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Anatomy of conflicting trade rumors: Adam Dunn edition

Jun 30, 2010, 4:25 PM EDT

What do you do when two reporters are saying conflicting things about a given player? You try to sniff the baloney, that's what.

Like I said an hour ago, trade rumors lend themselves to all kinds of mischief. Who is doing the leaking? What do they have to gain and lose by a piece of information floating out there? How near — or far — from the real decision makers are the sources whispering in the reporter’s ear? The answers to these questions can change a piece of news to a rumor to something close to utter baloney in five minutes. A great example: the Adam Dunn rumors.

The Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley continues to report that the White Sox are all over Adam Dunn, saying just yesterday that the Nats and White Sox have exchanged names and are champing at the bit to make a deal.  Meanwhile, MLB.com’s Nats’ reporter, Bill Ladson, tweeted just a few short minutes ago that there “is nothing to” the Cowley report and that GM Mike Rizzo never talked to White Sox GM Kenny Williams
about Adam Dunn.”

Oh noes! Conflicting information! What’s a poor baseball fan to think!

You gotta parse this stuff.  You can start by noting that a White Sox source would have less reason to lie about the Sox and the Nats talking about Dunn, because if the deal doesn’t happen he has dashed the hopes of a lot of excitable fans who want the team to get a bat. In contrast, you have to think that a Nats’ source would not want a rumor about a fire-sale-quality trade like giving up Adam Dunn floating around out there until the last possible minute.  It could demoralize fans and anger the subject of the trade (who’s on record saying he doesn’t want to go be a DH, by the way).

Sure, there are counterarguments to each of those things — maybe the Chisox guy wants to create the illusion of action and the Nats guy would love to leak something about Dunn to cater to prospect hounds — but that’s the way I see it.

The giveaway, though, is Ladson’s subtle but rather significant qualification. Let me highlight it:  “MIKE RIZZO never talked to KENNY WILLIAMS about Adam Dunn.” Is it not possible that, say, the assistant GMs talked? Or that Nats’ President Stan Kasten talked to Williams? Or that, rather than talked, they exchanged emails or texts or telegrams or something?

It just seems like an oddly specific way to put that. It’s as if he was actually told the Williams/Rizzo thing in those exact words by someone with a need to be technically truthful but kinda cute. Reporters generally don’t operate on that level so I’m guessing Ladson didn’t create the odd construction. Front offices do, though, and I bet they did. After all of that, I come away thinking that there’s a lot of truth to the Adam Dunn to the White Sox buzz.  Maybe a trade happens, maybe it doesn’t, but I think there’s some fire there to go with that smoke.

I try to do this with every set of rumors I read. Sometimes there’s just no room to parse: you have directly conflicting reports through which no sunlight shines.  Sometimes reports are coming so fast and so furious that there just isn’t time or oxygen to go through the exercise. But a lot of the time you can smell the freshly sliced baloney, and when you can do that, it’s pretty sweet.

The realization, that is.  I’m not a big fan of baloney, let alone its aroma.

  1. geoknows - Jun 30, 2010 at 4:51 PM

    Do you consider the source as well? For example, the Sun-Times was also a perpetrator of a report that the White Sox had supposedly confirmed the Mark Teahen acquisition two days before it was announced, despite the fact that both teams involved were denying it at the time. Turns out they were right.

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