TORONTO – The non-waiver trade deadline had barely passed Saturday afternoon when Jose Bautista was surrounded by media for the umpteenth time in July, this time to discuss how all the rumours linking him to this team and that team went for naught.
Like so many of his peers around the majors, the Toronto Blue Jays slugger endured weeks of speculation about his future and was asked to talk about it constantly. He obliged graciously every time, even though it was clear by the end he was sick of the subject.
“You guys are the main reason we’re all aware of anything any way, you guys (provide) pretty good coverage of everything and there were a lot of rumours out there,” Bautista calmly told the assembled throng. “There’s more coverage now with the Internet so word gets around.
“We talk about it, you’ve got to just try to not let it affect you in any way.”
That’s becoming much harder and harder to do for both players and front office officials.
The trade deadline has always been a time of intense speculation and frenzied fan focus, but the spotlight was hotter than ever this year as traditional media’s continuing shift to the Internet has turned the old once or twice a day news cycle into a 24-hour beast with an insatiable appetite.
Blogs and social media sites like Twitter feed into that by providing a forum for quick and constant updates. It can create pressure on reporters to dig up something new and leave fans breathlessly waiting for and demanding the next nugget, while driving teams and players up the wall.
“Being in the hot seat this year, it just seems like there’s so much out there every day and there’s so much information flying around,” said rookie Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos. “I understand it’s so competitive (but) there’s so much being written, so much floating out there.
“You talk to 29 other clubs and you float ideas, concepts, so many things get thrown out (in public) that may throw things off or maybe aren’t fair to the players — it complicates things a little bit.
“It’s great for the fans,” he continued. “I know being a fan growing up and still being a fan of sports, I love reading about rumours and trades and who my club might be acquiring, so I don’t fault anybody for it. But when you’re sitting in the front office chair trying to make trades, when information is out there it complicates things incredibly because there are competing clubs, there’s other information out there, which is why I try to keep things so close to the vest.
“It’s much easier to negotiate with someone when things aren’t out there.”
For players whose livelihood hang in the balance, it can be tough to take.
Jason Frasor, one of several Blue Jays relievers to have been rumour-mill darlings, complained about the toll MLBTradeRumors.com, a website that compiles hot stove items from a variety of sources, was taking on the bullpen.
Both he and fellow reliever Scott Downs acknowledged Saturday the constant speculation and calls from family and friends with word of the latest rumour was burdensome.
“I can’t remember July in my rookie year, I guess I wasn’t trade bait then,” said Frasor. “Now it’s pretty interesting. It grabs our attention. We know who’s out there, who’s possibly on the move, we know each other’s contracts and all that stuff. We’re aware of that.”
Even if a player is able to avoid the Internet, there are all-sports TV and radio stations with their talking heads and expert panels, not to mention newspapers, kicking around to remind them.
Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay, who broke into the majors with Arizona in 2001, has noticed the difference.
“The awareness is there now,” he said. “But honestly, you have to be realistic with yourself. A lot of it is just kind of rumours and hearsay.”
Blue Jays catcher John Buck, who made his debut with Kansas City in 2004, isn’t as sure that things have changed dramatically, pointing out that rumours have long been a staple of the business.
“I think (the Internet) creates a lot more,” he said, “but I don’t know, we kind of grew up with all that stuff so we’re kind of immune to it I guess.”
Either way, separating fact from fiction is becoming increasingly difficult.
The information that leaks out tends to come from team officials, scouts, coaches, agents and even players themselves, often anonymously, always to serve their own best interests. That’s why one minute one reporter can be tweeting about how a team is chasing a certain player, while another one is tweeting the exact opposite at the same time.
Anthopoulos watched his predecessor as Blue Jays GM, J.P. Ricciardi, play such games through the media (Ricciardi dangled former ace Roy Halladay publicly for a month in the hopes of creating fan pressure on contenders to overpay), and wants no part of them.
“I’ve thought about that,” said Anthopoulos. “Sometimes things get out there that are inaccurate or completely false. I don’t think I’ll ever be someone that advocates that or condones it or have anybody in our organization be involved in that.
“But it seems like sometimes you get so many people in a room, there’s a lot of information out there, you just don’t know where it’s coming from. Who knows what the motives are? It might be to drive up a price, or to change things.
“There’s a lot of gamesmanship, and it’s high-stakes in a lot of ways.”