one other club. I'm not sure which cliche works better here: baby/bathwater or nose/face, but one of them or something similar must apply. Again, you'd prefer that one other club be someone you don't typically deal with on the field, but if an opportunity to get better exists, a wise GM will take it regardless of his trading partner.


JHH said...

Andy, I think your last point says it all for me. Whatever I think makes my team better will only make my opponents weaker. Of course you really have to trust your GM in those situations.

Nick said...

This kind of strict rationalism has no place in the world of sports commentary. :) (Aside: I'm against becoming one of those smiley-face senders, but once in awhile's probably okay.)