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 next Monday's Deadline, we're taking you inside the annual event's effects
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 next Monday's Deadline, we're taking you inside the annual event's effects on the players and personnel involved with a few short stories at a time.
This is our second installment of "Scenes from a Deadline." You can read the first here.
The general manager is between phone calls. He had told a GM from another club he'd call him back in five minutes, and that was 30 minutes ago. But sure, he'll take a sec to talk about how much he enjoys all this talk.
"This window to acquire talent," he says, "creates opportunities to learn more about how other organizations value their players, how your players are valued. The collaboration and the creativity is heightened this time of year. So it's really exciting, really invigorating. It's just very difficult to prioritize and balance. That's why you have to rely on a baseball operations team and strategize, so that you're not just reacting."
Players react -- sometimes not so happily -- to all the news fluttering out there in the universe and in the Twitterverse. So beyond the phone calls and the texts and the meetings and the analysis that goes into a potential trade, there are the conversations meant to either allay or perhaps prepare a player concerned about his Deadline fate.
The mere presence of an exec in or around a clubhouse can be enough to pique people's interest. This GM travels with his club roughly one-third of the time, so his attendance on a recent road trip wasn't necessarily notable. But this close to the Deadline? Yeah, people noticed, and so he did what he could to lighten the mood.
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"What are you doing here?" one player asked him, facetiously but pointedly.
"Trading your [rear end]," the GM replied.
They laughed. But really, this is serious stuff, involving major amounts of money and/or players with whom you've developed significant relationships. A trade can be consummated in a single conversation on Deadline day or it could take 1,000 discussions over the course of many months. Or those 1,000 chats can go absolutely nowhere. Every trade is different, just as all GMs are different. Some guys' intentions can be gathered clearly via text. Others are more chatty -- about their own club and others -- so a call makes more sense.
"GMs of other teams are pretty candid," he says. "You know relatively quickly if there's something there or not. The only frustrating thing is when it doesn't happen but you got really close. So there's some letdown sometimes. But it's still invigorating."
Anyway, we would have talked longer, but he had to go. Someone was calling.
If this is now an annual tradition in Joe Smith's life, it's not one he actively sought out.
As a pending free agent newly activated off the disabled list and having a decent season for a last-place team, Smith, who was dealt from the Angels to the Cubs at last year's Trade Deadline before signing a one-year deal with the Blue Jays for 2017, is your typical relief trade chip. And just because he's not the kind of guy whose change of teams would create huge headlines, he is a human being with a wife (CBS Sports and Turner Sports reporter Allie LaForce) and an inherent appreciation for stability.
So this is a weird time of year, just as it was a year ago, when Smith got the call from Angels GM Billy Eppler 10 minutes before the Deadline at 1 p.m. PT on Aug. 1 -- and was on a flight to Chicago by 4:30 p.m. Between the breaking news and the boarding time, Smith's phone broke, necessitating a pre-airport pit stop at an AT&T store.
"I could see phone calls and texts popping up, but it wouldn't let me answer or do anything," Smith said. "So now I'm getting all these messages, and I have to send word to [president of baseball operations] Theo [Epstein] and [GM] Jed [Hoyer] that if they need to reach me to call my wife. They're probably thinking, 'What? Why are we calling his wife?'"
Having just missed a month with right shoulder inflammation and only been activated last weekend, Smith is too focused on his own performance to get caught up in the Deadline distraction. But he learned a lot last year about how challenging an in-season swap can be for a player.
"It's all new people and different philosophies, as far as how they want you to pitch and different catchers that don't know you," Smith said. "You're trying to find your way to the bathroom. You're worried about what you're going to say. A lot of people get lost when they come over, and [they] scuffle for two weeks or a month. Hey, go easy on that guy. He just picked up his whole life and moved it."
He might even be adjusting to a new phone.
"Goodbye to you!" the voice sang through the visitors' clubhouse at Comerica Park. "Goodbye to youuuuuu!"
That wasn't Patty Smyth on the vocals of her 1982 hit with the band Scandal; it was Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain, whose image is featured in an MLB Network advertisement for Trade Deadline coverage that includes the song. Cain was walking around Kansas City's clubhouse singing the tune because he had just seen it on the television. But the good news for the Royals and their fans is that Cain won't actually be saying those words at the Trade Deadline.
Though there was a time earlier this season when it appeared the Royals were speeding toward a sell situation that almost certainly would have included Cain this summer, they've posted one of the best records in baseball since May 8 to become legitimate American League Central contenders -- and, as evidenced by Monday's six-player swap with the Padres, buyers again.
"For [GM] Dayton Moore to come out and say he won't sell, it makes it easier on all of us," Cain said. "He believes in us. We want to get back to the playoffs and do what we do."
Production schedules being what they are, Cain will continue to be included in the occasional airing of the ad, and perhaps he really will be saying "Goodbye to You" in his upcoming free agency. But for now, he's singing a happy song on a confident club.
"It's a catchy little commercial," Cain said. "I definitely see my face there. It's out there. But with this team, I want to finish this thing out. If we continue to play this way, we can make a push."
From "Goodbye to You" to "Goodbye to Yu"?
About a dozen members of the Texas and Japanese media crammed into the video room at Globe Life Park on Monday to interview Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish. The sessions are usually held two days in advance of his starts and are often quite mundane. There was a little more anticipation for this one because Darvish, who is slated to start for Texas on Wednesday against the Marlins, has been the hottest name on the trade rumor mill lately.
Then John Blake, the Rangers' vice president for public relations, dumped a bucket of cold water on the enthusiasm with an announcement.
"Here are the ground rules. He doesn't want to answer any questions about anything except his next start or his last start," Blake said. "Those are the ground rules."
That meant no questions about the possibility of being traded. So, the first question was about the Rangers' three-game sweep of the Rays last weekend. A few others were about his pitching, and then Darvish was asked if the Rangers felt strongly about their chances of claiming an AL Wild Card spot.
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But you didn't really expect everybody to follow the ground rules, did you?
"As you know," a reporter finally said, "there has been much discussion outside the club about your future. Have you personally gone to anyone with the club, such as Jon Daniels or Jeff Banister, and expressed your desires for your future?"
Responded Darvish, "Now, of course, I talk to my family a lot. But other than that ... no."
Can't blame the guy for trying.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. Reporters Jeffrey Flanagan and T.R. Sullivan contributed to this story.