J.A. Happ could not even pass through the Phillies clubhouse without being reminded that it was trade season.
"Hey, it's Happ," said Matt Stairs, lounging in a chair in front of his locker before a recent game. "You're still here?"
"Yeah, you haven't been traded yet?" added a smiling Joe Blanton, sitting next to Stairs. Happ shook his head and grinned wearily as he walked toward the shower.
Many players claim not to pay attention to the constant drone of trade rumors that becomes a roar in mid-July, but the locker room is as alive with awareness and speculation as anywhere else. While some players are able to remain oblivious, many whose names are mentioned in rumors exist in a state of anxiety, some become filled with dread, while others get excited that their team might add a star player.
Much, if not all, of the buzz around the trade deadline is worthless. Teams parcel out information strategically and semi-honestly, using the media to negotiate with rival front offices; reporters rush that information onto the Internet, eager to feed the hungry monster; and the Tweetified public, addicted to the constant dribble of minutiae, consumes it with strangely heightened emotion, often expressed anonymously: DON'T TRADE HAPP!!! . . . YOU ARE A MORON IF YOU DON'T THINK WE NEED HALLADAY!!! . . . KYLE DRABEK!!!! . . . MICHAEL TAYLOR!!!! . . . OMG!!!!
Well, I suppose it's easier to get worked up over those things than figure out what to think or feel about health-care reform or whether our troops belong in Afghanistan. But if we're able to turn down the volume on trade talk, we can detect a real human effect of the deadline on major-league players, which is far more interesting than the noise.
Take Happ. This guy has been tossed all over the emotional spectrum by the Phillies organization this year. This game is a business, of course, and it is a front office's job to view players as assets. Ruben Amaro Jr. does not have the luxury of fretting over Happ's feelings. But for the pitcher, the last few weeks have been tumultuous.
After losing a tight competition for the fifth spot in the Phillies rotation this spring, Happ has pitched brilliantly since winning the job in May, even earning credit from pitching coach Rich Dubee for inspiring the rest of the staff to throw more aggressively.
He should be having a blast this summer, but instead has heard his name mentioned as a possible piece in a deal to acquire Toronto ace Roy Halladay. This is not idle speculation; the Blue Jays have expressed interest in Happ, and they might well pry him from the Phils. Happ wants badly to remain in town and is trying not to be distracted by the uncertainty of not knowing what uniform he will wear, or what city he will live in, later this week.
And then there are the guys who won't be traded but are eager to see their teams improve. It is not unusual for Phillies players to pull reporters aside in the dugout before games and ask, "Hey, are we getting Halladay? Who do you think we'll have to give up?"
The conventional baseball wisdom says that front offices send a message to players at the trade deadline. If the GM acquires a key player, it is supposed to motivate his team, tell them, "Hey, we believe you're goin' places." If a contending team does nothing in July, players apparently become disheartened. Do these reactions really happen?
Sometimes yes and sometimes no, Phillies veterans say. Stairs has been on many buyers and sellers during his 17-year-career and has seen a variety of approaches by front-office staffs. As a member of the Oakland Athletics from 1996-2000, Stairs appreciated general manager Billy Beane's interest in player opinion. The GM, later portrayed in Michael Lewis' 2003 bestseller Moneyball as a number-cruncher, routinely consulted A's players about potential acquisitions. Stairs and his teammates appreciated the courtesy of Beane asking them if a particular player would be a positive or negative addition to the clubhouse. When Beane made trades that seemed unusual, his respect for player opinion helped keep morale high.
Stairs was also a member of the 2003 Pittsburgh Pirates, who began the season with veterans Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez, Brian Giles, Randall Simon, Jeff Suppan and Reggie Sanders. After falling out of contention, the Pirates traded everyone but Stairs and Sanders. The team acquired Jason Bay, Mike Gonzalez and Freddy Sanchez in those deals, among other talented young players. But the two remaining vets were left to play out the season in a demoralized clubhouse.
That, of course, will not happen to the 2009 Phillies, who are buyers. The players and manager have said many times that they basically agree with the "window theory," which says that most Phils stars are in their prime and could win multiple championships over the next few years.
The word "Halladay" is seldom mentioned on the record lately, but many Phillies are naturally eager to play behind the best pitcher in baseball. As Charlie Manuel said Thursday, "I want the horse." This week will see the conversion of speculation into reality and finally reveal who will be excited, who will be relieved and who will be forced to change his life.
Inside the Phillies:
Read Andy Martino's Phillies blog, The Phillies Zone, at http://go.philly.com.sports.
Blog response of the week
RE: What happened with Durbin
Posted by JimG 11:01 PM, 07/23/2009
Durbin's ERA hasn't been that good this year but he's done a good job of stranding inherited runners which is key for a middle reliever. Athletes can't win in this sort of situation. If they say they have an ache or pain, people call them a wuss for not toughing things out. If they don't say anything and pitch through it, their performance ends up suffering and people jump on them for not disclosing the injury.EndText