Monday, November 4, 2013

2 comments This is How a Trade Rumor Starts and Starts to Become More Than a Rumor

I'm always interested in how sportswriters who are considered "insiders" come up with the rumors they will float and how this rumor will get picked up by the national and local media and start to become more than just a rumor. I'm always interested to know if the original rumor came from actual sources an insider has or simply is informed speculation based on information that insider has which leads him to the conclusion the rumor could be true. It's sort of a more macro version of ESPN's self-perpetuating cycle, where an ESPN analyst makes a statement, another ESPN analyst comments on the statement and then the story gets picked up nationally, followed by ESPN reporting on the national commentary based upon the original statement. ESPN starts the news, reports on the news they start and then reports on the reaction of others to the news they started.

In this situation, Danny Knobler reports the Tigers may trade Max Scherzer this offseason because he is due to be a free agent after the 2014 season. I have read the article multiple times and can't figure out if there are actual sources from the Tigers organization who have information Scherzer could be traded or this is pure speculation from someone affiliated with the Tigers. Either way, Knobler reports it and then it takes off regionally and nationally and becomes a real trade rumor...whether based in fact or not. I'm not saying Knobler is lying or his report is false, but this is a great example of how a sportswriter considered an insider can get information that could very well be speculative and ends up being passed off as having more truth than it really does. Here's what Knobler wrote:

The Rays will almost certainly trade David Price. But there's also a very real chance that the Tigers trade Max Scherzer, according to sources.

Knobler has sources, there's no doubt about that. It's his job. As a reader I don't expect him to reveal his sources, but the fact I don't know who is sources are also makes me wonder if these sources can be trusted. Is the source Scott Boras (Scherzer's agent)? Is the source Rick Porcello's agent (Hendricks Sports), in order to help force the hand of the Tigers in determining if they will trade Porcello this offseason? Is the source a Tigers organizational member who favors keeping Porcello over Scherzer and wants the idea of Scherzer being traded out there? Without knowing the source, it's impossible to know the truth there is a "very real chance" Scherzer gets traded. This becomes important once this rumor gets picked regionally and nationally.

Scherzer hasn't won a Cy Young yet, but he's the heavy favorite to win the award in the American League this year after going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA, leading the league in WHIP (0.97) and finishing second to Yu Darvish in strikeouts.

So why would the Tigers trade him?

Exactly. Why would the Tigers trade Max Scherzer because he is due a new contract in one season? It's not like the Tigers have been shy about spending money on players they believe is worth the money. They are probably not going to re-sign Jhonny Peralta so his money comes off the books and Victor Martinez only has one more year left on his deal. So there will be money to spend if they want to spend it on Scherzer after the 2014 season.

Because Scherzer is one year away from free agency and is a Scott Boras client who is very unlikely to sign a long-term deal this close to being able to test the market. The Tigers may make an attempt to sign him after this season, but they realize that it's unlikely he would accept a deal now.

This is the first reason I tend to distrust the accuracy of this report. When have the Tigers been shy about working with Scott Boras? Boras is the agent of Prince Fielder, Jose Valverde and was the agent of Magglio Ordonez. In fact, it's been clear in the past the Tigers have no issue working with Scott Boras. I don't believe the fact Boras is Scherzer's agent would make the Tigers tuck their tail (see what I did there?) between their legs and decide to trade Scherzer.

With or without a new deal, Scherzer's 2014 salary figures to jump to somewhere around $20 million, a stiff price for a team that already has three players making more than $20 million a year (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander), and three others who will make between $12 million and $16 million next year (Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter and Anibal Sanchez).

What Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter make next year is irrelevant when it comes to the 2014 payroll. Both players will be off the payroll when the 2014 season comes around, so the fact both players make between $12 and $16 million in 2013 is probably a reason the Tigers could keep Scherzer around. The Tigers front office knows they have over $20+ million coming off the books in 2014 and could give Scherzer the deal he is looking for. Again, I'm not saying Knobler's report is wrong, but there is evidence the Tigers wouldn't break up their pitching staff and trade Scherzer simply because his agent is Scott Boras and he may be expensive.

