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Trade Rumors Swap Fact for Fiction

Roy Halladay, the creme de la creme of the trade market, will be dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies, beating the Toronto Blue Jays' self-imposed deadline of tonight.

Oops, scratch that. He now is going to the Los Angeles Angels.

Wait, that can't be true, since the Angels won't give up pitcher Joe Saunders, so the Blue Jays ace is headed to the Boston Red Sox. Or is it the New York Yankees? The Detroit Tigers? The Hanshin Tigers?

"I can't keep up with all of it myself, and we're the ones who are making the decision," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi says. "It's crazy what's going on out there. There are rumors, atop of rumors, atop of rumors, atop of rumors.

"We know what the truth is, and we can laugh about it. But when it gets it out there, now you've got to explain to the player why it's not true. Why that team never called. You spend half of the time putting out fires and never getting anything done."

Ricciardi's plight is echoed by many of his peers. They say baseball's rumor mill, which long has stoked fan interest in the game, is on the verge of spinning off its axis.

Shifting dynamics within the news media have placed an even greater emphasis on immediacy. Increased competition and the ability for almost anyone - veteran newsman, online reporter or independent blogger - to report both rumor and fact has at times blurred the lines between both.

The magical date for those enthralled with baseball transactions is July 31, the non-waiver trade deadline.

And until Friday comes, baseball executives will spend a disproportionate amount of time addressing rumors rather than closing deals.

'Standards have dropped'

Many have personal tales of controlling damage.@

It was just last week when SI.com reported that the New York Mets rejected a deal that would have sent four of their top prospects for Halladay. The radio shows buzzed. TV commentators opined. The Mets prospects wondered if they needed to get their visas and pack their bags.

There was one problem.

There wasn't a shred of truth to the report.

"It was absolutely wrong," Ricciardi says. "We didn't exchange names with the Mets. I felt so bad for (Mets GM) Omar (Minaya) because there was no truth to it. None. Now, he's the one who has to answer why they didn't get Halladay.

"There's so much information out there, people are making things up."

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported this spring that Ken Griffey Jr. had agreed to a free agent contract with the Atlanta Braves. He might have been close, but the only contract Griffey signed was with the Seattle Mariners.

"That was just one of a handful of bad reports last winter," says Tim Dierkes, whose website, mlbtraderumors.com, aggregates and disseminates the information on a minute-to-minute basis.

There were the false reports last winter that the Chicago White Sox traded right fielder Jermaine Dye to the Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Homer Bailey. There was the MLB.com report last July that the Tampa Bay Rays acquired Jason Bay from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bay was traded an hour later to the Boston Red Sox in the three-way deal that sent Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Then there was the New York Daily News offseason report that the Yankees were mulling re-signing Carl Pavano, although GM Brian Cashman says it was never remotely considered.

"The thing that bothers me in this day and age is that nobody really cares about being wrong," says Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, who noted he corrected an error in one of his online reports within an hour of its original post Sunday.@

"When I started," says Rosenthal, who has covered baseball since 1984, "the biggest sin of all was to be wrong. But it just blows my mind that people don't feel bad about being wrong. Our standards have dropped. And it bothers the hell out of me."

ESPN baseball analyst Peter Gammons, perhaps the pioneer in procuring information during the trade deadline, can't keep up anymore with the latest minute-by-minute updates of trade talks. Everyone with a computer is chiming in.

"This stuff is just driving everybody crazy, and it's getting worse and worse," Gammons says. "It's like there's 10 new trade rumors on the Internet every hour. There is so much stuff thrown out there, people can't differentiate between fact and fiction. @

"People have an insatiable thirst for this stuff, but GMs get so tied down with this stuff, you can't even get ahold of them this time of year. It's just insane."

And while nothing excites fans like a blockbuster deal, GMs say the rumor mill has been responsible for killing deals. Trade talks become public in their initial stages, which leads to fan discussion and debates. And if the reaction becomes negative, teams might opt to back out.

Kevin Towers, general manager of the San Diego Padres, is convinced reports involving ace Jake Peavy going to the Chicago Cubs last winter forced the trade to dissolve.

"It became so public, so counterproductive to (Cubs GM) Jim Hendry and I," Towers says, "the deal didn't get done. There was too much public knowledge, and so many players being mentioned, it got out of hand. I really sensed we were close to a deal, but once it got out in the open, Jim said he was pulling the plug. I don't blame him."

Said Hendry: "It certainly didn't help. I'd leave Kevin's room, and the same names we talked about were on the Internet two hours later. It certainly puts a damper on a lot of things. All of us would prefer the days when deals would be announced (at a news conference). But those days are over. The stuff that gets out there now drives all of us crazy."

