We have the rules. We have the dates. And now we have a wave of possibilities.
Among those differences in the newly-mandated 60-game regular season for Major League Baseball is an old standby when it comes to generating mid-summer excitement: the trade deadline.
This time, however, the last chance to shake up your respective team via a trade will come just more than a month after the start of the season, with the deadline taking place on Aug. 31. It will offer one month to define the market, and then one more month to figure out if the strategy was the right one.
For instance, could the Dodgers execute the previously unthinkable and trade Mookie Betts? It is still not likely, but probably becomes more of a possibility than if there was a full schedule considering the belief that the kind of talent Los Angeles possesses will ultimately win out over 162 games. But what might happen in the first 30? That is the uneasy reality every club will be dealt with this time around.
With the roster the Dodgers enter 2020 with it is hard to imagine that they will head into the season's second month in such dire straits that it would be worth it to explore a Betts trade, giving up the player and the opportunity for a draft pick. You look at where the Red Sox were on April 30, 2019, for instance, sitting with a 13-17 mark and seven games out of the top spot in the American League East. That was a team that also had enough players that offered a turnaround within the next month.
So, how will teams approach this deadline?
It most likely comes down to how much they actually value what could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for some clubs.
The Red Sox are an interesting case because one of their primary trade candidates, Jackie Bradley Jr., is of obvious value to the team, particularly if he can find one of his hot streaks. But if there is an opportunity to find that piece of the starting rotation the Sox seemingly desperate need, they also have a centerfield backup plan in Kevin Pillar that can eliminate the idea of giving up.
How about the Mets? They are a team that routinely are desperate for viability, with this sprint of a season potentially representing their best chance at pennant fever in a while. But they also have some intriguing expiring contracts in Rick Porcello and Marcus Stroman.
If the Marlins get in the mix will they hang on to Jonathan Villar? Will Alex Gordon be perceived by the Royals as more valuable to a postseason run than as a piece to get a prospect?
Then there are the Yankees.
New York's potential free agents for after the 2020 season include Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, D.J. LeMahieu and Brett Gardner. All would seem to be important elements in what the Yankees are rightfully viewing as a championship-contending team. But what if Brian Cashman smartly identifies an out-of-nowhere under-performing first month as an opportunity to fortify his organization's youth movement, along the lines of what he expertly did in 2016? You can't rule anything out.
There are other free-agents-to-be whose team will be making these sort of tough decisions on. George Springer (Astros). Jake Arrieta (Phillies). Shin-Soo Choo (Rangers). Marcell Ozuna (Braves). Trevor Bauer (Reds). Marcus Semien (A's).
The hope is that by the time baseball gets to the deadline the same sort of anticipation can push aside some of the coronavirus-induced anxiety. It might not be predictable, but it certainly can be exciting. And isn't that a feeling all sports fans could use these days.