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On Phillies Trade Rumors: Page Views, Likes, and Follows

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We're smack dab in the middle of the Winter Meetings, a time of year that competes with only mid- to late-July as baseball writers' silly season.

I heard the Phillies might trade Jimmy Rollins for Clayton Kershaw and Hanley Ramirez, with the Dodgers paying most of all three contracts.  Disprove me.
I heard the Phillies might trade Jimmy Rollins for Clayton Kershaw and Hanley Ramirez, with the Dodgers paying most of all three contracts. Disprove me.
Jared Wickerham

Back in the day, baseball writers, like all journalists, lived by the column inch.  The newspaper had space to fill in between advertisements.  Baseball writers needed stories, quotes, games, stats, and analysis to fill those column inches.  When all else failed, there was also rumor and innuendo.  It was all fair game because the newspaper had to be printed.

Now, the column inch isn't king, though it's obviously still relevant as newspapers still exist.  Instead, we have page views, likes, and follows.  Baseball writers need their web pages to have views, as that's what advertisers care about.  They need Facebook likes and Twitter follows, so that people read what they have to say and advertisers have reason to advertise where the writer publishes.

Remember this next time you hear a trade rumor.  In fact, I'd venture to say that this is the single most important thing to think about each time you hear a trade rumor.

Did you hear the Phillies are actively shopping Jonathan Papelbon?  Did you hear they're trying to trade Domonic Brown?  Or how about moving their two aces, Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels?

There is one, and only one, definitely true thing that all of those trade claims, each of which has been made over the past two weeks, have in common.  We know, for certain, nothing about their veracity.  We know nothing about whether the talks, if they exist, are from the Phillies or to the Phillies.  We know nothing about whether they are real talks or "hey, we'll trade you Papelbon if you trade us Trout" talks.

But we do know, with 100% certainty, that they drive people to view pages, like Facebook posts, and follow Twitterers.

Which is why I give each trade rumor I hear from the likes of Ken Rosenthal, Jon Heyman, Peter Gammons, and any of the other rumor-pedalers this time of year as much faith as I would give Michael Martinez coming to the plate in a clutch situation.

Let me be clear - this is not the official position of TGP.  In fact, on the bloglord email thread, I feel like I am in the distinct minority here.  But, no amount of reasoning about why this or that move makes sense or why I should believe this writer or that one will change my position here - to my skeptical mind, it's all made up fairy tales until proven otherwise.

After all, we'll never know if they were right or not.  It is completely unverifiable information.  Even if the writer received the information from someone (always doubtful given the incentives), Ruben Amaro, other GMs, players, agents, and every other possibly involved actor has every reason in the world to tell partial truths or outright falsehoods.  Ultimately, one of two things will happen.  The player will be traded or he won't be traded.  If he's not traded, the writer (or his source) will claim that the talks happened, so he's completely insulated from criticism.  If the player is traded, the writer (or his source) will claim his reporting was vindicated (even though that doesn't necessarily follow).  With these two outcomes, there's just zero downside for the writer to literally make stuff up.  We'll just never have any way of verifying anything.

Despite what these writers say, I am quite confident the Phillies team next year will include Hamels, Lee, and Brown.  Papelbon may be gone, but I believed that long before some professional sports writer tweeted last week that the Phillies are possibly going to trade him.  In fact, when I read that, I was a bit disappointed.  To me, it's now less likely.

I'm not denying that it's fun to think about these things.  After all, what else are baseball fans going to talk about in December?  But it needs to be done in the right context, which is that what passes for "information" this time of year (and in mid- to late-July, baseball writers' other silly season) is nothing more than a craven and unaccountable attempt to get attention and, ultimately, advertisers.