As the non-waiver trade deadline inches closer, baseball fans across the country are counting the days and hours.
Surely, by Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, there will be countless deals, full of big-name players changing teams, leagues and the landscape of pennant races. After all, deadline mega-deals are all anyone's been talking about for the past few months.
And that's the problem. We -- and by "we," I mean the media and people throughout baseball -- have conditioned baseball fans to expect blockbusters that are sure to either (A) propel their teams to the World Series or (B) restock their teams' rosters to ensure success in the near future.
It's time we leveled with the fans: Ain't happening. Not for the vast majority, anyway.
We might as well promise regularly scheduled doubleheaders, train travel between cities and flannel uniforms.
All of those things are hopelessly passé, of course. And so, too, is the era when teams made big deals at the end of July, deals that truly impacted the standings.
Maybe with all the talk -- it seems to increase exponentially each summer -- it's easy to forget that there's been precious little action. In July 2006, 42 players changed hands. But beyond Sean Casey and Bobby Abreu, we dare you to name them.
There are plenty of reasons for this, including, but not limited to, increased revenue sharing, parity and the expanded playoff format.
Teams stay in the race longer, meaning fewer teams are in sell-off mode shortly after the All-Star break. The introduction of the wild card has given more teams the belief (delusion?) that they still have a reasonable shot at reaching the postseason. The general economic health of the game means fewer franchises feel pressured into unloading salaries. And because prospects have become the true coin of the realm, the few teams willing to deal off valuable veterans set their asking prices so artificially high, few trades can be completed.
But once spring training begins, the ritual begins again. General managers, talent evaluators and scouts develop collective amnesia. For its part, the media is complicit, with its own short institutional memory and willingness to pile on with the latest rumors and informed speculation.
The rationalizations begin early. As teams leave Florida and Arizona, GMs and managers assess their rosters and concede that their clubs are perhaps a bit thin in -- choose one or more -- pitching, offense or depth.
"But we can always address that at the deadline," they say, secure in the knowledge that there's plenty of time to augment and perfect their teams.
Ah, the deadline! That's when mediocre teams become good, good teams become great and all the position needs are magically filled.
So many people have fantasy teams. I'm convinced they think deals are easy to make.
A baseball executive
"You have all these countdown shows," one major league executive said recently, "and all this buildup beforehand. Expectations get raised, and partly because of that, every GM thinks he has to make the perfect deal."
The proliferation of information -- on TV, talk radio and the Internet -- only further whets fans' appetites. If you see or read or hear that Mark Teixeira is available, you want to know what your team is going to do about it.
The harsh reality, of course, is probably not much. Teixeira happens to be one of the very few big-name players actually being shopped, but less than a half-dozen teams are legitimately in position to acquire him.
Maybe the problem, suggests another baseball executive, is too many fans literally confuse fantasy with reality.
"So many people have fantasy teams," the executive said. "I'm convinced they think deals are easy to make."
That makes some (warped) sense. If your average fan can make three trades before lunch, from the comfort of his office cubicle, what the heck is taking Brian Cashman and Omar Minaya so long?
Of course, real-life trades are much more complicated and with real consequences.
But fret not, fans. If your team isn't active between now and Tuesday afternoon, there are always August waiver deals.
And, pssst: You didn't read it here, but I'm hearing that's when the trade activity is really going to take off this season.
Sean McAdam of The Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.