Every July 31, Major League Baseball general managers wake up feeling immense pressure. Baseball’s trade deadline is just hours away, and the intensity of the day is impossible to escape.
If you need evidence of that, just ask former Colorado Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd.
“There are certain moments during the season,” O’Dowd tells Yahoo Sports, “where the intensity level of the day picks up exponentially.”
As Major League Baseball general managers get ready for work Wednesday, they’ll feel that same level of intensity as the 2019 MLB trade deadline looms. All 30 teams have until 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday to put together the best roster they can. One move could be the difference between sitting at home and watching the playoffs or hoisting a World Series trophy.
O’Dowd doesn’t have that stress anymore. As an analyst at MLB Network, he’s now tasked with evaluating all the deals made on deadline day. He’ll have plenty of time to do that, as MLB Network will be live for 14 hours Wednesday recapping all the action.
But O’Dowd has been there. From 1999 to 2014, he made countless trades to try and lift the Rockies to a World Series. That experience makes O’Dowd the perfect person to share 10 things fans may not know about deadline day.
MLB GMs are on their phones all day
You can attempt to go through your normal daily routine, just know you are going to be on the phone the entire day.
“Even if you’re not at the office,” O’Dowd says. “You are on the phone and you are staying on top of the pulse of everything that’s going on in the marketplace. And trying to follow up on as many different conversations as you possibly can.”
General managers aren’t the only people pulling off trades
MLB general managers get the credit whenever a trade works out, but the truth is there’s usually a group of front office members working the phones. It all depends on relationships, according to O’Dowd.
It’s tough for even the best connected general managers to have deep contacts within all 30 organizations. If a member of the front office had a better relationship with a certain team, O’Dowd would assign that person to discuss deals with that team. If those conversations evolved to a point where a trade seemed likely, O’Dowd would then weigh in on the deal.
Teams will try to waste other team’s time
Some teams aren’t actually serious about making deals, they just want information. O’Dowd calls these “fishing expeditions.”
“There are certain clubs and representatives of clubs that go on ‘fishing expeditions,’” O’Dowd says. “They want to know which players we really covet within their organizations and they also want to know how we value our own players.”
If you give away too much information to a team, that could come back on you in the future, according to O’Dowd. Because of that, he was always cautious engaging with teams unless they had “genuine interest in getting a deal done.”
GMs scout their own teams as much as players outside the organization
If you’re going to trade away prospects or impact players, you better know they aren’t going to come back and haunt you. MLB GMs need to know the players in their own organizations as much as the players they are looking to acquire, according to O’Dowd.
“If you don’t know your own players, you’re absolutely going to really fail in your ability to build through trades,” he says.
“I would spend probably an obnoxiously abnormal amount of time having discussions about our own players.”
You can apply the same knowledge to other teams. If a great player surprisingly becomes available, O’Dowd would approach the situation with skepticism. If that player’s team wants to suddenly give up on that player, does that mean they believe that player is seriously flawed? At that point, it’s up to your scouts and analysts to combine their reports so you can make the right decision.
Deals that come together in the closing minutes have been months in the making
While it may seem like some deals come out of nowhere, the truth is that many of the trades that get done on deadline day started months ago. Teams gather information on targets well in advance of the deadline. A casual conversation between front office members in May might involve one member planting some trade seeds and hoping they pay off down the road.
MLB GMs have no friends on deadline day
Don’t expect friends or former co-workers to give you a discount in negotiations. “At the trade deadline, even your best friends will take your right arm, and if you allow them, your left arm,” O’Dowd says.
There’s some ‘paralysis by analysis’ going on today
When O’Dowd was a general manager, there was some hesitancy to make deals before the deadline. O’Dowd believes that was because teams were so cautious to make the wrong move that they didn’t want to act unless they were forced to make decisions. The trade deadline did exactly that.
O’Dowd, however, believes things have gotten worse today.
“I do think there’s a lot of analysis within our game now that creates almost a little bit of a paralysis in analysis,” he says. “‘Have I gone through every single thing to make sure this is the right deal to make?’ That would be exasperating.”
That’s why O’Dowd thinks teams are far more eager to make trades for marginal players today. If the deal works out, the team looks great. If the deal fails, it’s easy to quietly discard a marginal player.
GMs can learn a lot from the trades other teams make
Front offices are constantly evaluating the trades that get completed on deadline day, even the ones that don’t involve their team. This is useful because it gives a club a look at how other teams view certain players. If you’re surprised a certain prospect got moved, you can use that to re-evaluate your process. Did your team miss something with that player along the way? Should you have had that player higher on your internal list? There are things to be learned from every deal.
The last 30 minutes of the deadline can get crazy
There’s such a mad rush to get deals in that the last half hour or so of the deadline can be hectic. It gets even worse when player medicals are involved. Trainers from each team need to weigh in on the deal, as well as orthopedic doctors, according to O’Dowd.
“It can get really, really hairy there at the end,” he says.
Making a move, even a small one, sends a strong message to your team
Doing something, even if it’s small, can be better than doing nothing. The trade deadline gives general managers a chance to show their team they believe in them, according to O’Dowd.
“The players and staff have done all they can do to put your team in a position to win, and now you have an opportunity to step up and do something,” he says. “When you don’t, it’s almost deflating within your clubhouse.”
When you do, even if it’s an incremental move in some way, shape or form, it’s like you’re sending a message to your team: ‘Hey, we believe you’re as good the way you’ve played up to now.’ It’s a very impactful message. And you feel that as a GM. You actually feel that.”
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