A Quick Note On Rumors
Preface – there are some really good reporters covering Major League Baseball, and they have really good sources and they get really good information. Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman seem to break about 90% of the stories in Major League Baseball between them, and there are countless other guys in local markets who are really well plugged into their organizations and provide accurate information a great majority of the time.
But, unfortunately, not all reporters are created equal, and not all anonymous sources are as good as others. And, because of the way the baseball rumor industry works, it’s often hard to tell a rumor that has substance behind it from one that is speculation, spin, or just out-and-out wrong.
For instance, over the last week, we’ve seen stories that Mike Napoli has three year offers out from multiple clubs, and we’ve seen stories that Mike Napoli doesn’t have any offers from any clubs. We’ve seen stories that the Orioles are working hard on a deal with Mark Reynolds to avoid having to non-tender him before Friday’s deadline to offer arbitration, and we’ve seen stories that the Orioles haven’t had any contact with Reynolds’ representatives to discuss a 2013 contract. Today, we saw reports that the Mets most recent offer to David Wright made it possible that a deal could get done this week, and then David Wright and his agent both felt it necessary to issue a public statement that no deal was close and that the reports were inaccurate.
Obviously, some of these reports have to fall in the just “flat out wrong” category, as they can’t all be true. There are others that are more ambiguous, and are some shade of true, but might not really reflect the reality of the situation. And, of course, some are right on. For instance, Ken Rosenthal was saying for a few weeks that the Royals acquisition of Ervin Santana could lead them to sign Jeremy Guthrie to a backloaded three year deal, which is exactly what they did. He clearly had good information on that, and it’s why he’s probably the best in the business at the rumor game right now.
Not everyone is Ken Rosenthal, though, and not even Rosenthal gets everything right every time. And that’s why I’d suggest that you filter all of the rumors you’re going to see over the next week or so through the BS detector. Those rumors that the Mariners are heavily in on Russell Martin? I’m sure the Mariners called him, and on a one year deal, he’d make some sense in the same way Mike Napoli would, but the organization isn’t going to be committing long term to a catcher whose bat doesn’t play at another position. Giving Mike Zunino a veteran mentor for spring training and a guy who can hold down the fort for 2013 is one thing – signing a guy who is clearly going to want a full-time job behind the plate for the next three to four years is something else entirely.
So, why are the Mariners linked to a guy like Martin? Because pretty much every rumor about the Mariners is sourced from someone not working for the Mariners. The M’s front office is famously tight-lipped, and they just don’t really leak anything in advance. No one knew the Pineda trade was going down. No one knew the Ichiro trade was going down. They just happened, with no forewarning, and no real notice.
Rumors about the Mariners almost always come from player agents or baseball operations officials who work for other teams. Sometimes, these guys have legitimately good information about what the M’s are going to do, and sometimes, they share that information with the media. Not every rumor about the organization is BS. But you have to remember where they came from, and judge accordingly.
For instance, Russell Martin’s agent is incentivized to make it appear that his client is heavily in demand from multiple organizations. The Yankees want him back, but the Yankees also only want to sign one year contracts this winter, as they’re attempting to clear the books next year to get under the luxury tax threshold and reset their tax rate for future years. If Martin wants a multi-year deal from New York, his agent needs to give the Yankees a reason to give them multiple years. And, with all due respect to the Pirates, they’re not exactly the biggest stick in the drawer.
The Mariners, though, can theoretically represent a real stick. Ownership has publicly said that payroll is going up. They haven’t fielded a good offensive team in years. Everyone and their mother knows that the Mariners called every single free agent hitter on the market to express some degree of interest. And, if you’re just looking at the organization from an outsider’s perspective, the team has a hole at catcher, since regular starter Miguel Olivo won’t be back in 2013.
The necessary pieces are there for the Mariners to act as leverage to get more money from other teams. I’m not saying that’s why Mike Napoli’s agent shipped him up to Seattle for a visit, but the very public nature of his tour has a nice whiff of grandstanding, especially in light of the fact that the Rangers didn’t even make Napoli a qualifying offer. It’s tough to argue that they’re a serious threat to give him a multi-year contract when they wouldn’t even give him $13 million on a one year deal, and the only other city he’s visited was Boston — the spot that most people expected him to land heading into the winter. Without that trip to Seattle, though, Napoli’s basically got the Red Sox bidding against a Rangers team that has, to some extent, already showed its hand. They’ll take Napoli back, but at a reduced price and only after they’ve explored other options. That’s not really the kind of pressure that starts a bidding war.
Getting the Mariners involved, though – that puts some pressure on the Red Sox. I’m not saying the trip was entirely grandstanding for Boston’s benefit, or even that it was primarily that, but you can’t discount that benefit to Napoli’s camp. Just like you can’t discount the benefit to Martin’s camp that the Mariners are interested in him too. And that you can’t discount the benefit to the Mariners in negotiating with Napoli if his agent thinks that they see Martin as a legitimate alternative.
This is how this all works. Leaks are intentional, and often are intended for public use to serve a specific purpose. Most leaks about the Mariners don’t even come from the Mariners. Usually, when the Mariners are about to do something significant of note, no one has any idea until it’s basically done.
So, don’t get too worked up about what Jack is doing talking to Russell Martin’s agent, when Martin is seeking a four year contract and only fits behind the plate. Just laugh it off, and realize that these rumors are frequently used as motivational tools for the benefit of others, and are sometimes just out and out wrong.
The Mariners are going to do some stuff this winter. I’m willing to bet a significant amount of money that the stuff they’re going to do will not include signing Russell Martin to a long term contract. Some rumors just don’t pass the BS test. Don’t take them too seriously.