Part of growing up is realizing that many things you thought were true when you were younger are actually false. You gain experience, understand how limited your perspective used to be and learn to embrace change. I feel like the MLB trade deadline has really cemented all these lessons for me.
Coming of age as a Yankee fan during their dynasty run that ended when Jorge Posada grounded out to Josh Beckett in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, I grew up accustomed to Yankee dominance. Although the Yankees would not win another World Series until 2009, that dominance mostly continued after ’03, and it was intertwined with other commonalities during the decade. I always expected the Red Sox to be among the best teams, along with the Cardinals, Angels, Braves and Twins as well.
With 30 teams, of course the ones that would make the playoffs would vary from season to season, but it always seemed that you knew who was going to be near the bottom: the Pirates, Royals, Blue Jays and Astros, among a few others. Now, these teams have been some of the most prominent at the trade deadline, and I have found it a bit difficult to accept. But what they’ve done underscores how much the MLB has changed over the years and how much more competitive it’s become.
The Houston Astros made it to the World Series in 2005, but in the eight seasons after that they had only two seasons above .500 and lost more than 106 games in three consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2013. They became somewhat of a laughingstock in baseball and made you forget about their past success. They seemed to be in a constant rebuilding mode, but now that has all paid off as they have a very real chance of winning the AL West.
Before last year the Royals hadn’t made the playoffs since 1985, and in the 28 seasons between 1996 and 2013 they only had eight winning seasons. You never really paid attention to them because you never thought they’d be a factor in the season, but then they built a strong farm system and slowly emerged until their World Series run last year. I always viewed the Pirates as the Royals’ equal in the NL, constantly losing and a team you never had to worry about. Ever since Barry Bonds left them to sign with the Giants before the 1993 season, they had 20 losing seasons in a row before making the playoffs in 2013.
Then of course there are the Blue Jays. Since their second consecutive championship in ’93, they only had nine winning seasons in the past 21 and have never made the playoffs. You always knew they could be somewhat of a factor in the AL East, but the idea that they would compete and actually win the division or the Wild Card seemed a bit farfetched.
Of course all these teams were buyers at the trade deadline and made the biggest moves to secure their chances of making the playoffs and trying to win in them: the Astros picked up Scott Kazmir, Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez, the Royals got Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, the Pirates got Joakim Soria and the Blue Jays surprised everyone and got Troy Tulowitzki, David Price and Ben Revere.
I never thought I’d see the day where all these teams would be relevant at the same time and dominating the trade deadline. I know the Pirates have made the playoffs the last two seasons and the Royals made it to Game 7 of the World Series last year, but I think it’s this trade deadline that shows how much the game has changed.
The parity in baseball has grown a great deal over the past few years; more than half the league is in contention. This emergence of teams traditionally thought to be bad can be traced back to the Rays’ World Series run in ’08 and their ability to stay as a player since then, as well as the Orioles’ playoff appearance in 2012, their first since 1997. The Orioles and Rays are competing with the Blue Jays right now, and the Cubs as well have emerged as a playoff contender.
One of the biggest factors in this changing landscape is the addition of the second Wild Card. It has given teams more reason to stay in the race, which means there will be fewer teams looking to sell at the deadline. I think the second Wild Card has been great for baseball, and having more teams hesitant to abandon ship at the deadline benefits the competitiveness of the game and the fans who want to believe in their team for as long as possible.
Although I do miss the days when the Yankees and Red Sox dominated the American League and it seemed one of the two would win the pennant, I understand how great it is for baseball that more franchises have a shot at winning in the postseason.
Robert DePaolo is a rising senior in the College. The Wind-Up appears every Saturday.