Kurkjian and Stark discussion, Part II

Friday, November 13, 2009

Earlier this week, the Sport Management Club at Syracuse University hosted two of ESPN's Senior Baseball writers, Tim Kurkjian and Jayson Stark, for a discussion on Major League Baseball. This is Part II of the discussion.

Q: What are some of the biggest storylines of the off-season and the Winter Meetings?

JS: The trade market is going to be very interesting this winter. It already has been, since we had about 5 trades within 48 hours of the World Series ending. Roy Halladay will obviously be the most talked about player this offseason, much like Johan Santana a few years ago. And the thing is that they HAVE to trade him. The poor guy went to the All-Star game and for two days had a million people like me ask him about him getting traded and where he wanted to go. Then over the next month it was all that was talked about, and then he stayed in Toronto. He is not going to want to go through that again. He wants to play for a contender, and the Blue Jays are too far away from being that type of team. He has a full no-trade clause. He can go to the team and say, if you are going to trade me, do it in the offseason because I will not do this again. Then they lose him and only get the two draft picks. The teams that are the front runners are the Phillies, who obviously made a strong play at the trading deadline, the Red Sox, and because Boston’s involved, the Yankees will be. Then the Mets will try to make a deal, that is, if they have anything left to trade. The free agent market consists of really three guys: Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, and John Lackey. There is not too much depth in this class. Holliday and Bay are not true centerpiece players, but they are going to want to get paid like they are. Then there is Lackey who isn’t a true ace, but he’s the best pitcher on the market.

TK: This is the most work we have to do as baseball writers. People will come up to us after the World Series and say, “So you’re on vacation for the next four months, right?” No, not at all. During the season, it’s easier because you know where the story is. If the Yankees lose six games in a row, you know that’s the story. But in the offseason, it’s not like that. Most of our work is done over the phone trying to track people down to find out which teams are making trades and which free agents are going where. And Manny Ramirez took four months to sign last year. It was torture trying to figure out where that clown was going!

JS: I’ll tell you a story about misinformation and knowing who to trust when it comes to breaking stories like these. At the trading deadline, one of my best sources came to me and said that the Indians and Red Sox were working on a three-team deal to bring Victor Martinez to the Red Sox. They just needed a third team to put Adam LaRoche. So with that and all the corroborating evidence I had, I was going to run it. But I thought, “I need to run this by someone from one of the teams involved.” So it’s very late and I have an email out to someone in the Red Sox executive and I still hadn’t heard back, and I decide that I trust my source and my reporting enough, and we run the story. We were the only one who had it. That’s a lonely feeling in that situation. So I go to sleep, since most of the time we’re up and working 20 hours a day, and when I wake up I get an email back from my Red Sox contact who says that this information is “completely false.” And this trade actually happened! I email him back telling him about my source and all the evidence I had and why I decided to run the story. Two minutes later I get an email back from him saying, “It’s alright, you got it mostly right.” In two minutes, I had gone from “completely false” to “mostly right.” You just need to know who to trust and who not to and who may be misinforming you.

Q: How will the disaster of the Santana trade (on the Twins end) affect the Halladay deal?

TK: As you saw at the deadline, the Blue Jays won’t make a deal unless they get exactly what they want. They want, and need, better prospects in return for Halladay. There is a zero percent chance that he re-signs with them. Teams are unwilling to part with top prospects because of uncertainties in how a player will perform the next year. In basketball and football you know almost exactly how a player is going to perform the next year, but not in baseball, and that’s the ultimate beauty of the game.

JS: I think the lesson teams are learning is to not wait too long to trade these players. You can’t wait until a player like Halladay has one year deal left on his deal. Especially since teams didn’t get a window to negotiate a contract with him during the season, so it’s unlikely that it is going to happen in the off-season. The optimum time to trade big players like Halladay is with two years left, or even this past trading deadline so team’s get him for a year and a half. If they trade him next July, teams like the Yankees are just going to say, ‘Why should we waste prospects on him when we can wait 3 months and sign him for a bazillion dollars?” just like they did with Sabathia. And the Twins example shows that teams should look for quality, not quantity.

Q: When International Olympic Committee (IOC) member and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) founder Dick Pound came to talk to us [Pound spoke to Sport Management majors on October 25] he spoke about how big of a joke the MLB drug testing system was and it was ridiculous that they thought they had a strong testing program. What are your thoughts on that?

TK: Well, you have to give the MLB credit for how far they’ve come over the past 15 years. If you had told me back then that we would have the type of testing we do now, I would not have believed you. There was no way the Union would have allowed it, but now there have been too many embarrassing situations and something needed to be done. While this system is not perfect, it is not the be all, end all, and it still has holes, there is no perfect way to do it, and right now this is the best way.

JS: I think that the penalty for first-time offense should be a year and not 50 games. That would get some people’s attention. But baseball is completely different than the Olympics. Baseball is everyday and the Olympics happens once every four years. But you have to look at if it is working or not. How many 60 home run guys have you seen lately? How many 50 homer guys have you seen? Baseball’s program is on par with the three other major sports in North America.


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