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Trade to be named later: Why PTBNL deals could make for frustrating 2020 deadline

And no, I don’t mean Josh Phegley

Just for fun: Can you guess which current A’s player this is? (Without looking up the Getty photo caption!)
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The 2020 MLB season has required a lot of compromise by fans. We waited four extra months, to only get 60 games instead of 162, which we have to watch on TV because we can’t go to the ballpark. It’s working out alright for Oakland A’s fans, who get to enjoy our best team in recent memory, but it would still be even cooler to see them in person.

The trade deadline might be similarly anticlimactic. We already know the market could be tight, with few teams willing to sell, and few buyers likely to be interested in paying full rates for essentially one-month rentals. But there’s another reason this deadline could be disappointing from a fan standpoint: We might not even know what the trades are until November.

The current temporary-measure rules of the 2020 season dictate that teams can only trade players out of their 60-man player pools. For most clubs, that means their 28-man active roster, plus the handful of depth guys they have available as emergency replacements, and then a dozen or two of their top prospects whom they wanted to continue working with during the season.

But organizations contain hundreds of players, and not every trade conveniently pulls from one of those three groups. Often we’ll see some intriguing High-A prospect who ranked 20th in their organization in exchange for a middle reliever, or something along those lines. In years when the A’s don’t make a blockbuster move, those mid-level deals are a lot of fun to talk about when they happen, in whichever direction they go (buyer or seller).

The loophole for 2020? The player to be named later. Much, much later, like after the season is over.

We’ve already seen this a couple of times in real life. When the A’s cut the cord on prospect Jorge Mateo, they sent him to the San Diego Padres for a PTBNL. Mateo presumably didn’t carry enough value to net anyone high enough in San Diego’s organization to have been invited to their alternate camp, and the time sensitivity of the move for an out-of-options player who wasn’t going to make the upcoming roster surely cost Oakland some leverage in negotiations, so the two sides will figure out more suitable arrangements later when the rules aren’t restricting them. It simply couldn’t be completed at that moment, but it also needed to happen right then.

Of course, such a minor deal may have involved a PTBNL rain-check even in a normal year, especially since it couldn’t wait forever with the clock ticking on Mateo’s out-of-options status. But Thursday brought a better example of what might be yet to come, when the Seattle Mariners shipped Taijuan Walker to the Toronto Blue Jays for naught but a PTBNL.

Walker never made good on his elite Top 10 national prospect status, but the 27-year-old has at least carved out an MLB career as a viable starter and has put in perfectly decent work this season. He’s not a star, but he’s a productive big leaguer, the kind of rental who would normally fetch an interesting enough lotto ticket prospect to give Mariners fans something to discuss for the rest of their rebuilding campaign. The guy in the Lookout Landing logo really could have used a distraction from his sorrows, but he’ll just have to wait for this one.

Here’s some context. Out of our preseason A’s Community Prospect List (CPL) Top 30, six of the names are currently in the majors — Luzardo, Puk (injured), Murphy, Heim, Brown, and Machin, with Brown more of a taxi guy who’s just here for a few days right now. One more is gone (Mateo). Another 16 are at alternate camp in San Jose, including players of all ages and levels, and they’re joined by the club’s 18-year-old 1st-round draft pick from June. Sitting out entirely for now are Nos. 11, 14, 20, 21, 22, 25, and 28, which are mostly extremely young players or those whose performances were particularly lacking in 2019.

In 2018-19, Oakland made several deadline deals involving a big handful of prospects. Some would have likely been in the player pool if it had been in effect those years:

  • Jameson Hannah (for Tanner Roark) was a Top 10 CPL name and would have surely been included
  • Logan Shore and Nolan Blackwood (for Mike Fiers) were in the mid/late-teens section of the CPL and would have probably been included; Blackwood also could have been there as a potential fast-track relief candidate
  • Bobby Wahl and Will Toffey (for Jeurys Familia) probably would have been there; Wahl had already played in MLB and would have been a lock, and Toffey was the previous year’s polished college 4th-round pick, just as Kyle McCann is now (and McCann got invited, albeit with the confounding variable of being a catcher)

But the others?

  • Dakota Chalmers (for Fernando Rodney) was a young, low-level pitcher who was always hurt, and there’s no way he would have gotten a spot in the pool
  • Abdiel Mendoza and Teodoro Ortega (for Cory Gearrin) weren’t factors in the CPL and wouldn’t have been close to the pool’s radar
  • Dairon Blanco and Ismael Aquino (for Jake Diekman) would have been unlikely for the pool, though Blanco may have had an outside chance as an older prospect they wanted to get moving on
  • Kevin Merrell (for Homer Bailey) may have been in Austin Beck territory as a top draft pick who wasn’t making progress, and if the high-ceiling Beck got passed over then it’s hard to see Merrell having gotten extra favor

Can you imagine if the A’s had sent two PTBNLs to rent Cory Gearrin, and we had to spend months wondering who they were? The suspense would have destroyed us. I mean, they probably didn’t give up Lazaro Armenteros in the deal, but you can’t tell me for absolute certain until the official announcement.

Sure, the bigger trades on that list would still have been possible this summer because the prospects were high-profile enough to have been in the pool, but those are also the deals that we’re less likely to see this time around. If there isn’t a huge blockbuster for a long-term controllable star (and I wouldn’t hold my breath on that), then it might just be an extra role player here or there for Oakland’s bench or pen.

And even if it is a rental for someone solid like Fiers or Roark, the price could drop enough in this short season that it goes from Shore or Hannah down to the Chalmers/Merrell zone. This year that could mean names like Hogan Harris or Richard Guasch, just to pick a couple from the 20s of the current CPL who aren’t in the pool.

There was talk earlier in August of maybe expanding the pools from 60 players up to 75 to help spur scouting opportunities and enhance the trade market, but clearly that hasn’t happened yet. (News by Josh Norris of Baseball America, but here’s a non-paywall link to MLBTR.)

So strap in and temper those expectations, Athletics Nation. Even if we do see the A’s make some trades in the next few days, it’s possible we might only get half the story right now, with the rest coming in November.