The New York Yankees did nothing at the trade deadline. Mired in a 3-7 slide that had hamstrung their chances of a division title and plainly reeling from the injury absences of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and James Paxton, among others, the Yankees still felt no need for reinforcements.
Though they approached the deadline with far less to worry about, the Los Angeles Dodgers didn't boost their talented core either, opting instead to stand pat. Ditto for the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves' marquee addition was Tommy Milone, a soft-tossing left-hander who owns a 14.90 ERA through his first three starts with his new club.
The collective inactivity of the game's top teams was easily explained: Their playoff spots were already all but guaranteed thanks to the expanded, 16-team postseason format rolled out for the 2020 season. Critically, however, their prospects of winning the World Series had actually decreased, as their championship dreams now hinged on surviving a best-of-three first-round series - a veritable crapshoot.
The Dodgers are unequivocally baseball's best team, boasting a boatload of stars and incomparable depth; they could easily lose two straight to the San Francisco Giants, their first-round opponent if the postseason began today. They did lose two straight to the Giants six weeks ago.
Therein lies a highly problematic incentive structure. The Giants, ostensibly in the midst of a rebuild, held down one of the wild-card spots as of Wednesday morning but aren't even playing .500 ball. You can get into the postseason somewhat effortlessly, and then it's a coin toss once you do. As such, there's little reason to assemble a juggernaut, or to add that star at the trade deadline, or, in the plainest terms, to try.
The Giants were consciously not trying to compete in 2020; they could win the World Series anyway. Hence, a trade deadline passed with many of the game's richest, most consistently prosperous teams sitting on their hands and only one star-level player, ace right-hander Mike Clevinger, getting moved.