March 3, 2007

Parity is hurting trade deadline excitement.

by Dan Bilicki In: Uncategorized

Ask one of your friends who follows sports, in particular football, when the trade deadline for the NFL is and more often than not, they won’t be able to answer. Very rarely are players traded in the NFL and even rarer when it happens midseason. 2006’s trade deadline in the NHL was the first of such since the lockout and ergo, the first with a salary cap in place. While there are usually a ton of buyers and sellers and superstar names often are on the move, there was the least amount of movement in recent years. In the NBA, due to their complicated salary cap/ luxury tax system, it can also be hard at times to make big moves at the deadline or at any time for that matter. Most teams in the NBA are already over their “soft” salary cap which hinders movement. The only league of the “big 4″ sports where there is a possibility of multiple big name moves every deadline is in Major League Baseball. It figures that baseball is the only sport of the four without a salary cap, even though it has instituted a nearly laughable luxury tax which only few teams have ever had to pay. Looking at these facts alone, it seems fairly obvious that salary caps are killing the excitement of trade deadlines.

The desired effect of a salary cap and, to a lesser extent, a luxury tax, is to create parity in the league to level the playing fields between the “have” larger market franchises and the “have not” smaller market teams. The leagues want teams in lesser populated areas to have a chance to compete with the gargantuan markets. These salary ceilings limit big name and big money free agent signings in the off-season and also prevent teams from buying out all of the top available talents (even though the Yankees are proving money doesn’t buy championships). With most teams seemingly level, playoff races are tighter and it’s easy for a team on a well-timed winning streak to justify becoming deadline buyers as opposed to the deadline sellers that they should be. Any economist, or even a person with a regular amount of common sense, could tell you that when a marketplace is lacking sellers, not many deals can be done. The same can be said when buyers are up against their allotted budget; when people can’t afford to make a deal, no deal can be done.

With these caps in place, free agency becomes more of a factor than ever. While most player movement is done throughout the off-season now, there is a bigger role that free agency plays in trades. Most teams will either look to take on expiring contracts through trades and buyers will use these contracts as bargaining chips in trades. Players with semi-large expiring deals mean that the team holding them will get that cap-room freed up in the free agency period and be able to put that money towards players they covet. Players with expiring contracts may also be traded away because their team may feel that they will be unable to re-sign them, ergo, lose them and not get anything in return.

Just recently, there were two contrasting evidences in my trade deadline theory. While the NBA had only 3 deals involving 4 players take place, the NHL set a record for deadline movement. Even though the standings say otherwise, it seems that every team in the NBA felt fine with the rosters they had and didn’t feel it necessary to make any splashes in the pond. The NHL, on the other hand, has proven that the GMs around the league have figured out their ways to deal with a cap in place, but many of them still haven’t figured out how to build a proper team.

I remember years ago I would stay tuned to the ticker to see every trade come in on the wire. I was excited to see big names changing postal codes and role players brought onto rosters that lacked ideal depth. There was an immediate on teams who suited up their new players as soon as they could. With free agency, there’s nothing like that; there’s a wait of an entire off-season to see if the moves work out. There’s also no excitement of deals coming across the board by the hour; days and weeks can come between signings. While I’ll never argue that salary caps are a bad thing, they’re ruining the most exciting days on the sporting world calendar and that has to be said.

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