Baseball's Trade Deadline: Trust No One

Did you hear the big news? Roy Halladay was traded yesterday. Wait, wait. No he wasn't. Oh, yes he was. Nope, nope, he wasn't. But he will be. No he won't. Yes he will. ↵

↵Or, no he won't. ↵

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↵Is your head spinning too? Great. Welcome to the Major League Baseball trading deadline. The deadline is a rumor mill every year and each season there are huge names being thrown into the mix by teams trying to dump salary and 'rebuild,' and connected to teams trying to get one last piece of the puzzle to make the playoffs and win a championship. ↵

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↵Star players are not immune to the trade deadline. Randy Johnson was traded, in his prime, at the deadline. Mike Piazza was traded twice in the same week in 1998. Ah, Florida, he hardly knew ye. ↵

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↵This season, the big ticket item is the Roy "we-couldn't-think-of-a-better-nickname-than-Doc" Halladay, Cy Young Award winner and six-time All-Star who pitches the baseball wasteland of Toronto. ↵

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↵Halladay wants to be a winner, and has said he will not re-sign with the Blue Jays after next season, so one of the top pitchers in the sport is on the market, available for the highest bidder. ↵

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↵But what are those bids? And who can you trust? ↵

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↵That's the problems baseball fans have these days. The best site on the planet for deciphering all the rumors is ↵mlbtraderumors.com, which does a wonderful job of aggregating everything written while managing to stay out of the way. Their tagline is, 'if it's whispered, we hear it' and they do a heckuva job hearing everything. ↵

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↵But how much of what they are hearing is credible? ↵

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↵On Sunday alone, there were more than a dozen reporters writing about Halladay, with presumably more than two dozen sources (always verify your sources, kids!) How, then, can we take any of this information as the truth? How many people know the inner-workings of a trade deal? Let's count them, shall we? ↵

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↵We have the general managers of each team. We have assistant GMs at each team. We have scouts who are watching specific players for each team. We have the managers and coaches. We have the players who could be hearing things. We have the agents of the players who are angling for the best location and opportunities for their clients. We have team doctors and trainers who are at the ready in case a physical has to be conducted immediately. ↵

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↵Wow that's a lot of sources. And we haven't mentioned those positions at other teams -- or other players' agents -- trying to muddy the waters to drive up prices and send out misinformation to hamper a rival's deal to get done. ↵

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↵It's quite a lot to sift through, not just for the fans, but for baseball writers as well. ↵

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↵So who can you trust? I e-mailed with ESPN's Jayson Stark who explained that only time served in the game can show you who to really trust. ↵

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↵⇥"I've been doing this a lot of years now. So I've gotten to know a lot of people. I think I rely on the people in the game whom I trust, who I know will give me honest information or who, at the very least, I know won't mislead me. ↵⇥

↵⇥"Some teams don't want to tell you anything about anything. That's their right. Others are more helpful. I also try to use my reportorial instincts to help guide me, the way any sensible media person would. If something sounds funny, it's my job to make sure it's based on fact before I fire it out there. My standards for what I'm comfortable with reporting don't always match other people's standards. But I'd rather be right than just rush a story out there and get burned." ↵⇥

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↵Different people do have different standards, and with the importance of getting the information out as quickly and accurately as possible, the popularity and usefulness of Twitter isn't doing these writers any favors. ↵

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↵On Friday evening there were reports that a deal between the Blue Jays and the Phillies for Halladay was a forgone conclusion. One local Philly blog even put on their Twitter: "Reliable source says Halladay a Phillie by the end of the day. Stay tuned." ↵

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↵I'm still tuned. I sent that Tweet to Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus, a very trusted source in my baseball world, to see if he knew anything. His reply: Is the source credible? Mine back: Probably not. And we moved on, stuck in this quagmire of information, conjecture and, well, lies. ↵

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↵I asked Carroll about his standards as someone who has been in the rumor business for quite some time. And while Carroll has moved more into the cushy world of groin tears and orbital fractures, he still has his hand in the rumor cookie jar this time of year. ↵

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↵⇥"I still talk to a lot of people and in the course of doing injuries, I hear stuff. Credibility is about trust -- is it someone who COULD know this? Is it someone who SHOULD know this? Why is he telling me? Most of the time it's like Moneyball - I'm told something to get some info. I've had GMs say "if you hear something, let me know" with the implicit understanding that I'd get a favor back some day. ↵⇥

↵⇥"Anybody can be wrong and I'll even understand it if you lie to me as part of the overall game, but it's all credibility. I try to be clear about "I heard this" kind of things, which is one guy saying something. When I start actually digging in and working something, then I want multiple sources giving me credible info that corroborates." ↵⇥

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↵Rumor has it, that's a pretty good method. ↵

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↵But there is SO MUCH information out there these days. Everyone wants to be quoted and everyone has a blog and a podcast and a Twitter feed to quote them on. Look at ESPN, for example, which employs no less than two-dozen 'baseball people,' five of whom nearly exclusively cover deadline deals. How are they not tripping over one another, especially when Buster Olney keeps wearing all white and hiding being the pillars? ↵

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↵⇥"I'm lucky to work with so many talented people," Stark explained. "And we all get along so well, it isn't as hard to stay in sync as you might think. This time of year, I communicate with Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, Jerry Crasnick and Tim Kurkjian nonstop. I'll let them know what I'm hearing. They let me know what they're hearing. I have a pretty good feel what angles they'll be pursuing. I give them a good feel for what I'm pursuing. We don't all have specific teams or beats. But obviously, those guys mostly defer to me on Phillies stuff, as I defer to Peter on most Red Sox stories, etc. And there are times we'll all work on a story together. Among our group, we know a million people in the game. And that's a beautiful thing this time of year. So we work as a team, and I think it shows." ↵
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↵Carroll points out that at BP, who covers what potential story is an editorial decision (while lauding John Perrotto's decades of experience), but is quick to remind that when a rumor has your name as the reporter, you are sticking your own neck out as much as the company for which you scoop. ↵

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↵With the Phillies and Blue Jays staying in the same Bay-Area hotel this week to play the Giants and A's, respectively, one has to wonder how man listening devices will be spread throughout the lobby of the Hotel Nikko this next few days. ↵

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↵Meanwhile, the fan bases in each city involved – from the Phillies to Yankees to Rangers to Angels and more – will have to wait and see what happens with Halladay. Then Cliff Lee after that and maybe Dan Haren after that. And this is just the one big trade everyone is talking about. Don't forget about the thousands of other rumors and dozens of other trades that are just as important to teams, and may help teams far more in the long run than any of these blockbusters could. ↵

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↵So who to trust? I can't tell you who you can trust, because in some cases those who I trust aren't sure who they can trust. Trust me, we all can't wait until July 31 when this whole thing is over. ↵

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↵What's that you say, ↵Will Carrol's Twitter feed? "Bedard could still be traded I'm telling you, the July 31 deadline means less this year than ever before." ↵

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↵Splendid. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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