And while the Tigers have been one of baseball's biggest spenders in recent years, there's some uncertainty if they'll continue to spend as much in the years to come.

I'm sure there is a reason. It would be nice if the source telling us that the Tigers could trade Scherzer would also tell us why the Tigers may not be big spenders in years to come.

The Nationals have long had interest in Scherzer, and have enough young pitching to get a deal done. The Rangers, who could chase Price, are another team with plenty of prospects and a need for a top pitcher. The Cardinals seem to churn out quality pitchers, but could believe that as a Missouri native, Scherzer would be more inclined to stay with them if they traded for him.

Trading for and then signing Max Scherzer to an expensive long-term contract doesn't feel like something the St. Louis Cardinals would do. Why trade for an ace when they think they have developed a couple of cheaper aces in Wacha and Miller?

The Orioles could be another possibility.

Other teams, such as the Yankees, Angels and Blue Jays, hope to acquire top pitching this winter, but likely don't have enough to trade for a pitcher as valuable as Scherzer.

This is the speculation part of the trade rumor...not that the rumor couldn't very well be seen as pure speculation in itself. This is the second part of the trade rumor told to Danny Knobler by his sources. Now that it's been established the Tigers "may" trade Scherzer this offseason, it's speculated that the Nationals, Rangers, Cardinals or Orioles could be a landing spot for him. Undoubtedly some websites that covers these four teams picked up on the rumors and have commented on this trade rumor. Danny Knobler covered the Tigers around 20 years (according to my source, known as his CBS Sports biography page), so he probably knows more about the Tigers than the average national reporter. It also means Knobler knows more people within the organization who would use him to get a Scherzer trade rumor floated for some reason it's nearly impossible to understand.

Some baseball people familiar with the Tigers believe that the team's winter plans -- including a possible Scherzer trade -- could hinge on whether the Tigers win Thursday night's Game 5 in Oakland to advance to the AL Championship Series.

I'm really not trying to be snide here, but I'm not sure "baseball people familiar with the Tigers" could be a more vague term. It's situations like this the public has to trust the reporter providing this information. I think it's silly to base the long-term plans for Scherzer on a Game 5 where he wasn't even going to pitch, but maybe people who are familiar with the Tigers think the organization likes to make knee-jerk decisions like this.

Win or lose, though, a Scherzer trade seems a real possibility.

So there we go. It's a "real possibility" that Max Scherzer gets traded. This is how trade rumors start. A source, whose motivation remains as unknown as the source's name, tells Danny Knobler this could happen and Knobler does his job and reports accordingly. The evidence being provided (by Knobler, not the source) is that Max Scherzer is going to be much more expensive very soon, so the Tigers (who apparently are also cutting payroll in the future) won't want to try and afford Scherzer since the 2014 payroll is already high enough (which has nothing to do with Scherzer being a free agent after the 2014 season) and the Tigers won't want to stretch their wallet more.

I don't personally see how based on sources a Max Scherzer trade is a real possibility. Sure, the Tigers could trade him, but I don't think purely for the reasons given. Especially since Scherzer seems to be hitting his stride as a pitcher I would think the Tigers would like to keep him around. But hey, it's just one rumor, right? No big deal. Well, this is how a rumor starts and then it turns into something more than a rumor. It turns into a weird game of sports telephone where the rumor seems to gain more factual accuracy as it gets passed around. grabs the rumor and does a "Truth and Rumors" mention of the possibility of a Max Scherzer trade basically reciting exactly what Danny Knobler put in his original column on the possibility of a Max Scherzer trade.

Because Scherzer is one year away from free agency and is a Scott Boras client who is very unlikely to sign a long-term deal this close to being able to test the market. The Tigers may make an attempt to sign him after this season, but they realize that it's unlikely he would accept a deal now.

This is word-for-word what Knobler wrote about the topic. It's a site for rumors so this rumor fits in perfectly. Still, the report has gone from one national sports website to another now.

