Good morning from Day Two of the Winter Meetings

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At least I think it’s morning. That ever-increasing light in the sky and the incessantly-beeping clock next to my bed says it’s morning, but my body is screaming at me that I require far more sleep than I just received, so clearly it must me, oh, midnight.  Oh well, the sky and clocks have been wrong before.

The first day of the Winter Meetings was highly eventful. Some deals got inked. Some deals fell through. Some deals got done but we’re all supposed to pretend they didn’t. One guy made the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame, however, made itself look silly.  There’s also a notorious rumor floating around that a bald blogger and another writer were captured on video — with said video being taped by a third writer — in the hotel lobby singing “Laid” by James at around 2AM, high notes included. If you see such a video on the web today, rest assured, it is a pure fabrication.

In other news, one of the most striking things of Day One was that, though I didn’t believe it possible, the speed of rumor-dissemination has gotten even faster this year than it was last year.  A few years ago rumors started to get spread fast by reporters reading MLB Trade Rumors and then putting up stories about what they saw there. Last year, for the first time, a large number of writers were finally on Twitter.  This year everyone is on Twitter and most now have smart phones. As a result, rumors go from a single tweet to a widespread topic of conversation in a minute or two.

Yesterday, for example, someone at ESPN LA tweeted that the Dodgers had made an offer for Prince Fielder. Within the time it took for a couple of other reporters to make a phone call to confirm it, it had become a bona fide rumor everyone was writing about (us included). Then it was debunked quickly and everyone updated (us included). What to make of this?

The conventional reaction is for people to wring their hands and talk about irresponsible reporting and how back when they were riding dinosaurs to the newsroom, people did not play so fast and loose with such matters.  I’m not a fan of this reaction. Partially because it’s not true. People’s tongues wagged about everything back then and if they had the means to spread such things quickly they would have.  They were just left to wag their tongues in the lobby. That is, when drunk managers weren’t teaching people how to do a proper hook slide in the bar.

My view of these fast-but-then-debunked rumors is that they’re great fun. Let’s be clear about something: baseball is not national security. The fate of the Republic is not at stake. If some baloney gets thrown around a bit — at least as long as it doesn’t involve someone’s personal life or truly serious matters — no one is harmed. Not even the allegedly respectable and noble calling of journalism.  The fans — and we’re all fans — can have a few minutes of fun speculating on why the Brewers would take so little for Prince Fielder and wonder if the Dodgers are contenders in the West again.  Inventing things from whole cloth for cynical purposes is obviously horrible, but if someone runs with a rumor a tad too quickly, we will all survive.

Our view of such rumors at HardballTalk: to let you know what people are talking about. To give you context for the news and rumors so you can judge them for yourself between the time you hear it and the time the authoritative word comes down (and to understand the stuff after word comes down).  We want everyone to get their news right in the first instance, but in the event they don’t, we want to have fun with stuff.  Because this is baseball, and it’s supposed to be fun, dammit.

Anyway, back into the trenches for Day Two.  If Day One is any indication, we’re in for a ball.

Red Sox owner: “spending money helps”

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The other day Rob Manfred said, as he and other owners have said often in the past, that there is no correlation between payroll and winning. He said that defensively, in response to criticism of the slow free agent market of the past two offseasons.

As we have noted in the past, Manfred is not being honest about that. While, yes, in any given year there can be wild variation between payroll and win total — the Giants stunk last year, the A’s won 97 games — common sense dictates otherwise. What’s more, a recent study has shown that there is a pretty strong correlation between winning and payroll over time. Yes, you can fluke into a big season with a low payroll — Deadspin compared it to a cold snap occurring during a time of climate change — but if you want that “sustained success” teams claim they want, the best way to ensure it is to spend more money over time.

If you know anything about baseball labor history, though, you know well that the Commissioner and the owners will continue to mischaracterize the dynamics of the business as it suits them. Mostly because — present lefty sportswriters notwithstanding — very few people push back on their narratives. Fans tend to parrot ownership’s line on this stuff and, more often than not, baseball media acts as stenographer for ownership as opposed to critic. That gives owners a far greater ability to shape the narrative about all of this than most institutions.

Which makes this all the more awkward. From David Schoenfield of ESPN:

In apparent contradiction to his own commissioner, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry said Monday that, while there is not a perfect correlation between a bigger payroll and winning, “spending more money helps.”

Which is right. The correlation is not perfect — teams can spend a lot of money on a bad team if given the chance and a low payroll team like the Rays can bullpen their way to 90 wins — but you’re way more likely to win year-in, year-out if you’re spending than if you go cheap all the time and hope for a miracle season.

Which is not to say that Henry is some labor activist owner. He and his fellow front office officials have a long history of backing the league office on just about everything that matters and will no doubt do so with labor matters in the runup to the next CBA negotiation. The owners tend not to have a solidarity problem.

But Henry does seem to draw the line at peddling baloney, which is a shockingly necessary thing when the league and the union’s relationship turns acrimonious.