It's rare these days when deals are done without the slightest leak. The Chicago White Sox quietly worked out a trade in May for Peavy, and if not for Peavy exercising his no-trade clause, no one would have known they even talked. To this day, Towers has never publicly confirmed the deal was even done.

"You never know what you're going to hear," says Towers, who rejected overtures from the Red Sox seeking first baseman Adrian Gonzalez last week. "One time I'm pulling into my driveway in San Diego, and I hear, 'There's breaking news on the high-speed newswire. Kevin Towers is in Orlando, Fla., working on 10-player deal. Should they do it, or should they not?' Here I am in San Diego, and everyone in town is weighing in on a trade that wasn't even happening."

Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane traded outfielder Matt Holliday last week to the St. Louis Cardinals, but not until dismissing print, online and broadcast reports he was discussing sending Holliday across the bay to the San Francisco Giants.

"It's more annoying than anything else," Beane says. "You spend 50% of your day shooting down false rumors. It doesn't hinder your ability to make a trade, but it takes a lot of time. More than anything, it can mislead your fan base."

Misleading reports

In the era of the 24-hour news cycle, heightened competition means more chances to make mistakes.

Many print reporters also blog and tweet developments immediately. Every team has an official website with a beat reporter. National websites, with no home team to cover, instead aggressively report on all 30 teams.

The mad dash for exclusive information sometimes turns ugly.

There was never a more misleading report, Beane says, than the reported three-team deal two years ago. The A's were trading starter Dan Haren in a blockbuster with pitcher Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins and shortstop Jose Reyes of the New York Mets.

"That was just absolutely ridiculous," Beane says. "It was absurd."

It was also fabricated.

Dierkes says a news reporter, having fun at the expense of mlbtraderumors.com, sent a fictitious e-mail saying the deal was going down. He believed the e-mail was from a New York reporter, who claimed he couldn't get the trade into his own paper but wanted to pass it along.

"I don't know if I was naive," says Dierkes, who has operated his site since November 2005, "but I bought it hook, line and sinker. The guy even threw in bit prospects to add legitimacy to it. As soon as it got out, I saw all of these quotes from Billy Beane saying it was the worst rumor ever.

"I'm thinking, 'Oh, no, what did I do?' It was a horrible thing to publish. It produced a lot of traffic, but it was bad for the site.

"Ever since then, I've taken a double filter, especially if it's from a random guy."

It's this cautious approach, Dierkes said, that prevented the site from breaking the story last week in which St. Louis outfielder Chris Duncan was traded to Boston for shortstop Julio Lugo. Dierkes was swamped with e-mails, many he presumed were from Duncan's associates informing him of the trade. He did not publish the item until he confirmed it with outside sources.

Players in limbo

Perhaps no one is affected more by trade rumors than players. They call their agents. The agents call the front office. And sometimes, even when the front office tells a player there's no truth to the rumors, it does no good.

"There are a lot of things that get put out in the public arena," Cashman says, "that in many cases just aren't accurate. You have to talk to your players. You may have to talk to your beat writers. It's unsettling."

Cincinnati Reds GM Walt Jocketty, formerly with St. Louis, watched shortstop Edgar Renteria struggle one season under the duress of trade rumors.

He and manager Tony La Russa went to Renteria and tried to comfort him.

"We said, 'Look, Edgar, we are not trading you,'" Jocketty says. "'You've got to trust us on this.' But it wasn't until the trade deadline passed that he finally relaxed and he had a great last two months."

Renteria, now with the Giants, concedes he permitted the speculation to affect his performance, never quite believing Jocketty and La Russa.

"It was hard to concentrate when the people are (saying) you are about to get traded," Renteria says, "especially when you do not want to get traded. It distracts you a little bit. A lot of people, not just me, start playing better after the deadline passes because they concentrate when they are on the field. You're human."

Agent Dave Stewart, former assistant general manager and 20-game winner for Oakland, says he has spent time the last two trade deadlines calming Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp's fears. Kemp has learned to deal with the speculation, Stewart says, but it's a nuisance.

"Man, it's crazy," Stewart says. "Early on, yeah, he was worried about it. His family was worried about it. Last year, he was less worried about it, Now, he's not worrying about it at all.

"There's just so much sensationalizing out there, and this Halladay stuff is out of control."

Ricciardi, who fed the rumor mill by announcing they were going to listen to trade offers for Halladay, says his club probably won't trade him by today, their deadline.

So will this bring the Halladay rumor machine to a halt?

"No," Dierkes says, "Ricciardi has said a lot of things that haven't been entirely true or completely honest. So we're going to stick with it until Friday, because I really do believe he will be dealt.

"And I'm predicting the (Texas) Rangers."

Yes, that is the latest trade rumor.

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