Now the local and regional news outlets get a hold of this rumor. The "Detroit Free Press" writes the Tigers trading Max Scherzer is a real possibility, again quoting from the Knobler rumor. Then the article goes on to say,

(As a side note, whether trading Scherzer makes sense or not, it doesn't mean the Tigers will trade him. That's sort of my point in showing how this one trade rumor that may or may not have any truth to it suddenly becomes a national, local and regional headline. The headline of Knobler's article said the Tigers "may" trade Scherzer, while the actual article felt much more confident stating this assertion being true. A lot of things "may" happen and I guess if the Tigers got an offer they couldn't turn down then trading Scherzer is a real possibility.)

Scherzer, coming off a 21-3 season and a likely American League Cy Young award coming later this fall, will likely command a salary around $20 million by next year and the Tigers already have three players – Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander – making at least as much, Knobler writes.

Notice how the writer relies not only on Knobler's rumor for the story, but also uses Knobler's reasoning for why the rumor could be true. I understand why he does it, but it's also relying on the original report from an unnamed source being correct and buying Knobler's reasoning.

And if the Tigers do decide trading Scherzer may be a good idea this winter, teams interested could include the Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals and the Baltimore Orioles, Knobler writes.

So now this writer is stating these teams "could" be interested in Scherzer based on Knobler's speculation of teams who have a need for starting pitching or have had interest in Scherzer in the past.

Keep in mind, as blasphemous as a Scherzer trade may seem, the Tigers would risk losing him for nothing following the 2014 season if they don’t trade him.

Furthermore, the Tigers faced a similar situation in 2009 with outfielder and fan favorite Curtis Granderson, in terms of cutting payroll, before ultimately trading him to the New York Yankees in a 3-team deal for Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and – of course – Scherzer.

This is true. The Tigers did trade Curtis Granderson rather than lose him without any compensation once he became a free agent. The difference I see is that Max Scherzer is a pitcher and the Tigers have shown through re-signing Sanchez and Verlander that they recognize the value of a quality pitching staff.

Now "The Detroit News" chimes in with an article saying "there is a very real chance" the Tigers will trade Max Scherzer. This writer is a little more speculative of Knobler's report.

Basing it on sources, but not naming them, Danny Knobler of wrote a trade is possible “because Scherzer is one year away from free agency and is a Scott Boras client who is very unlikely to sign a long-term deal this close to being able to test the market.

“They realize that it’s unlikely he would accept a deal now.”

Speculation about Scherzer’s future with the Tigers has increased with his win total this year. But this is the first time a report has come out with the strong statement the chance is “very real” of the Tigers trading the starter favored to win the American League Cy Young Award.

Again, this article is very similar to what Knobler originally reported and it is reporting that Scherzer's future with the Tigers could be in doubt. So this is the second Detroit-area paper that has picked up on this story and made it into a rumor based on facts provided by a source. 

Then two Detroit-area papers (or online newspapers) picked up on the story and there were opinion columns written about the likely chance Scherzer would get traded. CBS Detroit gives their opinion first. 

It’s hard not to hate the trade rumors. We were just starting to like Max. Fans might feel a little cheated sending a probable Cy Young winner on the road after Justin Verlander’s struggles. The regular season would be twenty-one wins shy without Max.

Well not really. Presumably whoever the Tigers had in the rotation instead of Scherzer would have won more than zero games on the season. That would be one shitty fifth starter if the guy couldn't even win a single game during the season. Like Anthony Young-bad. 

After you finish breathing into the paper bag you keep next to the couch specifically for all things Tiger-related, let’s consider some context. Max Scherzer came to Detroit from the Curtis Granderson trade. Fans hated the move at the time. In hindsight, the Tigers got three players that contributed to deep playoff runs. Austin Jackson might be struggling right now, but he was great last year and parts of this year. Phil Coke…just focus on the playoffs last year and ignore everything else.

Max is at his peak value. Teams will send the farm for him.

Maybe teams will not send the farm for him. He is a pending free agent and the fact he is represented by Scott Boras may not mean as much to the Tigers (contrary to what Danny Knobler would have you believe), but it does narrow down the list of teams willing to trade for Scherzer. If teams don't feel they could re-sign Scherzer than that diminishes the package the Tigers could receive in return for Scherzer...assuming he will even be traded (see how far down the rabbit hole a single trade rumor can take us?). 

Expecting the Tigers to keep Max coming off his monster 2013 is delusional.

