The Major League Baseball trading deadline is quickly approaching and – as is the case every July – speculation is rampant about potential deals that could happen between now and the July 31 cutoff date. Many fans of the Seattle Mariners are anxiously awaiting to see whether their team will be “buyers” in an effort to salvage a disappointing 2015 season.
Determining whether Seattle – or any team – is truly a contender isn’t nearly as easy as it was just a few year ago. The advent of a second wildcard berth has blurred the line between contender and non-contender. Look at the current wildcard standings for each league and you’ll see what I mean. Going into today, nine American League teams are within seven games of the second wildcard team – that’s every non-division leader in the league. On the National League side, seven clubs are within seven games a postseason berth.
The second wild card has certainly added more players to the trading frenzy that goes on every late-July. With that in mind, how should fans gauge whether their team has a reasonable chance at making the postseason? Reviewing the 20-year history of wildcard play makes one point glaringly clear – a team’s playoff possibilities can be linked to their record on July 31.
Since the advent of the wildcard era in 1995, only three clubs have reached the postseason after being sub-.500 on the last day of July. The 1995 Mariners and 2003 Minnesota Twins both had one more loss than wins, while the 2005 San Diego Padres were three games under on July 31. Otherwise, every other playoff team were .500 or better at the trading deadline.
An optimist would point out that three teams have proven that reaching the postseason is possible – even if they had a losing record at the end of July. A realist would counter that only three of 160 wildcard-era playoff teams –less than two-percent – have reached the postseason after being under the .500 mark on the last day of July.
Although it’s a small sample size, that trend hasn’t changed during the brief three-year history of the two-wildcard system. The perception that more teams are willing to be buyers is true to a point, but the .500 mark seems to be the make-or-break decision point for most teams. Since 2012, only two losing clubs have been in the buy-mode – the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays and 2014 Cleveland Indians. Toronto was at the .495 mark, while Cleveland was at .491. Otherwise, sub-.500 teams were sellers or remained idle at the deadline.
What’s at stake
With approximately 20 games remaining before the deadline, the next three weeks could literally determine the number of buyers in the trade market and the postseason outlook for borderline teams – like the Mariners. As of today, Seattle has a 38-44 win-loss record and a .463 winning percentage.
Like many losing teams in both leagues, the Mariners need to perform extremely well for the rest of July just to reach the level of fringe contender. Other teams are hovering around .500, so they merely need to win a few more than they lose between now and the end of the month. In a few cases, the season is already over.
The challenge ahead
Here’s a rundown of the win-loss records that the losing teams must achieve for the rest of the month in order to get back to a .500 record.
Texas Rangers 10-9
Cleveland Indians 13-8
Seattle Mariners 14-8
Oakland Athletics 14-9
Boston Red Sox 13-7
Chicago White Sox 14-7
Arizona Diamondbacks 10-9
Atlanta Braves 12-10
San Diego Padres 13-6
Cincinnati Reds 15-6
Miami Marlins 17-3
Milwaukee Brewers 16-4
Colorado Rockies 16-4
Philadelphia Phillies 20-0 (would still be six games under .500 if they went undefeated)
The next 20 games has the potential to be the most significant stretch of games in Seattle’s recent history. If the Mariners don’t make July their first winning month and play at a .633 clip for the remainder of the month, fan discussions will quickly shift from demanding roster improvements to demanding a change in management.
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.