It’s that time of year, players will be on the move. Even with their recent six-game winning streak the Cubs stand at an abysmal 40-58. That .408 winning percentage gives them a bit of breathing room to avoid the worst Cubs record of all time, but they are still likely to be flirting with a 100-loss season when it’s all said and done. This is a team in sell mode and trade rumors drive content. Today I’m here with my tips and tricks for not getting suckered by fake trade rumors and announcements.
Blue check marks
This first one is so basic, but is truly an easy mistake to make. Beware Ken Rosenthel, Jeff Passsan, and every other Twitter account that riffs off a generally famous and reliable account that reports MLB news. There will be dozens, if not hundreds, of internet trolls looking to have a little fun trading our favorite players in ludicrous deals. They will go to the trouble of setting up their account, downloading the same avatar as the better known personality and even copying their biography. Sometimes they will use graphics that mimic Twitter’s blue check mark so it’s difficult to just glance and be sure.
There are still ways to foil these scammers.
Double check follower accounts before you get too invested in any individual rumor or return. The real Ken Rosenthal has 1.3 million followers and he posts a lot of bow ties in his media. It is unlikely that any scam account could accomplish that in the short-term. Finally, never forget that sometimes the most prominent accounts get hacked, so beware of that, too. Who among us could forget crypto Jeff Passan day?
Not all rumors are created equal — Internal sources matter
One of the things I always try to keep in mind when looking at any trade rumor is the genesis for the article. Who started the rumor? Do they have an incentive for starting it? Can you identify them even a little bit?
There is a large difference between “MLB executives believe” and “A source within the Cubs front office said.” The former could be rival executives speculating, or even trying to motivate the Cubs to make a particular deal. The latter is internal information from someone affiliated with the team who is speaking without identifying themselves. “Player X should be available...” could literally just mean someone like me spent a day on Spotrac looking at when contracts expire and team records, put two and two together, and determined that team X could move any guys who may not be around next season or the one after that.
It pays to be skeptical and remember that journalists benefit from engaging content. They have a built in incentive to make their rumor sound as robust as possible. If they are resorting to language like “should be available” you should give that the credit it deserves.
Deals often get announced after the deadline
In 2019 I was finally ahead of the curve. I had my trade deadline piece ready to go, I was dropping in information as it happened. I was flying through analysis and returns. The words were flowing. I was ready to light the Cubs on fire for not making a big move with the division on the line. My piece went live within five minutes of the end of the trade deadline and I led with this:
For all the talk of a sense of urgency this team has seemed to lack urgency at key times this year. Urgency has at best seemed like a 50-50 bet, a matter of chance. Will the bats show up in a big inning? Who knows? Will the bullpen be able to hold a one run lead late? Maybe, maybe not. Don’t have a clear closer for most of the start of the season? Keep riding Pedro Strop or Steve Cishek out there until after signing Kimbrel won’t cost a draft pick anymore. It’s not like eight blown saves could be the difference in the tightest division in baseball in September.
And for this latter group of people, I give you the Cubs at the trade deadline, where they have decided to go big or go home by turning backup catcher Martín Maldonado into Tony Kemp, while also acquiring LOOGY Derek Holland for cash considerations and right handed bullpen arm David Phelps for a minor league arm.
It feels generous to call this tinkering at the margins, but let’s take a closer look at what the Cubs have acquired in 32-year-old Phelps and 27-year-old utility man Kemp. You can read more about the Holland deal here.
Within 15 minutes the Cubs announced the Nick Castellanos trade and I had to tweet this:
JK, y'all. BRB with some Castellanos updates. https://t.co/EjaHxwAmRP— Sara Sanchez (@BCB_Sara) July 31, 2019
It pays to wait until 30 minutes after the trade deadline to be sure the deals are done.
Prospect lists vary — a lot
Here at BCB we are lucky to have Josh Timmers covering the minors so we know what’s going on with Cubs prospects down on the farm. He does a great job covering the ins and outs and going beyond the single paragraph write ups you can find for prospect watchers across the league.
It is very tempting during the trade deadline to bypass that and do your own research. Look, I’m an old debate coach. I am all for doing your own research. However, a critical part of doing your own research is knowing your sources really well. One of the reasons prospect work can be so difficult and time consuming is that scouting takes a tremendous amount of knowledge and time. Plus, not all prospect lists make the same assumptions.
For example, Baseball America ranked the Cubs farm system 15th coming into the 2022 season, FanGraphs’ pre-draft rankings had the Cubs sixth. There is almost a third of the league between those two rankings, how could they be so different?
Well, there are a lot of reasons. Some MiLB rankings use a methodology that prioritizes proximity to the majors. Others look at raw talent in the system with less regard to any prospects’ arrival date. You can have a really solid farm system but if all of your prospects are in Low A, the Next Great Cubs Team is still a long way away.
Don’t just copy the most optimistic or pessimistic read of the prospects returned for your favorite players. Read them all. Read between the lines. Most importantly, look at the methodology that went into those rankings. Additionally, remember baseball prospects are human beings who will face a lot of challenges as they make their way to the majors, and prospects are not promises.
In 2016 I was hanging out with my grandmother for her birthday as the most important Cubs trade deadline in my lifetime barreled towards all of us. One of the many fake Ken Rosenthal’s posted that the Cubs had traded Kyle Schwarber for Aroldis Chapman. I didn’t catch that it was a fake account and let loose some words no one should ever say near their 85-year young grandmother. Luckily for me this was my swears like a sailor grandmother who took it all in stride as opposed to my conservative Catholic grandmother who definitely would have felt obligated to say a few novenas for my soul had the situation been reversed.
The 2021 trade deadline was a lot. I found it painful in the same way bad breakups had been in the past. I don’t anticipate this year will be any better. But when the dust clears after August 2 and I figure out what team I’m going to with Willson Contreras for the rest of the season, baseball will still be baseball. The Cubs will still play at the greatest ballpark on the planet and the ivy will still be brown on Opening Day and a brilliant green by June. They will not lose forever.
Feel your emotions, be upset and vent here if you need to, be excited about prospects if that is your jam, but remember we all fan in our own way. At the end of the day there are many, many things more important than baseball.