How Twitter forever changed the MLB trade deadline

Thanks to Photoshop, fans no longer need to wait to see their newly acquired players in team colors. (Twitter/@MLB)

WASHINGTON — Click, refresh. Click, refresh.

Whether you’re the fan of a contending team looking for an impact addition or a club that’s out of the race with veteran spare parts on expiring contracts, the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline can be a stressful time. And while fans have better access to information than ever before, that doesn’t necessarily make the days up until the July 31 deadline go by any faster.

No longer do deals happen before fans know, over the phone lines in teams’ front offices. No fan opens the paper the next day to find his favorite player in another uniform.

Now, any hint of a sign is reported in real time: a late scratch of a minor league prospect from his team’s game that night. A rumored trade target receiving hugs from teammates in the dugout. Some writers even joke about the speculation, using #hugs once the speculation begins to spread.

Away from Twitter (though also eminently present there), MLB Trade Rumors (MLBTR) functions as a one-stop shop for those looking to catch up on the day’s news or dive deeper into the history of developing threads. With the motto “If it’s whispered, we hear it” in the page’s masthead, they report every tweet or article with any speculation from any legitimate news source.

MLBTR has stories listed in the order of the latest update, but users can also break them down by team, or even by player position. The ability to be the first to inform the general public — even just by a fraction of a second — has become a valuable commodity.

The stronger a player’s Twitter presence, the more public the pressure surrounding them if their name comes up in trade talks. Last season, Kim DeJesus — wife of outfielder David and an outspoken Twitter user with nearly 13,000 followers — caused a bit of a stir by posting a number of humorous Vine videos about dealing with her stress heading into the deadline. While DeJesus wasn’t actually traded by the July 31 non-waiver deadline, he later cleared waivers and was dealt not once, but twice — first to the Nationals on Aug. 19, then to the Tampa Bay Rays four days later.

This year’s trade deadline landed at 4 p.m. EDT on Thursday. Plenty of names were discussed in the weeks ahead of the deadline, but few actual deals were made before the final day. That built a tremendous level of anticipation, with many big names being tossed around the rumor mill.

Once Thursday finally hit, it didn’t take long for the news to fly. After weeks of talk about Red Sox ace Jon Lester potentially landing with the Blue Jays, Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers, Mariners, Marlins, Orioles or Pirates, it was the Oakland Athletics who swung in to snag him, dealing star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes back to Boston.

With the first major move out of the way, the dominoes began to fall fast and furiously around the league, as beat writers took to Twitter. The A’s struck again, swapping pitcher Tommy Milone for Minnesota outfielder Sam Fuld. Then the Red Sox dealt another pitcher, sending John Lackey to the Cardinals. The Brewers got Gerardo Parra from Arizona. The Mariners plucked Chris Denorfia from San Diego.

Then the Nationals and Orioles both jumped in on the action, making minor deals that had received little chatter in advance. Washington swapped a younger, untested shortstop for a veteran one, while Baltimore did the same with a couple of left-handed pitchers.

In the meantime, fake tweets abounded from accounts designed to look like real media personalities. An account purporting to be FOX Sports reports Ken Rosenthal put out a tweet about star Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price going to Detroit that was reported on the air by MLB Network while the actual Rosenthal was in the building. The error was quickly corrected, but not without embarrassment.

The Price trade, one that has been rumored for literally more than a year, was still lurking. It took five more hours before anything other than conjecture materialized. And then, as the minutes ticked away into the final last throes, the hammer finally dropped, as Price was sent to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team deal.

Austin Jackson, the Tigers’ center fielder, was part of that deal, heading to the Seattle Mariners. He was summoned off the field, mid-inning, to a standing ovation and #hugs from his teammates.

Ironically, Price’s ultimate landing spot was the same city cited in the fake tweet hours earlier. Other media outlets that ran with the false information weren’t so lucky.

A fake Joel Sherman account tweeted a minor deal, saying Phillies outfielder Marlon Byrd was on the move to the New York Yankees. Former Nationals GM Jim Bowden, who appears regularly on XM Radio and on, cited the same purported move, without attribution, having apparently been duped. Then, suddenly, his account went dark, changed names and went quietly into the night.

Right as the Price trade went down, ESPN reported live on the air that the Rays had also traded infielder Ben Zobrist — the talk of much trade discussion — to the Pirates, a team potentially looking to add talent for the stretch run. That report was based on a tweet from a fake Bob Nightengale account, made to look like the official outlet for the USA Today reporter.

Reporters covering both teams established that such a deal never took place.

A couple more deals trickled through on Twitter shortly after the deadline, as teams beat the clock to file paperwork with the league office, but by 4:30 p.m., every trade that went down had been reported. By the time the dust had settled, 37 official players (plus potentially several more, based on the structures of certain deals) had swapped organizations on Thursday.

While such a massive trading day would have been front-page news a generation ago, it was instead an eight-hour, high-drama play unfolding in real time across the Web. This is the new normal — how we’ll experience the most frantic day on the baseball calendar from here on out.

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