Lit chat: GMs sealing deals via text message

Smartphone communication has become way of business for Indians front office

December 21st, 2017

CLEVELAND -- The Indians were deep into trade talks with an unknown team during the Winter Meetings last week. Chris Antonetti, the team's president of baseball operations, was texting back and forth with the rival executive and thought the talks were progressing well.

Then, Antonetti replied to another message and awaited a response.

"I thought we were getting close," said Antonetti, who cracked a smile. "I guess I gave him an answer he didn't like, and he sent back a GIF that was quite colorful."

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What image was sent his way?

"You'd never guess it," said Antonetti, who laughed, but would not provide any more details.

Welcome to negotiations in 2017. Gone are the days of general managers sitting in smoke-filled hotel rooms at the Winter Meetings for hours at a time and ending talks with an actual, real-life handshake. After all, there's a shaking-hand emoji for that now. Entire transactions might come to fruition via text messages -- complete with cartoon graphics or GIFs. The need to be in the same room for discussions is extinct.

Mike Chernoff, the Indians' general manager, said the Winter Meetings -- held in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., last week -- still serve some purpose for trade talks or negotiations with agents. The virtual exchanges ahead of the Meetings help lay a foundation and the in-person dialogue has the potential to speed things along. Or, much like an actual phone call, that type of conversation can help eliminate any confusion.

As an example, Chernoff said he had one back-and-forth with an agent during which a formal contract offer was sent. The agent replied simply with a thumbs-up emoji, which made Chernoff laugh. The reply did not mean that the deal had been accepted, though. The agent was just acknowledging that it had been received.

"There was no misunderstanding with the GIF I got," Antonetti chimed in.

Chernoff noted that there are a growing number of front-office leaders around baseball who spent time with the Indians. That includes the likes of Derek Falvey (Twins), Neal Huntington (Pirates), Mike Hazen (D-backs), David Stearns (Brewers), Ross Atkins (Blue Jays) and Mark Shapiro (Blue Jays). That is a lot of old friends with a wealth of inside jokes, or at least a heightened comfort level for good-natured ribbing.

"We get some super funny exchanges going with some of those guys," Chernoff said.

And their history with one another can help in offseason negotiations.

"I think it makes it easier. You're not looking to fleece people with trades," Chernoff said. "You're looking to align interests and see if you match up. I think having a really good foundation, a really good relationship, allows you to break through those barriers and see where your interests align."

And, if one GM does not like the reply from another, there is a GIF for that.

"There are way more communication channels now than there were in the past," Antonetti said. "It's very rare that you're sitting in a room where you get up and you're like, 'OK, deal.' That's not how it works."