The trade deadline is looming, six days away now, and with each day that brings us closer to 4 p.m. on July 31, the rumors over which players will be members of which teams come 4:01 p.m. intensify.
The fact of the matter is, there are more names bandied about now as potentially being involved in a trade than would ever, ever, ever happen by Sunday. And while it’s all well and good for the interest it brings to the sport, the excitement fans get in daydreaming about their team adding the perfect piece here or there and marching their way to a World Series title, it’s easy to forget we’re talking about human beings and not baseball cards.
Each player deals with the rigors of hearing their name come up in trade rumors differently. For some, it’s a fact of life. At it’s core, baseball is still a business. That business involves 30 multi-million-dollar companies jockeying for one ultimate goal and everyone’s trying to put together the pieces to do so. Sometimes that means working with one of the less successful “companies” in the group to leverage the talent they do have.
So some players ignore the rumors, or read them with an interested eye. It’s completely out of a players control, for the most part, whether he stays or go. So why stress over a decision that isn’t yours to make, right?
“I’ve been through it before,” said Nationals right-hander Jason Marquis who, if he’s looking, would frequently find his own name around this time of year. “All I can control is the pitch I make. The work I put in and that’s about it.
“I’m wearing a Washington Nationals uniform and every time I step on the mound it’s going to be everything I’ve got for that team. Until somebody tells me otherwise that’s what I’m going to keep doing.”
Marquis is a pro. He’s been in the major leagues for parts of the last 11 years. He knows the drill. He’s been traded twice in his career, once from Atlanta to St. Louis and once from the Cubs to the Colorado Rockies. He’s never been dealt at the trade deadline, but that doesn’t mean he’s unaware of how these things work.
But for every player with an outlook like Marquis’ are guys who haven’t been through things like this before. Guys who have spent their entire careers with one organization and never gave much thought to that organization flipping them for someone else’s goods and services.
And even then, some see the bright side of things. As Wilson Ramos packed his bags at this time last year to leave the organization that had signed him as a teenager in Venezuela to head to Washington he was filled with excitement. The opportunity for Ramos to be an every day major league catcher with Minnesota, at the time, was incredibly slim. With the Nationals, that opportunity was greatly expanded. Sure it was tough to leave the comfort zone he’d built with the Twins and their minor league system. But this year Ramos has started 65 games behind the plate for Washington.
Ramos, though, also represents the human element of trade deadline deals — or any deals for that matter — better than most. While he’s flourished and is expected to continue to do so, Minnesota’s suddenly weak depth at catcher has become an issue. The last thing a team ever wants to see is the player they deemed expendable coming up big for someone else.
Which brings me to the curious case of shortstop Ian Desmond who, perhaps for the first time in his career, has been subject to a number of trade rumors — many that involve pointing out his major league-worst OPS, sub-par on-base percentage and disappointing batting average this season.
But while the knock on Desmond last year was that in the process of having an offensive year that placed him roughly in the middle of the pack for big league shortstops (something of a feat for a rookie) his defense left something to be desired. This year the script has flipped.
It’s no stretch to say that the last thing the Nationals want to see is their homegrown product putting it all together in an exceptional season with another team’s name stitched across his chest. Desmond is one of the longest-tenured members of the organization, drafted by the Expos out of high school in 2004, and you’d be extremely hard pressed to find a single member of the organization who doesn’t laud him for his character, the way he goes about his business and the way he plays the game without excuses. Still, in a purely baseball, business-related sense, giving up on Desmond now would also be selling on him at a low point.
Desmond knows all of this. He’s a savvy guy who pays attention to the way both he and the team are perceived. There’s a reason why, in a clubhouse filled with veterans last year, Desmond was one of the only players willing to stand up regularly and talk about the team’s play. With so much negative going on, there had to be someone offering a positive outlook.
When he was coming up through the Nationals system, Desmond used to cut the box score of the major league team’s game every night. There were some ugly box scores back then and the young shortstop always felt like he could help. Desmond hasn’t said whether he takes the rumors in stride, a la someone like Marquis, or if they come as a shock to his system. Chances are, though, that when he broke camp with the team in March he didn’t think he’d find himself in this position. If he’s looked at the numbers on the back of his baseball card, certainly he understands.
But there again is another reminder that, as the rumor-machine gets cranked up even higher this week, we’re not dealing with baseball cards, we’re dealing with people. Some have more of an attachment to their employers than others but almost all have livelihoods and families hanging in the balance of where their career path will take them. This time of year, the business of baseball and the emotional side of it just happen to all be wound up into one long week.