It strikes me as rude to use a blog just to tear a journalist down. Typically, I don’t get too annoyed with what paid journalists write, or for that matter, what paid broadcasters say. A lot of times, you can tell that certain professionals parrot the company line, but in all honesty, this is part of their job. A baseball beat writer’s primary concern is getting information out to fans that would otherwise be largely unavailable; as such, sometimes they can’t be sounding the truth trumpet that Orlando Cabrera is a terrible number 2 hitter, or that Ron Gardenhire’s in-game management is at times extraordinarily questionable. These people are paid to do a job. Although I like to think that I generally have an idea of what I’m talking about, I blog part time while I go to school all the time.* As such, I try not to question reporters and beat writers too much, but would rather give them the benefit of the doubt on their decisions about what to report and how to report it.
Columnists have a different job than beat writers. Their job is to offer perspective – sometimes unpopular perspective. There is immense value in such an endeavor, and it would strike just about anyone as a gross violation of “freedom of the press” to say that a columnist should censor his or her opinions on account of offending or upsetting people.
While columnists have an admirable job to do and should do so fearlessly, they should also do so responsibly. Offering opinions merely to get attention moves opinion out of the sacred halls of dynamic journalism into the burlesque of cheap tricks. Unfortunately, the fury of discussion surrounding the possibility of trading Joe Mauer has been launched by nothing more than a sham story by our very own Jim Souhan.
Ever since Souhan penned his piece, the speculation regarding a possible Mauer trade has been rampant. (Seriously, look at how many of those articles link back just to Souhan’s article.) I’m all for discussing options and debating whether or not it’s advantageous to keep Mauer. In fact, that story was already published by Souhan’s employer, and it was a valid, well-written story.
This brings me to my first problem with Souhan’s piece. While it has launched a fresh wave of discussion, its perspective is decidedly stale. This isn’t anything Twins fans haven’t been thinking in one form or another ever since it became apparent last year that Mauer was going to own the greatest season by a catcher in the history of the universe. The gist of the point about possibly trading Mauer is this: “If Mauer doesn’t sign, he might leave as a free agent. If he leaves as a free agent, all the Twins get back is two measly draft picks. They would probably have to trade him to get maximum value back.” Duh. We’ve been there. We’ve done that.
But hey, maybe there’s some new wrinkle in the story. It’s quite possible that Souhan has inside information that warrants opening up the discussion again. That’s good reporting. And hey, if they have to trade him, people should talk about it and see what they expect back from losing their beloved super-duper-star.
This brings me to my second problem with the piece: it makes suggestions that are entirely unfounded, unless of course you just trust Souhan’s word rather than loads of evidence suggesting that there’s not much more to this story than idle speculation. Think about it. Souhan could have written a glowing column about how great life will be when these deliberate, careful, and fair negotiations finally result in a long contract for one of baseball’s best two players. And that column would have been based on as much fact (aside from a passing reference to conversation with a variety of people) and new news as the one he ended up writing. But of course, this column generates more buzz and gets yourself linked all over the internet, so hey, why not**?
This brings me to my third problem with this piece: it is misleadingly narrow in its focus. In both his column about trading Mauer and another column just written this morning, Souhan has made the claim that the Twins have offered around $20 million per year and that Mauer is cool to this number. Of course, this is based on the always ambiguous “talking with a variety of people,” not far from the lovely hot stove “source close with the club” that yields a reliable story about one time in every fifty reports. And of course, this number doesn’t take into account that number of years could well be holding up the talks more than just the average yearly salary.
Finally, my biggest problem with this piece was that, other than “talks with a variety of people,” there is absolutely no concrete evidence demonstrating that talks are going badly other than speculation that this deal would have been done sooner. In fact, all available evidence suggests, at the very least, the talks are not going badly. Everyone remembers the Santana debacle. By the middle of winter, it was crystal clear that the sides would not be able to agree, and the Twins immediately began shopping Santana. ESPN’s hot stove immediately incinerated, rumors flew from multiple sources, and the trade ended up happening well-before spring training, in part because of Santana’s self-imposed deadline to get a deal done, and in part because of the humongous distraction the situation would cause in spring training. The Twins had every bit as much reason to keep those problems quiet, but the bottom line is that when things go badly, teams hear about it and start talking. We have had none of that.
The situation today is entirely similar and entirely different. Santana and Mauer are both once-in-a-generation talents. Santana was in his prime; Mauer is just entering his prime. Both situations involve the player’s contract year. In both situations, the Twins realistically can’t afford to let the player walk at the end of the year for two draft picks. It is simply unimaginable that the Twins plan on going through a full season with the Mauer distraction, only to lose him for a pittance at the end of the year, so if talks have really stalled, one would think they would be looking at a trade. There has been no indication from any source, other than Souhan, that these talks have stalled and the Twins might be forced to look into trading Mauer. It is just not believable that there is any problem with these talks other than that they might be going slowly.
Furthermore, the story overlooks the overall context of the Twins’ situation. Going into the offseason, Mauer stated that he would let the contract happen when it happened, and that he did not want to rush the Twins into signing him; he was perfectly happy to let them get other business in order before negotiating a contract. The Twins, for their part, are notoriously slow negotiators who have been reported to be gun shy about signing free agents long term because of Mauer’s looming contract. They seemingly take such a deliberate approach in an effort to maximize value; they allow the market to determine appropriate prices for players, and then they pounce when they can get the price they want. Look no farther than the Thome and Hudson signings this winter. What we can reasonably infer from these factors is:
1) The Twins have taken care of other business before signing Mauer by trading for JJ Hardy, re-signing Carl Pavano, signing Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson, taking care of contracts for all arbitration-eligible players, and buying out arbitration for Nick Blackburn and Denard Span. It’s not like the Twins have devoted 4 months entirely to Joe Mauer.
2) The Twins, at least for my money, seem to be locking down long-term costs by buying out arbitration of key players before they sign Mauer. This makes sense because they have been reported as being concerned with their long-term budget because of Mauer’s upcoming contract extension.
3) Given how slowly the Twins typically negotiate (Crede and Kyle Gibson last year, Hudson and Thome this year), it really is not that surprising that talks revolving around what will be the biggest contract in team history (and one of the biggest in baseball) have been drawn out.
What is really unfortunate is that the Twins and Mauer have seemingly done everything they can to keep this situation from becoming a distraction. This of course does not mean that people can’t talk about what kind of contract would be appropriate, or what type of return the Twins should expect if they end up having to trade Mauer. (To this point, Souhan’s suggestion that the Twins trade for a closer is laughably short sighted.) But when the most visible sports columnist in the Twin Cities’ largest newspaper starts dropping hints that the time might be right to trade Mauer because talks are apparently not going well, seemingly based on little more than casual speculation and despite significant evidence to the contrary, it’s time to call him on it and move the discussion along.