Baseball has evolved a lot over the past few years, particularly in terms of competitive balance. While there are teams that remain perennial doormats, such as the Pirates and the Royals who have combined for one winning season since 1995, a lot more teams feel that they have a legitimate chance at the playoffs than there had been in years past. With the second Wild Card helping to add a bit more parity, and more teams giving their younger talent extensions earlier to delay free agency, the way that teams with larger payrolls, such as the Yankees, have built their teams via free agency may be becoming a thing of the past. Add in the new limitations when it comes to spending in the draft, and it may not be as easy to acquire talent as it had been previously.
With that in mind, Joel Sherman had an interesting piece wondering if baseball may be heading into a Golden Age of trading. In the piece, he wonders if there will be more blockbuster trades, as the pool of available free agents decreases. Also, those free agents are more likely to be older, and approaching the downside of their careers, as they are being extended throughout most of their prime.
As such, the lack of available free agents and more teams in the market to trade for talented players may end up helping the Rays. As it stands presently, the Rays cannot afford to have many overly expensive players on their roster. With David Price becoming more expensive with each passing year, teams are waiting for the point in time where the Rays are anticipated to trade him, since he may soon be beyond their budget limitations. By having more potential suitors than there may have been in the past, since more teams may feel that a player like Price could be the piece needed to catapult them into the playoffs, the Rays may be able to maximize his trade value for than they could have even a year before.
Already, it appears as though the return in trades has been higher than it had been. Consider the hauls that the Rays received for James Shields, or the return the Mets got for R.A. Dickey. For one year of Shin-Soo Choo, the Indians got back a top pitching prospect in Trevor Bauer. With the possibility that free agency may be becoming a bit de-emphasized due to fewer players in the peak of their careers being available, trades are likely to increase, with the returns potentially being higher than they had been before.
Even though certain aspects of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement may have hurt, such as the spending cap in the draft and the changes in regards to compensatory picks, the changing landscape of free agency may end up being helpful as the Rays continue to find ways to remain competitive. If fewer players hit free agency, then the Rays financial disadvantages may end up being less of a factor than they have been, since there would be fewer players for teams to spend money on. Although they would still likely have to part with players as they reach certain financial thresholds, they may be able to continue to build upon their already excellent farm system. By continuing to receive top prospects for those players, and extending their younger players before free agency, the Rays may be able to continue their run of success.
It may be that baseball is truly about to enter a Golden Age for trades. If so, the increased emphasis upon the trade market may help the Rays in both the long and short term.