On Saturday, separate rumors popped up that linked the San Diego Padres to (on the one hand) Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks and (on the other hand) Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins. One deal would have sent Chase Headley to Arizona; another would send a package led by Jedd Gyorko to Miami. By day’s end, it was clear these were low-level rumors, and it seemed that any hope of the Upton-Headley deal was dead. However, these things are out there now, and one must wonder: Did the Padres have a good day, just by letting some information slip?
Look, front offices don’t make decisions based on what Jon Heyman (or anyone else) tweets. They will always do their own digging, and getting (for instance) Arizona to believe that you have a better way to address your lack of an elite power hitter than dealing for Justin Upton is quite a bit more complicated than leaking (or even fabricating for leakage) conversations with another team.
On the other hand, teams don’t filter out things Jon Heyman (or anyone else) tweets. It’s never going to hurt to try dropping a public hint. You’re not negotiating through the media, but you are communicating through the media.
Teams do this all the time, and not just to one another, and not just in trade contexts. Executives around the league speak in code in the media all the time. (Lately, they’re saying in a single voice that draft picks are now more valuable than ever, and therefore very hard to give up to sign even a top-tier free agent. More on that as I launch Pitching Week on Monday, with a long look at the frustrating Kyle Lohse free-agent experience.)
Information is leverage, in baseball as in life. You saw it this summer, when the Chicago White Sox waited to announce that John Danks would miss the remainder of the season until after they had traded for his (ostensible) replacement, Francisco Liriano. Three days later, the Texas Rangers traded for Ryan Dempster, and a few days later, announced that Neftali Feliz would miss the rest of the season.
Both teams knew their guy was out. Both withheld that info, so as not to be held hostage by a team looking to prey upon the trade-deadline desperation of an imperfect contender.
There’s a public-relations angle there, too. I said teams never make decisions based on rumor tweets. It’s true. The truism goes that teams don’t make decisions based on the mood of the fans; perception of rumored moves; or profit potential based on creating hype. The truism, as most truisms are, is false.
Teams take the temperatures of their fan bases all the time, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, and respond to what they hear. The Royals loaded up on pitching this winter, at whatever cost, because the patience of their fan base was worn thin by years of explicit rebuilding. The Angels have made big splashes in consecutive winters at the behest of owner Arte Moreno, who is thinking (not as a baseball actuary) as a businessman in a hyper-competitive marketplace. He wants to make sure he not only attracts as many season-ticket patrons as possible, but maximizes ratings of the team’s cable TV broadcasts and ensures the long-term value of that product. Hype sells.
It sells for Mike Ilitch, too, which led Ilitch to Prince Fielder last winter. It sells for the Dodgers; hence the Dodgers as we now know them. Teams want to know what their fans think. General managers might not care, but ownership does, and ownership can overrule GMs when they want to. (Just ask Brian Cashman and Rafael Soriano.)
So part of it is leverage. Part is PR. Teams want to know where they stand, but they don’t want anyone else to know. This is how I get to the conclusion: the Padres, despite not doing anything or even getting close to anything, did well Saturday. Not only do the Marlins and Diamondbacks now know that the Padres aren’t exclusive with them, but every other team knows there are big price tags on all of San Diego’s assets, especially the two third basemen.Next post: No One Wants Kyle Lohse: Why Teams are Suspicious of St. Louis Cardinals’ 2012 Ace, and Might Be Justified
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