Deconstructing the Willis Trade Rumor

The "D-Train"

On Thursday, Cardinal Nation was abuzz over a hot new trade rumor – Anthony Reyes, Chris Duncan, Colby Rasmus and perhaps one other prospect to the Florida Marlins' for their All-Star pitcher Dontrelle Willis.

What a perfect off-day diversion. The Cardinals didn't have a game scheduled on Thursday, but the time was more than filled up by a juicy rumor making the rounds - a possible trade between the Cardinals and the Florida Marlins involving All-Star Dontrelle Willis.

The focus of this story is not to analyze the details of the rumored trade, as when all is said and done, I don't see it happening. But, the situation is most illustrative of the volatility of the trade rumor business. That is my focus here.

Looking at the last 24 hours of activity on the various internet message boards can provide a textbook example of how trade rumors can start to get all tangled up – not because anyone is malicious – just because people are people.

Where did this start?

In his Thursday morning column, Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz said this: "Perhaps it's possible for Jocketty to entice the Florida Marlins with a package of (pitcher Anthony) Reyes, outfielder Chris Duncan and future Cardinals center fielder Colby Rasmus to land starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis."

The source of Miklasz' rumor is unknown, but later in the day he made it apparent that he didn't just make it up. More on that in a minute.

Rasmus' father Tony, who posts on our Scout.com Message Board as "RCWarrior", received a call from his son's agent and after alerting his son about the potential trade, shared the information on our Board midday Thursday (look for his post midway down page seven of this trade thread).

No one knows where Rasmus' agent got his news, either. But, it very well could have originated with the P-D story Thursday morning. It does seem most unlikely that Rasmus' agent would directly be in the loop if discussions were going on between the two general managers, Larry Beinfest and Walt Jocketty.

An internet rumor source in past trade talks, a message board poster named Hawg Wild, saw Mr. Rasmus' post, and spread the news to various other forums, including Miklasz'.

Late Thursday afternoon, Miklasz weighed in at his message board, saying that he "tried to drop a major hint in today's column… FLA wants Reyes, Rasmus and Duncan -- and that's not all. Probably one more... possibly their pick of the Cardinals' system."

Of course, that leaves as many open questions as there are answers. Who called who? Was there one discussion or many? Is any of this serious? Totally unclear.

By the time the news hit the famous (or infamous) MLB Trade Rumors website on Thursday night, reader Hawg Wild was cited as the original source of the rumor, not Miklasz or Tony Rasmus.

Miklasz' initial story from the P-D is only noted at the end - implied by Trade Rumors to be a reaction to Hawg Wild's rumor, instead of Miklasz being the likely source of all the buzz in the first place. Backwards, yet presented as the truth.

So, now we have readers all over the baseball world learning about the Willis rumor assessing Hawg Wild's credibility as the source allegedly backed up by Miklasz.

Interesting to say the least.

OK, I can't let this pass without also offering up my view why I don't think this trade will occur.

Though apparently lost in all the fuss, I harken back to Miklasz' original Thursday headline that so aptly stated "Jocketty needs to avoid making a desperate deal".

The Cardinals should not mortgage their future by trading so many high-profile prospects, in my opinion. Reyes is their top pitching prospect and Rasmus is considered by some as the system's #1 emerging hitter. Cardinals fans are understandably gun-shy after seeing a very similar trade for another high-profile lefty, Mark Mulder, made 18 months ago, backfire in the season-and-a half since.

But, that probably doesn't matter. Word out of the Marlins' camp and from other teams is consistent in asserting that Willis is simply not available in any deal.

Following are links to two of a number of recent stories stating that Willis will stay put; one from a Florida newspaper and one from the Marlins' MLB.com beat writer. Both make it clear that Willis is considered untouchable by the Marlins.

And, why shouldn't he be? Willis can be kept under contract for another two and a half seasons, is only 24, has a reasonable salary ($4.35M, with about a third deferred) and is the face of his franchise.

FL Sun-Sentinel – Willis trade not an option.

And, if even Willis was to come available, there are other teams with much deeper prospect pools who would surely get into the bidding. In fact, note the MLB.com reference to the Dodgers being turned away after having put together a package of juicy prospects for Willis.

While the specific Dodgers' prospects offered are unnamed, that system is ranked by most experts as among the best in the minor leagues in terms of their prospect pipeline. Baseball America has ranked them #2 in each of the last three seasons. For reference, the Cards are #21, up from #30 (dead last) the year before, due in large part to the 2005 draft led by Rasmus.

MLB.com – Willis off limits.

I can only hope that the Marlins, having already stated publicly time and time again that Willis is untouchable, decided to ask for the moon when being pestered by other teams in hopes that one of those teams would be panicked into badly overpaying... and that the Cardinals won't take that bait.

But, that is just one writer's speculation – perhaps worth no more than the rest of this saga.

In the meantime, keep your eye on the rumor mill if that kind of thing interests you. But, realize that everything that is reported is not always what it seems. As our illustrious Scout.com writer UConnCard sagely observes, "The wheel goes round and round".

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

© 2006 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.

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