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How the abbreviated season and moratorium on scouting can affect trades

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It will be difficult to feel out the market this year, and that could lead general managers down one of two paths.

New York Yankees Introduce Gerrit Cole Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Baseball is in a state of uncertainty. It’s unclear at this time when exactly the season will start, as optimistic projections could have professional baseball returning around Memorial Day while others could have the MLB season beginning around when they initially expected to play the All-Star Game. Lots of details and moving parts have to be reconfigured to adapt to the season that we will have, if we do indeed get the season started this year.

One of the pieces that will end up getting fiddled with is the trade deadline, and for good reason. Currently, MLB scouting departments are universally prohibited from running operations. Scouts within the United States as well as internationally have to cease meetings with players, attending workouts, watching bullpens and all of the essential elements of determining what a player’s stock is.

The ripple effect that this decision — even though it is the proper move to make — will have on the season is enormous. Baseball is unique among the major professional sports in North America with their in-depth minor league system, and the vast majority of trades that clubs will typically make draw their trade chips from these leagues. A lack of up-to-date information on most of the prospects in other organizations could have general managers nervous to pull the trigger on significant deals.

Even if/when the season is set in place, these scouting issues will continue. The league in all likelihood will be playing a condensed schedule, with a wide variety in actual numbers of games played still floating around to be determined. While scouting departments will be delayed in getting out to see the blue-chip prospects — as well as under-the-radar prospects that could be acquired on the cheap — there will be little time to get a read on what major-league players are actually worth investing in.

Andrés touched on this topic recently, but it’s very likely that we see some absurd stat lines from potentially surprising sources this year. GM’s could be vexed by the mountain of information that they will have to sift through in a short time-frame, and buyers and sellers alike will have some reasonable level of doubt as to what they’re dealing away. Deals are never perfectly clear even under the best of circumstances, but the confusion that this season will undergo could cloud their decision-making even further.

For most scenarios, GM’s can deal with this in one of two ways. The first is an acceptance of the risks inherent in dealing with this year’s trade deadline and diving into the market for some rentals to improve the team. This is the method many teams on the playoff bubble will have to consider, both for buying and selling. The potential for a lopsided deal is there, since the stats will be difficult to trust and the value of prospects potentially shaky, but dealing with players on short-term deals will eliminate most of that concern by avoiding the blue-chip prospect price range.

The other methodology would be an ultra-conservative approach, choosing instead to rely almost solely on in-house options plus whatever fringe players could be picked up on the waiver wire. This is the path that the top-tier teams should be drawn towards, since they have an abundance of talent present already and the marginal upgrades usually found midway through the season could be even less reliable than usual.

The second path is the one the Yankees are most inclined to follow, since they are projected to sit atop the AL East again and are one of the betting favorites to win the World Series. They have some flaws of course, but nearly every aspect of their roster carries star power. It’s more likely that the depth that they have in the minors improves their weak points, like calling up their starting pitching prospects rather than paying for one of the top arms on the market.

Navigating this season’s trade market will be one of the toughest in living memory. It’s impossible to know at the moment what it will look like, who will be the major buyers and sellers or when the deadline will actually be moved to. The timeline for this information, like most of what we’re learning about when baseball will be played again, is ever-changing.