Don't trust trade rumors

Saturday, November 14, 1998

The trouble with trade rumors is that they aren't trustworthy. One man's hot tip is another man's trial balloon. One man's scoop is another man's plant.

If news of every baseball deal that was ever discussed reached our ears, the noise would be akin to standing next to an Aerosmith amplifier. Fortunately, there are filters. Not everyone in the business wants their business known. Not everyone in the business is instantly believed.

So when it leaked that the Dodgers were discussing a swap that would bring Raul Mondesi and Mark Grudzielanek to the Reds in exchange for Barry Larkin and Reggie Sanders, instinct said to tread softly. Usually, by the time a rumored deal makes it into the media, it is already dead.

"If there was a deal we were about to make, it wouldn't bother me," Reds General Manager Jim Bowden said Friday evening. "I won't deny that we've had discussions with the Dodgers, but they were very casual, a test-the-market kind of conversation . . . I don't have anything (close) with Barry."

Bowden made two deals during his week in Florida, and probably formulated proposals involving half of the players in the major leagues. With so many club executives in such close proximity, and so many reporters trolling for fresh news, the difference between idle gossip and solid fact is sometimes blurry.

It is possible some well-placed Dodgers source floated the Larkin story for the sake of some free publicity during the season-ticket campaign. (Former Reds manager John McNamara once floated a rumor at the winter meetings just to see how far it would fly.)

It is also possible Bowden protests too much; that Larkin will be traded before next spring - perhaps at next month's Winter Meetings in Nashville, perhaps even to Los Angeles.

Bowden is tricky

Bowden is the same guy, you may recall, who earlier this month all but guaranteed Bret Boone's lasting presence at Cinergy Field. He tends to make definitive statements when he should allow for an element of doubt.

Four months ago, on Independence Day, Bowden traded reliever Jeff Shaw to the Dodgers for a prospect package featuring Paul Konerko. Bowden projected the young slugger as the Reds' future cleanup hitter.

Three days ago - Veterans Day - Konerko was shipped to the Chicago White Sox for a suspect center fielder because Bowden said his former future cleanup hitter was "more of an American League player." Assessing Bowden's true intentions, therefore, is tricky. He changes his mind more often than Bill Clinton has changed his story, and he tends to act on his impulses. He has all the energy of a child high on Halloween sugar, and all the patience of that same child at a recital of chamber music.

If Bowden weren't running a baseball team, he'd be one of those thirtysomething Wall Street wonders, managing some mutual fund specializing in volume, trading for 1 - 16ths of a point of profit, playing portfolio hot potato.

Deal sounds good

That Bowden has yet to make a deal for Larkin, despite the repeated pleas of the player's agent, reflects a rare buy-and-hold attitude. It also indicates Larkin's value in the marketplace may not be what it once was.

"I want him to finish his career in Cincinnati," Bowden reiterated Friday. "Unless we get completely overwhelmed, we're not going to trade Barry."

From this foggy vantage point, Mondesi and Grudzielanek for Larkin and Sanders would seem an attractive proposition. It would require an uncharacteristic financial commitment from the Reds - Mondesi is guaranteed at least $36 million over the next four years; Grudzielanek is eligible for arbitration - but the baseball argument is eloquent.

Mondesi is a still-rising star, a 27-year-old outfielder with an astonishing arm, fresh off a 30-homer season. Larkin, 34, is a brilliant shortstop slightly past his peak.

"It is time to trade a player," said the baseball sage, Branch Rickey, "as soon as he reaches the twilight zone of stardom." The time to trust trade rumors is when they call a press conference.

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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