It's really not, considering the Tigers have $26 million coming off the books from Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez's contracts expiring. The Tigers could keep Scherzer at $20 million per year and still have money left over. Obviously this doesn't include any players who would get arbitration raises or other signings, but the Tigers could re-sign Scherzer and not raise payroll. 

Let’s just hope that Dombrowski can pull a rabbit out of his hat with this trade, a repeat of the Granderson trade. If he gives away Max Scherzer for a bag of rocks, we will never forgive him. 

Let's hope Dombrowski can pull a rabbit out of his hat "with this trade."
So we have gone from "The Tigers may trade Scherzer" to a columnist hoping the Tigers get a good return on "this trade" as if the Tigers have officially put Scherzer on the trade block and are for sure looking to get rid of him through trade prior to him becoming a free agent. 

Now "The Examiner" umm...examines if the Tigers are going to have to trade Scherzer. This article is a little more sneaky about citing Knobler's trade rumor without actually crediting him with the trade idea. The language the author uses is similar to the language Knobler in his trade rumor, yet Knobler never gets cited. It's very interesting and quite frankly bordering on copying and re-wording Knobler's work at times. 

The Tigers have a very large payroll that is about to expand significantly given the fact that 21 game winner, playoff hero, and likely American League Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer is not under contract past this year. He will enter his final year of arbitration once the off season begins and is under team control for 2014, however his agent Scott Boras does not want to sign a long term deal hoping to score big after the 2014 season in the free agent market. 

Knobler wrote: 

Scherzer hasn't won a Cy Young yet, but he's the heavy favorite to win the award in the American League this year after going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA...Because Scherzer is one year away from free agency and is a Scott Boras client who is very unlikely to sign a long-term deal this close to being able to test the market.

Then the "Examiner" author wrote: 

He is due a hefty raise and some think he could even command 20 million a year in 2014. If that is true that would give the Tigers four guys making 20 million or more and there is no way the team can sustain that level of payroll. 

Knobler wrote: 

With or without a new deal, Scherzer's 2014 salary figures to jump to somewhere around $20 million, a stiff price for a team that already has three players making more than $20 million a year (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander),

I guess the "some" refers to Danny Knobler. These two articles were posted on the same day by the way. Knobler's is time-stamped 1:03pm and there is no time-stamp for the "Examiner" article I could find. 

Based on the five year 80 million dollar fellow tigers starter Anibal Sanchez signed last off season it seems the 20 million mark is easily within Scherzer grasp.

The Tigers already have fellow starter Justin Verlander, third baseman Miguel Cabrera, and first baseman Prince Fielder due to make 66 million dollars. Add to that a few expensive albeit expiring after 2014 season deals (including Sanchez’s 15 million) and the Tigers already have 107 million dollars in payroll for 2014. There is virtually no way they could add another 20 million dollar deal to that.

Knobler wrote: 

and three others who will make between $12 million and $16 million next year (Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter and Anibal Sanchez).

And while the Tigers have been one of baseball's biggest spenders in recent years, there's some uncertainty if they'll continue to spend as much in the years to come.

Probably more of a re-word more than anything else here, but still interesting. 

The good news here is even without Scherzer the Detroit starting rotation looks pretty good. JV, Doug Fister, Sanchez, and Rick Porcello are all proven hurlers and Detroit could go to Drew Smyly to be the fifth starter and only left hander.

Of course course Porcello is a free agent after the 2015 season, but I guess amid the frenzy of the Scherzer trade no one cares about that. 

As sad as it will be to see Mad Max leave Detroit for Tigers fans, the hope has to be that the front office gets enough in return to guarantee future trips to the post season. 

Again, notice the language. Take this sentence out of the context of asking whether Scherzer would be traded or not and it sounds like Scherzer being traded is a done deal. All of this because of Danny Knobler's unnamed source. The author chooses to re-write Knobler's rumor and run with the idea Scherzer would be traded. 

Per usual, the Danny Knobler rumor ended up on MLB Rumors. No problem there, it is a rumor, but I liked the author's take on the trade rumor, mostly because it was similar to my take. 

