Do you think a rat, when it’s running a maze, ever stops to look around, not to ponder its next move but rather the validity of the entire exercise?

Being a fan of modern MLB can feel a bit like being a rat in a maze, endlessly searching for a piece of cheese behind some unseen corner. 

So much time and energy and passion is poured into finding that cheese that we rarely stop and ask ourselves, “what the hell are we doing here?”

The 2022 trade deadline has come and gone. It’s an event that gets bigger and bigger every year as the contenders seek to strengthen their chances while everyone else is forced to either sell off everything they have of value or risk being mocked for having the audacity to try to compete.

The Baltimore Orioles, over .500 at this point in the schedule for the first time in years and just two and a half games out of a Wild Card spot, sold their best player, Trey Mancini, to the Houston Astros. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer.

But, they will say, the O’s had to recognize that they were still a long shot and they made the smart business decision. Will it really lead to more wins somewhere down the line? Probably not. But it is a defensible move in this day and age and that matters far more than the old-school idea of trying to win.

The Milwaukee Brewers traded one of the most elite relievers in baseball for years running, signed for multiple years, for a less talented reliever and some pieces that may help them someday.

The Brewers are currently in first place, three games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. There is not an analytic you can find to suggest they have a better chance at a deep postseason run without Josh Hader. 

When did being smart about the future become more important than fighting for the now? When did the race for the bottom become more competitive than the race for the top? When did the smokescreen of being smart, giving cover to owners who pocket the savings of losing on purpose, become so commonplace?

What are we doing here?

How are fans of the Washington Nationals supposed to feel today? Like winners? Just because the media and big book of smart baseball moves says they did the right thing?

Just a few short years ago, they cheered on a team with Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and plenty of other stars almost none of whom remain. They cheered them all the way to the World Series and a championship. That actually makes them one of the lucky ones. Just don’t tell them that today.

They can find a friend in Kansas City Royals fans who know all too well how fast the window can slam shut if you aren’t one of the five or six franchises with institutionalized power. 

And they can tell them as well that as much as you can defend these trades in the moment as everyone does, “it’s better to get something that nothing,” they’ll say, it is still a rarity that this amounts to much. 

Again, though, they are the lucky ones. Far more teams including the local club, experience those brutally brief windows without even getting close to that ring. 

Sure, the Tampa Bay Rays have dazzled the hearts of everyone who adores this modern age. They are the poster child and the example because they are the ones who have made it work. They actually have achieved consistent success. Their fan is thrilled by it as well.

Of course, right now isn’t the best time for those who find this system to be fine to bring up their other favorite example, the Oakland A’s. After nearly making the postseason a year ago, the Athletics brazenly cut every cost they could find and are now 33 games under .500 with the second worst record in baseball.

Those two teams are also just as ringless as the rest of ‘em. Better to be the Royals and Nats? Hard to say these days.

Maybe it will be the Padres. Maybe they are the new shining beacon of hope that baseball won’t just perpetually belong to those who have the most money and influence. Juan Soto is a true superstar and you cannot deny that San Diego just keeps going for it. Maybe this really is the time that someone else emerges as a new dynasty.

Or maybe, they will find like most everyone else, that the cost of keeping up with the Dodgers in the long term is higher than even just the ever-increasing payroll. 

Because until there are some fundamental changes to the entire system that place competitive balance over profits and promises, Major League Baseball will become more and more a game for the few, and everyone else is just a farm system for their fun.