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Even for the newest fans of Major League Baseball, it doesn’t take long for them to wonder, “What the heck is a trade deadline? Followed up, inevitably, by “When is it?”
The MLB trade deadline traditionally is July 31. However, for 2022 due to a player’s strike before the season, the deadline was moved to Aug. 2.
For 2023 and going forward, it can be assumed that the trade deadline will remain the traditional July 31. However, with the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that ended the 2022 players’ dispute, the commissioner of baseball was given the option of setting the deadline any date from July 28 to Aug. 3.
For decades, hardly anything changed with the trade deadline system. Then, starting in 2019, significant changes began.
How Baseball’s Trade Deadline Works
Since 2019, after the deadline, no trades between MLB teams are allowed.
One would think well, duh, isn’t that implied in the name deadline? However, until 2019 there were many exceptions. Namely, trades could occur after the deadline by going through a rarely understood waiver process.
In the old way ~ a process implemented and adjusted pretty much since the trade deadline was born ~ teams wishing to trade after the deadline would place players in question on waivers, where every other team would have to pass on claiming either of them for the trade to go through.
While it may seem a tedious process, trades in August occurred routinely ~ confusing fans who thought the trade deadline had just passed.
In later years, players involved usually were very high-salaried veterans, where the current team wanted to shed personnel costs, while the new team was preparing for the postseason. Some big name, usually a slugger, would mysteriously land in the hands of a club fighting for a playoff spot. (Strangely, it always seemed to be the Yankees pulling this off).
The waivers-late-season-trade process acted kind of like a veto power, for any team to put a claim on one of the players to be traded, thus squelching the deal.
However, it did not work out that way entirely, as high-revenue teams would seek out high-salaried veterans for these trades ~ veterans who other teams just could not afford to keep if they claimed them on waivers.
It all ended in 2019. Now the deadline, whichever date from July 28 to Aug. 2 that the Commissioner sets, is the last time for team-to-team transactions can occur. No waivers, no exceptions.
Notes on the Date of MLB’s Trade Deadline
For many decades since it was established in 1923, the trade deadline was June 15. Then, for the 1986 season per a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the owners and players, the date was shifted to July 31.
Basically, it remains there, a point (July 31-ish) where about 2/3rds of a season has passed. April-July means free trading; August and September clubs must play with what they have.
Fantasy Baseball Trade Deadlines
In fantasy baseball, where fans use real MLB statistics to compete with virtual teams, the common deadline for managers to trade is Aug. 15. However, most public online leagues leave the option up to the league members or the league commissioner to set the deadline.
In a fantasy baseball regular season, mid-August is actually very late in the season, as playoffs generally begin in September. So, in reality, trades made in August in fantasy baseball usually make little difference. At least in the regular season competition, in leagues playing head-to-head format.
In Rotisserie leagues, where teams do not play against each other every week but accumulate points according to real stats through the entire regular season, August trades could make a real impact. There are no playoffs in Rotisserie baseball.
In reality, the actual MLB trade deadline is more vital to fantasy baseball than any other trade deadline set by individual fantasy leagues. That’s because deadline trades impact player values greatly ~ hitters can go to bigger stadiums, therefore, losing home runs; or closers could be relegated to set-up reliever, taking away valuable saves.
Any trade in real baseball impacts the players involved for fantasy baseball purposes. Players on new teams might not bat in the same place in the batting order, or pitch as much. Or, vice-versa: some players end up in better situations to rack up stats that fantasy managers need.
Some savvy fantasy baseball players grab players off the league waivers earlier than the MLB deadline, like in mid-July, in anticipation of a trade to a more favorable team (or home stadium).
Trade Deadlines in Other Team Sports
No other major team sport features trading personnel like baseball, where it has been a very important part of competition for over a century. However, in recent years there has been an uptick in the National Football League of major transactions at the deadline bell.
The NFL regular season trade deadline is usually Nov. 1 (as it was in 2022), or after 8 weeks of play, close to mid-season. It is important to note that the NFL has a salary cap per team, which means both clubs involved with a trade must also consider their own cap issues before proceeding.
(Major League Baseball has no salary cap; though it does have financial penalties for teams that spend too much each season on personnel).
The trade deadline during a regular season of the National Basketball Association is Feb. 9; it is March 3 for the National Hockey League.
For Major League Soccer it is much more complicated, as player trades, transfers, and loans are managed by the league, which gets final approval of any proposed transaction. The national soccer league deals with most what are termed “transfers,” and there are a lot of rules for transactions both for players already in MLS, and for bringing in international talent.
Why the MLB Trade Deadline Matters
The trade deadline has become a major milestone of every MLB season, to go along with Opening Day, and the All-Star Game. The reasons:
- It’s the last chance for teams to get new players to improve the team and its chances to make the postseason, and to win in the postseason.
- Quite often, very popular players change teams on a moment’s notice, igniting the interest of fans of the new club. On the flip side, some teams lose long-established, popular veteran players they trade away.
- Some poorer teams use the deadline to trade away bad or ending contracts, in exchange for future draft picks.
- History has proven that some deadline trades made all the difference for a championship club.
- However, most deadline trades end up making little difference.
- For fans, it can be seen as an indication of the club’s perception of the team at that moment. Basically, by the end of July each year, clubs must decide whether or not they can make the postseason. With that decision, they can choose to be “buyers” (to get new players) or “sellers” (to rid players and big contracts).
- This final point can either kill fans’ interest in that current season, or drive interest in the following season considering the new players acquired.
Important Developments in the MLB Trade Deadline
It may be hard to believe, but for over the initial 3 decades of Major League Baseball, there was no trading. Trades evolved with the emergence of the independent American League in 1901, and were more formalized between the leagues when they merged in 1903.
At first, trades were permitted via rules of either league ~ but only if the players consented.
The National Agreement of 1903 unified the leagues, and also eliminated the player consent requirement. From that point-on, at least until players began demanding a “No Trade Clause” in contracts, players had no control over where they might be sent to play.
Even when baseball added a Commissioner and he set the June 15 trade deadline for other leagues, trading players after that date was not categorically banned. For a long time this involved the convoluted rules of waivers, a process which ended in 2019.
It took many years for the leagues to trust one another regarding player movements (or what some might call player steals). Both leagues believed they were competing against one another, evidenced by how many 2-team cities there were back then, and each was wary of the other in terms of securing talent.
For instance, starting with the 1934 season, players had to be waived and offered openly to all other teams in his respective league, before being “allowed” to be shifted to the other league. Basically, each league retained “first dibs” status on their current players.
Starting in 1953, the clearing waivers requirement was added for both leagues, after June 15 (until 1986 when it moved to July 31).
Another very important date in the MLB season is Aug. 31, which is the last day players must be on the 40-man roster to qualify to play in the postseason.
Question: When was the first MLB trade deadline?
Answer: Aug. 20, 1917, in the National League. Back then, the leagues were more antagonistic against one another, so each had their own transaction rules. The American League adopted the deadline in 1920, setting it at July 1.
Q.: How did the MLB trade deadline get moved to July 31?
A.: It didn’t take long for both leagues to accept the same deadline, of June 15, which it did in 1923. It remained that date until the 1985 CBA, which took effect for the 1986 season.