My take on the situation: While it's certainly possible that the Tigers will entertain offers, I can't imagine them moving Scherzer without being completely blown away by an offer. The Tigers' free agent signings of Fielder, Sanchez and Martinez, as well as their record-setting extension for Verlander show a clear "win at all costs" strategy. Owner Mike Illitch has made no secret that he desperately wants a World Series Championship and will spend to make it happen. Perhaps a Scherzer trade would be more likely if the team emerges from the 2013 postseason with a World Series trophy. Even in that instance, however, worsening their chances at a repeat title in 2014 strikes me as a questionable move when they've already invested so much into fielding a winning roster next season.

Exactly. It's nice to see someone take the rumor for what it is rather than report it as if the rumor came from a substantiated source in the Tigers organization rather than from an anonymous source and people familiar with the organization. Again, not that I'm saying Knobler is wrong, but this trade rumor has so far been repeated without any real question at four separate sites to where Scherzer being traded almost seems like a thing that is going to happen. 

And of course, no trade rumor would be worth anything if Bleacher Report didn't chime in breaking down potential suitors for Max Scherzer. 

Danny Knobler of CBS Sports is reporting that there is a "very real chance" that Scherzer will be shopped this offseason, a year before he's eligible to become a free agent. As Knobler points out, Scherzer's agent Scott Boras prefers his clients reach free agency while only a year away as opposed to signing a long-term deal.

I think this shows how words like "very real chance" can be taken to be more persuasive and urgent when taken out of the context of the article. Again, the title of Knobler's article says the Tigers "may" trade Scherzer and it's based on the speculation of sources that Danny Knobler has. 

Here are four teams that could potentially put together a trade package for Scherzer.

I kid you not, the author then lists five teams that could put together a trade package for Scherzer. He states he will list four teams who could put together a trade package for Scherzer and then lists five teams. Counting is hard. The author treats Scherzer as a one-year rental for these teams when thinking of these hypothetical trades.

The teams the author lists are: 

Baltimore Orioles

Los Angeles Dodgers (because apparently they need more pitching)

The New York Yankees (of course they are on the list simply by default)

Pittsburgh Pirates (the author puts in a two person trade with Jason Grilli---yes, that 36 year old Grilli---part of the trade)

San Francisco Giants

These fou---five teams are the ones who the author sees making a bid for Scherzer now that Scherzer is going to be on the trade block. 

So this is how a trade rumor based on sources becomes something more than a rumor and turns into something that may actually happen, as opposed to an idea floated by a member of the Tigers organization (or maybe Knobler's source isn't in the Tigers organization) that may never actually happen once the decision-makers in the Tigers front office get together after the season is over. Knobler reports a source tells him there's a good chance Scherzer will get traded, parrots this report, two Detroit newspapers report on the story, two opinion columns state this is a right fine idea to trade Scherzer, and then Bleacher Report puts together the perfect trade partners for the Tigers now that they are trading Scherzer. 

This is how a trade rumor being floated turns into something that sounds like it could actually happen. This is a long game of telephone being played based on information from an anonymous source.


j-dub said...

Good article Ben. Sports media would have very little value if it weren't for these anonymous sources, but this is a great example of how anonymous speculation relayed by a writer who possesses a strong platform can be placed into the internet machine and turned into a concrete possibility.

I often feel like this whenever a writer/TV program references Peter King. You know better than most people how much personal opinion PK throws into his weekly column (like 99%). When news outlets turn around and report on one of his brain farts like it's a solid piece of evidence, i can't help but flinch.

All it takes it one writer to relay anonymous speculation for it to blow up in today's 24/7 news cycle.

Bengoodfella said...

J-dub, thanks. He very well could be right, though from everything I've read it seems the Tigers are willing to keep Scherzer around. I found it interesting the line of thought that the Tigers wanted to save money wasn't relevant to the discussion because the Tigers could potentially offset the cost of Scherzer with the money they save on Martinez and others whose contracts have run out. Of course there are also arbitration increases, etc.

Knobler probably has sources in the Tigers organization, but there is no way of knowing if this rumor is true or not, but the next thing we know it has become a fact of sorts that the Tigers want to trade Scherzer. It's how it is now.