INDIANAPOLIS—When I was a kid I believed nearly everything adults told me. Well, I believed almost everything they told me until I was about 10. After then, I questioned everything because that's about the time I learned about Richard Nixon. I figured if the President of the United States could be less than forthcoming, maybe other adults could, too.
That's also about the same time I learned about Santa Claus, though truth be told the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy never made any sense. That's especially the case with the Tooth Fairy because that just sounds a little too Uncle Eddie-ish to me. Really, what kind of a person or fairy wants little kids' ripped out and bloodied teeth? Do they make necklaces out of them like those sharks' tooth ones people wore in the ‘70s and stuff? Remember Turk Wendell, the Phillies' former relief pitcher? Yeah, well he had a necklace made out of elk's teeth and other wild animals he may or may not have shot. Actually, the necklace was kind of gaudy, but not in a P. Diddy kind of way.
Perhaps Turk Wendell was the tooth fairy for the Marlin Perkins set?
Anyway, the point is that I believed what adults told me, but then I stopped and then, for some reason, I believed them again. At least I believed what adult general managers of Major League Baseball teams told me. Seriously, why would they make up stuff? They weren't after my teeth (as far as I knew) and they weren't going to bring me or my family gifts every December under the cover of darkness. Better yet, I don't think there is a single baseball GM who secretly bombed Cambodia or was less than forthcoming about the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate back in '72. Based on that criterion, baseball GMs are a reasonably trustworthy lot.
That doesn't mean they tell the truth all of the time. For instance, I recall a time when Ed Wade revealed that a slumping Marlon Byrd was the team's centerfielder and leadoff hitter for the foreseeable future -- who would have guessed that Byrd was living in the future and was to be optioned to Triple-A after a game in which he served as the centerfielder and leadoff hitter? Hey, I'm not saying Wade didn't make the correct move, I'm just saying that if the end of the game was as far into the future as he could see, then he needs to re-do that Lasik surgery.
So what's this have to do with anything?
Well, it doesn’t. I just like writing about it. Plus, it's a nice little segue way into the whole modus operandi thing, here at the winter meetings. It is here in the Downtown Marriott in Indianapolis where a little patch of real estate has turned into the most unbelievable place on earth outside of Capitol Hill.
Anyway, Nixon bombed Cambodia, Marlon Byrd was sent to Scranton and Ruben Amaro Jr. told us that it was unlikely the Phillies would do anything here at the Winter Meetings. Actually, when asked if the Phillies expect to close any deals or sign any players before these meetings end Thursday, Amaro said, “Probably not.”
OK, that doesn’t mean no. It also doesn’t mean that they flew from Philadelphia to Indianapolis in order to sample the night life capital of Indiana or the room service in another Marriott. Far from it. In fact, Amaro pointed out that he had “three or four offers out there” for various players. Not to argue semantics, but “probably not” is GM-speak for, “We hope so!”
Take the notion over whether the Phillies can get a bullpen piece before they beat a hasty exit out of Indianapolis on Thursday... regarding that, Amaro said on Wednesday, "I don't think that's likely."
Then his Blackberry buzzed and he smiled, jokingly, "Although with this call, though..."
Parsing a GM’s words in a place like the Winter Meetings is tricky business at best. I liken it to dancing with a circus bear wearing a Shriner's hat after it just pedaled a tricycle 50 yards. Or attempting to rub the belly of an alligator that was just fed ostrich burgers for a mid-afternoon snack. Certainly those are two very daunting tasks that require a lot of wisdom and ability to speak a certain language. Generally though, baseball execs like to speak in broad, sweeping statements that are common amongst politicians and large retailers in order to homogenize us and maybe us feel all warm inside.
In other words, they really don’t mean anything at all.
Apparently that was the case when Amaro stated he would have been reluctant to sign Placido Polanco if he had been a Type-A free agent. When all the ratings were finished, Polanco was neither a Type-A nor a Type-B free agent and would not require any type of compensation from the Phillies other than a bi-weekly paycheck. This made sense considering other more attractive third basemen were also free agents, but were labeled as Type-A.
It’s not wrong to assume the reason why the Phillies got Polanco instead of Chone Figgins or Mark DeRosa, nor does it make one a “mind-reader.”
But here's the question I ask every off-season, and especially at the winter meetings: Why the subterfuge? Why all the little cat-n-mouse games? Doing stuff like that is going to give a guy a reputation. It's going to make the honest, chaste and diligent folks in the local sporting press to not know anything. Up will be down and down will be up. They're going to think that when Amaro says, "No, no, no," he really means, "Yes, no, yes!"
I don't know much about poker or the game's colorful jargon, but I do know bad bluffing when I hear/see it. As a well-known horrible card player at the neighborhood games, I’m an awesome bad bluffer. So based on this knowledge, the Phillies should swoop in and steal away Roy Halladay from the Yankees and/or Red Sox at any minute.
Or then again, maybe not.