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3.16.2007

The Existential Dread of the Daily Blogger 

Over at McCovey Chronicles, Grant encapsulates the boredom of spring training, or as Sartre once wrote, l'inexprimable ennui de l'entrainement du printemps, with this post. As the famous rap song says, "Self-deconstruction, you're headed for self-deconstruction."

No less existential is my interview with Merc beat writer Andy Baggarly. Here's part 2.

Q: If you retired tomorrow from sports reporting, which players would you invite to dinner just to hang out and talk about anything other than baseball?

A: I'd have to start with Omar Vizquel. Maybe we could go to a museum before dinner. I'd love to hear his comments on all the pieces. Plus I've been to his house (for a story about his artwork). I guess it's only fair I invite him to mine.

Ed. note: Unless you read Baggarly's story in print, you missed these photos from Vizquel's house:




Q: Does Brian Sabean read blogs? Can I send him coded messages? What about the other executives?

A: Ha! Somehow I doubt it. Bloggers are by definition part of the Lunatic Fringe, right? Seriously though, the Giants probably obsess more about fan opinion than most organizations. The front office often takes the temperature of fans, but mostly it's the season ticket holders they poll. Makes sense -- they're chipping in about $50,000 more per year than the average blogger (if you count the seat license).

There's a fair amount of misinformed comments on some of the blogs, but by most accounts I'm very impressed with the fans that post on the sites. Most are curious, know baseball and are hilarious to read. (Will someone get E to switch to decaf?) And wow, do they want details. Contract stuff, minor league stuff, every kind of statistical analysis, it's amazing. I think the biggest impact bloggers can have is their grassroots appeal. If you see 5,000 fans wearing Benitez Nattoware at a game, it's going to get noticed. Same with the Mays Field campaign.

Q: When we hear of a trade rumor in the paper, how often is it something concrete, with real interest on both sides, and how often is it just an idea someone is floating to see what happens? Who floats them, and why?

A: Great question. The best answer is all of the above. There are times I'll think of a trade that might make sense and poke around by asking a writer or executive with another club. (The Marlins and Benitez being a good example, and there turned out to be some smoke there.) But generally it's looked down upon for a writer to "throw something against the wall." I won't stick a name out there unless I know the player has been scouted or mentioned in trade discussions. That's a pretty broad brush. If the Giants call Boston and ask about Manny Ramirez, that makes it fair game -- even if there's a 99.999 percent chance a trade wouldn't happen.

So why write it? Partially to cover your ass in case it happens, and partially because people loooooove trade rumors. (Except the players' families.) Even though it borders on infotainment at times like the winter meetings, I always strive to characterize trade or free-agent rumors accurately. In print, there's a big difference between "discussions" and "serious discussions."

One other example occurred to me: This winter, I knew the Giants needed a middle-of-the-order hitter and Pat Burrell had been on the block for some time. He's a Bay Area native, too. So I cold-called his agent and he told me that Pat would be willing to waive his no-trade clause to come to SF. Mind you, I had no information that the Giants had done anything more than kick around Burrell's name in internal discussions. But the fact Burrell was willing to waive his no-trade (something he previously had said he would only do for the Red Sox or Yankees) gave me a news entry to write the story. It became a good "talker" and had legs for a few weeks. A trade didn't happen, but nothing in the story was incorrect because I didn't overstate the situation.

Q: Why do you think Sabean has such a schizophrenic track record with trades: brilliant from '97 to '02, then almost nothing in his favor since?

A: Trades are like the weather. There's a certain amount of random chance involved. I can only speculate, but there might be a couple factors beyond luck that have contributed to his dry spell. 1. He has fewer prospects to trade because the team punted so many draft picks over the past five years. 2. The culture has changed. He just doesn't have as much in common with this younger generation of GMs, which makes it harder to brainstorm deals that can actually get consecrated. 3. Ned Colletti is in L.A.. There's no underestimating the impact of that move. 4. The Giants have to win now. Sabean can't afford to make certain kinds of deals, especially one that would be unpopular in the short term. The Matt Williams deal is a perfect example. Do you think Sabean could do that today? Hell no.

Q: Because of the crazy salary escalation, has trading become a much smaller part of a GM's strategy?

A: It depends on your market size, to an extent. If you're the Twins, you develop what you need and trade to fill the gaps. If you're the Yankees, it's much easier to buy what you want. The biggest problem with making trades is that young players under cost control have become insanely valuable commodities. You just don't see those four-prospect-for-a-star trades often anymore. Look at the Freddy Garcia/Gavin Floyd swap. That was all about the White Sox getting some cost control.

One of the most beautiful things in baseball is a well constructed trade that helps both teams. I'm sure some GMs are frustrated by all the financial impediments that keep deals from happening and have become dissuaded from spending, or wasting, so much time on them. But I think the best GMs in the in the game are still constantly looking to make deals like these, and occasionally they pull them off.

To be continued...

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