The non-waiver Trade Deadline consumes baseball's news cycle this time of year, and that means it consumes the people inside the game as well. This year, in addition to giving you all the usual news and notes associated with the Deadline, we're taking you inside the event's effects on the players and personnel involved with a few short stories at a time.
This is our third installment of "Scenes from a Deadline." You can read the first and the second now.
The scout had boarded a flight from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City when he got a call informing him that the pitcher he was going to see in Triple-A had just been scratched. So, before the flight took off, he grabbed his carry-on luggage, deplaned, walked back to the terminal and bought a new ticket to Mobile, Ala., to see a different player in Double-A.
This is what July looks like when you're an evaluator for a Major League club. The closer you get to the Trade Deadline, the further you get from scheduling sanity.
"Every time your phone rings," the scout said, "you're not sure whether you're staying or going."
We've left out the scout's name to protect his anonymity, and, anyway, that's befitting a job that, to the average fan, is totally anonymous. You quite likely couldn't name a single scout for your favorite club, but they spend their entire year chasing games across the country, gathering not just the obvious intel like pitch velocities or the look of a slugger's swing, but also the more subtle stuff about how a guy might fit into a team's clubhouse or culture.
And in the lead-up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline, when sometimes the smallest of samples can lead to the biggest of decisions, they fill a particularly vital role.
Certainly, the role is evolving. At the Minor League level, an in-person view of a player is pretty much as essential as ever. At the big league level, we wrote recently about how some clubs are incorporating Statcast™ data into their player evaluations, and the scout we spoke with estimated that around 70 percent of the information obtained at a ballpark can be acquired from off-site data or video analysis.
But attendance still has its privileges, the scout said. If you're close on a deal for a starting pitcher, for instance, you can take note whether he's on his usual pregame side session schedule, or perhaps hiding a minor injury. You can talk to writers who cover a player, or acquaintances from the player's team who might have information about him. You can take note of which clubs are represented in the scout's section, to see which other clubs might be on this guy.
Or, you know, the whole thing can be a big ruse.
"Sometimes you go to a game knowing you have no interest in a player," the scout said, "but you want to make sure people knew you were there."
You see those reports frequently this time of year -- "Team X had a scout at Player Y's start" -- and it often sets off unnecessary alarm bells.
"That's our job," the scout said with a laugh. "To see baseball games."
The schedule gets a little crazy as teams suddenly surge in, or fall out of, the playoff races, and the landscape of buyers and sellers shift. And often, much legwork is put into an acquisition that doesn't even cross the finish line. But the scout still loves the drama of the Deadline.
"You feel like you're right in the middle of things," he said. "You've got the ability to send out information that has a chance to impact important decisions, whether you're buying or selling. That's always an empowering feeling."
The Marlins made a rare trip to Texas this week, and that meant a homecoming of sorts for reliever AJ Ramos. His hometown of Lubbock is more than 300 miles from Globe Life Park, but that's still much closer than Miami. Ramos estimated he had more than 200 friends and family at the park for Monday's game.
Of course, when all those friends planned their travel and tickets, they had no way of knowing if Ramos would even be there himself. He's a definite trade chip for a team in transition, and his bullpen mate David Phelps was already dealt a few days ago.
"I would have had a lot more people here," Ramos said, "but they were afraid I wasn't going to make it on this trip."
Video: MIA@TEX: Ramos retires Mazara to secure the win
It all worked out for Ramos. He got into Monday's game in front of his big crowd of backers and pitched a scoreless inning to finish off a victory over the Rangers. But he knows that could be one of the last innings he pitches for the Fish.
"I told my agent not to give me any information, unless something is about to go down," Ramos said. "I haven't heard it too much. Every time you turn on TV, and any time it's Marlins stuff, it's always about trades. That comes up all the time. I've been so focused on being here at home. That kind of takes away from the focus on that."
The sources of skipper appraisal by fans tend to be starting lineups or bullpen strategy. But arguably the most difficult aspect of being a manager is, well, managing -- trying to guide a cohesive active roster of 25 players with distinct personalities and occasional off-field issues. When the summer swap season comes around, this aspect is exponentially more difficult for skippers of potential sellers, because Deadline distractions are perpetually lurking, as Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has seen first-hand this season.
"There is so much information out there," Matheny said. "It can be some guy sitting in his mom's basement in his underwear making stuff up, and all of a sudden, it gets across to one of these guys that, 'Hey, they're talking about me,' when there is no validity to it whatsoever. And then, all of a sudden, it's like, 'Well, what if that is me?' Especially for guys who this has never happened to before."
We'll forgive the tired "mom's basement" narrative (why is it always a single parent, and why the bias against basements?) because the sentiment is accurate. Rumors can emanate from anywhere and, with the help of social media, spread everywhere. The players see it, and, the human beings that they are, get affected by it.
"If I see a guy who looks like it's taking away from his passion and from his focus," Matheny said, "then I think it's time to step in and say, 'Let's talk this out. I don't have the answers. I'm not going to tell you that nothing's going to happen.' There are some guys with some no-trade [clauses] in there who probably feel more security than the rest, but for everybody else, you just don't know.
"We all get into this game thinking that the team that took a chance to sign me is the team I'll always want to be with. And you never have really come face-to-face with the business side of the game. I think it can be a huge distraction if you allow it."
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.