Before we delve into the inevitably batshit crying-in-baseball drama of the striving, quasi-fictional baseball franchise known as the New York Metropolitans, let us take it out West for some perspective (or lack thereof): On Thursday afternoon, with the Major League Baseball trade deadline looming, the Los Angeles Dodgers dealt for a pair of pitchers, the Marlins’ Mat Latos and the Braves’ Alex Wood, along with roughly 19 other second-tier players.
This is what the Dodgers do these days; they acquire everyone and everything they can, with a tractor-beam like disregard for the nitty-gritty details. They are, as journalist Molly Knight’s recently published book recounts, a franchise that spends freely and wildly and not necessarily intelligently, and while they are in first place in the National League West, one of the most remarkable storylines of this baseball season to date is that they cannot fend off the defending World Series champions, a San Francisco Giants team that boasts an entirely homegrown infield and a fragile, aging and iffy starting rotation patched together around a single Bunyan-esque lumberjack.
As I write this, the Giants’ only deadline move has been to trade for pitcher Mike Leake, in keeping with their recent strategy of avoiding headline-grabbing deals (their biggest offseason acquisition, third baseman Casey McGehee, has been displaced by a gawky and lightly regarded prospect named Matt Duffy who might be a Rookie of the Year candidate). And while there is still a little bit of time left, and while it also wasn’t for lack of trying – the Giants apparently made serious offers for starters David Price (who wound up going from Detroit to Toronto) and Cole Hamels (who wound up going from Philadelphia to Texas) – there’s something kind of beautiful about the contrast, about the way the most successful franchise of this decade (in any sport), a team that’s won three World Series in five years, isn’t willing to shed a key part of its core – say, pitcher Chris Heston – for a short-term fix.
Of course, that also isn’t very much fun for those who turn to baseball’s trade deadline seeking an odd mélange of illogic and desperation (depending upon your point of view). But if you wanted those things, you needed to look no further than, say, Toronto, where the Blue Jays traded multiple prospects for two very good players (Price and Troy Tulowitzki), despite the fact that they are, at six games behind the Yankees in the AL East, still not a sure thing to capture a Wild Card slot; or, say Texas, where the Rangers dealt for Hamels when they are also locked into the middle of an admittedly mediocre and wide-open AL Wild Card race.
And you could always look to Queens, where the Mets, in attempting to trade for the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez, actually made their own shortstop, Wilmer Flores, burst into tears on his home field. As it turned out, this crying game was for naught, since the trade was nullified reportedly due to concerns about Gomez’s hip (or money); but it’s the kind of thing we expect the Mets to do, given the overarching comic relief that the franchise has provided for the New York tabloids over the past decade (this one was so universally weird that even the Post and the Daily News reached a brief détente). GM Sandy Alderson seems to be legitimately trying to build a contender, but come on, we’ve met the Mets by now, and this is what they do.
That’s what this trade deadline is about, really: It’s about money and yearning, and the Dodgers have plenty of both, and perhaps this is finally the year they get it together in the latter half of the season and blow every other National League contender out of the water on the basis of sheer financial terror. Or maybe this is the year the Mets conjure some sort of voodoo in the wake of that emotional display, or maybe the Blue Jays make the playoffs and power their way into the World Series for the first time since Joe Carter blasted that home run off Mitch Williams two decades ago. But amid all this noise, it’s often the quiet teams that tend to prevail, which is why the best franchise in baseball is still the one that wasn’t willing to offer up its heart just to make a splash at the end of July.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb