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The Letter (I don’t have)

July 28, 2015

I haven’t laid eyes on it, but I’m told by a reliable source that MLB has sent its 30 franchises’ front offices a very interesting letter prior to this trade period heating up. Over the offseason, MLB did MLBPA a solid by reminding front offices that, under the CBA, front offices can’t trash-talk a free agent. Fine. Well now MLB has warned clubs about the converse: they’re not allowed to talk UP trade targets either.

Well, at first this seems un-necessary. That is, what GM is going to go on TV and say “we’d give our left nut for Justin Upton” or “we’ll break the bank for Cole Hamels”? Even if the statement is true, why would you want to convince your trading partner they can get more than they were expecting in return?

Nobody’s quite sure why this letter came out, but my guess is that the Commissioner’s Office is taking the long view here. Compared to other sports, baseball is free of players under contract holding out or demanding to be traded. The guaranteed nature of contracts has something to do with that, but it’s also cultural. Baseball wants players to honour their contracts and wants bad behaviour to be taboo.

The nightmare scenario is something like this: Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman goes on TV and says “We’ll do anything to get Paul Goldschmidt, and once we get him, we’ll tear up the four years and $40M left on his deal and give him Miggy money.” Now, when Goldy’s agent calls Dave Stewart in Arizona, the Snakes have a problem, even if Goldschmidt is saying and doing all the right things in public. Eventually, some young superstar on a hopeless team somewhere starts missing BP and refuses to run out routine ground balls. And then all hell breaks loose.

Things hit rock-bottom in England’s soccer market when a good-but-not-great 20-year-old on $30,000-a-week through 2017 at Liverpool passed up a raise to $150,000-a-week because another team made it publicly known they’d pay him $300,000-a-week. Liverpool, a team that used to be pretty big, was simply forced to sell to a team with deeper pockets, Man City. Liverpool then turned around and pulled the same trick on Aston Villa–another formerly great team that has since fallen on even harder times.

For what it’s worth, Liverpool’s owners also own the Red Sox. What follows is pure speculation, but makes sense: couldn’t you imagine the Red Sox owners calling up Commissioner Manfred and saying “Look at that shit show over in England–we can’t have that, can we?”

And the way to nip it in the bud is to stop rival clubs from talking up players.

Which makes for an interesting side-scene: several GMs do media availabilities weekly or near-weekly: scrums, interviews on the station that’s owned by the same group that owns the team, or their own taped TV shows. You can’t run players down per the CBA. Now you’ve been warned not to talk them up either. When discussing players, the GM can only give the “name, rank, and serial number” response so many times before it gets silly.

Maybe long term it’s very much for the best. Short term, GMs and VP-player-personnel types are on notice.

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