Reading the tea-leaves of Pravda
When it manages to avoid cliche, sports journalism can be fascinating, both for the lines and the space between them. One of the challenges of that, of course, is knowing when the real story is what it appears on its face, and when it’s something a bit different. Because sometimes the players in the media-industrial complex collaborate in this process more to serve their own needs than for the purpose of informing us, as consumers of the news. Sometimes it helps to ask yourself, not just why is this newsworthy, or even why the reporter thought it was newsworthy, but why somebody wanted it to be newsworthy. This can be difficult in stories where much of the information is based on “sources close to the negotiations” or “clubhouse insiders” who remain anonymous, and you’re left to speculate about identities as well as motives. (Most of the foregoing naturally applies to all journalism, read with a critical eye, not just sports.)
With that in mind, consider the latest from Jim Street, “Branyan ready to move on from Mariners.” On the surface, it’s providing concrete, from-the-horse’s-mouth confirmation of something that started becoming clear a week ago, and a conclusion others have already written about, namely that Branyan will not be back with the team this year. Now, getting it confirmed may be worth running a story on its own, but there’s more to it than that.
For example, why does the otherwise leakproof, never-tip-our-hand regime suddenly have Wakamatsu out there being quoted on the record to “wish him the best” and talk about Branyan in the past tense? After all, we know they’re not done with the roster, and could theoretically still have interest even if Branyan doesn’t make much sense with Kotchman/Bradley/Griffey around. (They didn’t put this kind of effort into downplaying Bay-to-Seattle rumors, when those made about the same amount of sense.) The story touches on some other things we knew:
- Branyan wanted to come back to Seattle
- Branyan wanted a multiyear contract
- The Mariners offered a one-year deal with an option
- Branyan didn’t take the offer
- The team had no problem with him going out on the market to see if someone else would give him more security
- Other teams seem to evaluate the risk similarly, and no such deal has been forthcoming
Just about everybody in baseball assumed that Branyan would ultimately come back when he realized the long-term deal wasn’t out there. He did have those 31 homers and showed he could hit lefthanders, so he definitely has value, the issue is the risk with his back. We learn here that other teams do have some interest in Branyan, but apparently have yet to make him an offer. And why would they, if the expectation is that he would turn around and take the same deal from the Mariners instead? But as it happens, Zduriencik has moved on and Branyan is left in limbo.
The real reason for this story, it would seem, is that Branyan can’t get another team to actually make an offer, even for just a one-year deal, without it being clear that his Mariner ties are severed. So as a parting courtesy, the team cooperates in getting out the message to that effect.