You can’t stop the free agent leaks. You can’t even hope to contain them.
Earlier today I wrote that it was quite a sight to see the Yankees and Derek Jeter waging such a public war over contract negotiations. This is especially true given that -- a mere two months ago -- the league and the union came to an agreement under which both sides vowed to “Restrict the abilities of the Clubs, players and agents to conduct their free agent negotiations through use of the media.” Obviously this rule -- to the extent it is a rule, and not merely some aspirational thing -- isn’t scaring anyone. The question, then, is what can be done about this sort of thing?
The answer: nothing. There is absolutely nothing that can be done to stop this kind of stuff.
The reason for this -- at least in the case of Jeter and the Yankees -- is simple: Major League Baseball can’t punish the Yankees without the Yankees protesting that they are merely countering what Jeter’s agent is doing. They also cannot punish Jeter or his agent without having to go though the union, and I’m sure both Jeter and his agent can tell a plausible story about how their comments to the press were necessitated by something the Yankees did first. Ultimately both sides would claim that the other was acting unfairly, and thus policing a p.r. problem would dredge up an actual contract negotiation dispute that the new rules were designed to head off in the first place. Why would baseball kick that hornet’s nest? Why would the union? Why would anyone?
But really, I suspect that the media rules weren’t designed to address these public, on-the-record spats. I think they were designed to address Scott Boras’ “mystery teams” and those whispers about how teams “have questions about Player X’s health” that pop up all winter, unfairly killing -- or unfairly making -- the market for a free agent. What can be done about those?
Even less, I’m afraid. Quick: when was the last time a source was revealed? When was the last time someone got fired for leaking a team’s dirty laundry? We live in an age when people leak sensitive stuff related to the government and the military with impunity because technology makes it fantastically easy to do so. If the Department of Homeland Security, with all of its employees and computer experts can’t track down their own internal leakers, how can the Pirates’ front office do it with their half-dozen clerical workers? They can’t. And they won’t, because they have a baseball team to run. As do the Yankees. And Casey Close and Bud Selig and Mike Weiner all have other things to do too.
The stuff about no longer negotiating through the media was nice back when no one was negotiating anything. But now that they are, those ideals are rendered quaint.