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Mariners offseason rumors: let's all pause and think these through

There's going to be a lot of offseason rumors tied to the Mariners—possibly more than any other team. When you read one, try not to overreact before thinking it all the way through.


If there’s a fan base that is more beat down and carries a greater defeatist mentality than that of the Seattle Mariners, I’d like to see it. And, of course, it is with good reason considering how the past decade at the corner of Edgar Martinez Drive and Dave Niehaus Way has gone.

As a bit of an anecdote, I was recently granted permission as an administrator of the Lookout Landing Facebook page. Now, I receive notifications every time a post receives a like or a comment , or the page receives a message. When I go to check on the page, and the comments in particular, it isn’t pretty. Here’s an example, from the Matt Kemp/Nelson Cruz post last week:


The thing is, these people aren’t wrong. When a reporter relays a transactional rumor during the baseball offseason, almost regardless of what it is, it’s considerably more likely it won’t come true than it will. That’s just the nature of this. There are more rumors than there are deals, for a number of reasons—a big one being that when a player is tied to team x, y and z, they can’t play for all three different teams.

Another reason, and this is a big one—is that they’re drastically overblown.

Now, they aren’t completely BS, there’s some level of truth to a large percentage of the rumors, and Scott made the big point on these in that Kemp post from early last week—that the Mariners, at this point in the offseason, are doing a lot of due diligence. They have a lot of holes and they’re checking in on the market for anyone who can swing a bat. Now, that simple act of checking in is one thing, how that action is relayed from one party to another—and then reported publicly—is a different matter. It applied on the Kemp rumor, and even more-so with the recent Olney bomb on the long shopping list the M's supposedly have.

With each of these rumors, there’s a sizable contingent of the Mariners’ fan base—or, hopefully, the vocal minority—who believe every single "the Mariners are showing interest in ______" or "The Mariners really want _____, _____ and _____" tweet is a PR play by the organization for sympathy. Basically, "the Mariners do this every single year. They say they’re in on everyone but then don’t sign them, just so they can say they tried."

And this just makes zero sense.

Let’s start by examining the basic structure of sports reporting, especially this form of offseason reporting on transactions. Things are, a vast majority of the time, reported for a reason—done so with permission. Jon Heyman, Jon Morosi and the rest of the gang aren’t piecing together shredded documents and using secret listening devices to drop in on conversations across the lobby of whatever hotel the GM meetings are in. They are told things, they are told a vast and amazing number of things that we wish we could be privy to—and then there's portion of this number of things they are granted permission to repeat publicly, and there's a reason they're granted permission to repeat these things and not others.

Now, before I go further, I want to state that I don't question the work of Olney, Heyman, Rosenthal or anyone else who might share news on the Mariners' offseason activities, it's just important to understand that not everything is as cut and dry as most fans believe. There's a reason these professionals operate at the highest level of their chosen profession. They work hard and they deliver credible news.

But part of working hard here is building rapport with sources. You don't get the big scoops later if you don't build the groundwork with your sources now, and in years past. It isn't that these guys are relaying information they know to be untrue—each of them are far above that—but don't take anything at face value.

I've stated this multiple times in the comment sections of previous posts, but if you do one thing when you hear a rumor this offseason, internally ask two questions: who would want something like this reported? And: why would they want this reported?

Let's go back to that big Olney tweet and run through it, just as a thought exercise. Again, for reference:

Let's start with the possible whos, and then run through the respective whys.

  • The Mariners, of course. Scott mentioned this in his initial post on the tweet, but it could well be a public play by the Mariners to let everyone know that if they're the first domino to fall, the first big free agent to put pen to paper, they won't be the last. If this is true, I'm sure they're making this fact known in all negotiations, but they may want it to go widely public as well. Not only does it underscore the point, but it reaches more ears—and that includes the ears of everyone who might influence their potential targets. The less friends and family members asking Jacoby Ellsbury or anyone else "Yo, the Mariners? Really? But why...", the better. 

    The second part, and this is more specific—you might notice this particular rumor doesn't actually mention anything that sounds like Jacoby Ellsbury, who the Mariners have both been reported to be all in on, and completely staying away from. It's really worth noting that, at this point in time, it makes little sense for the Mariners to publicly demonstrate interest in Ellsbury. Everyone knows the Mariners are out there with boatloads of cash and desperation for talent—and a supposed interest in Ellsbury. They're going to, and likely have been in years past, used as leverage. The Ellsbury market right now is like an eBay auction for some great item you want, but has three bidders, a low price and 14 days left to go in the auction. There's no point jumping in and driving the price up now when this is all going to be decided in a flury at the last minute anyway. Just wait, play it cool and come back later. 

    Lastly, the aforementioned PR-play-for-sympathy reason stands out as something people want to buy. They do this every year so they can always say "at least we tried," even if they weren't that serious about it, the rationale goes. I'm not having it, because "just trying" doesn't accomplish anything unless there's some actual intention behind it. Now, that said, you could hypothesize on a reason we heard more publicly about their pursuit of Hamilton than we did with Fielder and others in years past: it pays to look like you have money. The Mariners have made it clear they have resources and are looking to add talent. That point is underscored when it's spread over multiple offseasons and if we internally wonder if that 2013 payroll earmarked for Hamilton carries over to 2014, other parties are likely to do so as well.

    But look again at Olney's tweet: the M's have "indicated winter priorities to others." What's more likely: "Hey Buster, here's what we're telling everyone" or "Hey Buster, here's what the Mariners told us"—or even "Hey Buster, here's what we heard the Mariners were telling people." Yeah, this probably came from "the others." That would include...
  • The agents, and the reasoning is easy: assuming this tweet is 100% true, it makes one thing perfectly clear—the Mariners are prepared to spend big this offseason. Now that could well mean trades, and that's something the agents naturally play less of a role in, but some of this would have to be done by opening up the wallet and spending. It's well-known that the Mariners have very few financial commitments for 2014, but a specific rumor like this makes you think they're going to go beyond, possibly well beyond, the $83-84 million payroll they had last offseason. 

    Agents have every reason in the world to hold the M's out there as leverage. If you're representing a free agent, it pays to publicly tell everyone now "Hey, the Mariners are looming out there, and they have the money to pay my guy, so get your big offers in now."
  • Opposing teams: if you really wanted to dive into conjecturing, you could even see why relaying something like this would benefit other organizations. As I mentioned under the bullet describing why the Mariners might relay something like this, I mentioned that while this tweet supposedly reports what the Mariners want, it also infers what the Mariners aren't looking for. So when teams are negotiating with players who aren't a closer, a #2 starter or a "frontline power hitter," it's worth going out there and saying, essentially, "as much money as the Mariners have, and they may have even contacted you directly—they have their priorities and you may not be one of them."

There are parts of this that may seem pretty far-fetched, and it's fair to say "well you could take just about any rumor and twist it into something it isn't"—but that's exactly my point. These rumors could mean anything, and we shouldn't freak out when someone says "the Mariners want better players" because of course they want better players.

I can't say it enough, Buster Olney and his colleagues at the highest ranks of baseball reporting do a great job and I can't thank them enough for making the offseason more bearable by sharing random notes like this over Twitter.

But as this offseason goes on, and the intensity and frequency of these rumors picks up, everyone needs to slow down. Think everything through and, most importantly, try not to completely lose your cool until something actually happens.

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