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Parity in the National League complicates the trade deadline

With 14 of 15 NL teams within striking distance of a Wild Card spot, the trade market has been quieter than expected.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We’re 13 days away from the trade deadline. It’s now the only deadline, which many guessed would mean a flurry of mid-level moves at the end of June and beginning of July before things really picked up as we near the end of the month.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

There have been some desperation trades, born out of necessity due to injuries, like the Phillies going after Jay Bruce or Edwin Encarnación donning pinstripes. There are rumors swirling about who might be available, as usual, but now we’ve only seen exchanges with fringe players trading hands for mainly cash considerations, like Terrance Gore and Wilmer Font.

To me, the parity of the National League in 2019 is having a pretty big impact on the market. It affects the trade activity in a few ways.

More leverage for sellers

At this point, 14 of 15 Senior Circuit clubs are within 6.5 games of each other in the Wild Card race. The 44-51 Mets are just five games back from the second Wild Card spot.

Now, teams aren’t going to be delusional. The Giants probably aren’t going to start throwing money around at 47-49 just because they’ve pulled themselves within striking distance of a postseason spot. Front offices are realistic.

But what that means is that San Francisco isn’t in as tough of a situation now, when it comes to selling off their parts. There isn’t as much desperation to move pieces like Will Smith, or Madison Bumgarner, or Jeff Samardzija.

If teams don’t offer a package they want, they can hold off and see how it goes. They’re only 2.5 games back from playing in October; it isn’t exactly a pipe dream.

For the Cardinals (and other middling “contenders”), this means a loss of some leverage in negotiations. That’s going to make for a larger return going back to sellers, who are in a position to squeeze a lot of value out of trade chips.

Increased resistance to intraleague trades

Within that mix are teams who had every intention of being competitive this season. The Mets spent the offseason retooling to compete for an NL East title. The Rockies have been regulars in the postseason recently and definitely didn’t expect to be sitting at 46-50 in mid-July. Even the Reds added some big names this offseason with the intent of being in the mix.

Teams that may not seem like obvious contenders, but are just on the cusp of buying or selling, definitely aren’t going to be shopping their pieces to teams they’ll have to play against with any sort of regularity. That isn’t as much of an issue for a team like the Marlins, who are even 13 games back in the Wild Card, or the 36-61 Blue Jays sitting in the cellar of the American League.

On MLB Trade Rumors’ list of the top 50 trade candidates, 26 come from the National League. NL Central rivals have 10 of those.

The NL Central’s level of competition

Speaking of the Central, it’s extremely close. Easily the most competitive division in Major League Baseball. Things have recently gotten a bit more spaced out, but the last-place Reds are still just 7.5 games back. Three of the other five divisions have second-place teams that are at least six games out.

Even when dealing with American League teams who have less leverage in terms of postseason chances, it’s clear that every NL Central team is looking to differentiate themselves. They probably have a bit more urgency than the other buyers at the deadline, since most are looking to retool for a postseason push, and not trying to just solidify a spot in October.

John LaRue did a thorough trade season primer last week, and some names that stood out from American League teams were Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer, Matthew Boyd, even Whit Merrifield, to an extent. But those teams know the value of those players, and know the impact it could make for a Cardinals team looking to stand out in a clustered Central division.

The dominoes are going to start falling within the next two weeks, and, if the Cardinals decide to invest in the 2019 team, they’re probably going to have to pay a pretty price.