The Felix Deal and Why I Hate Anonymous Sources

felix todayIt’s official. Finally. The Seattle Mariners have scheduled a press conference for 2 p.m. PT to announce that they have reached an agreement with Felix Hernandez on a seven-year, $175 million contract that will lock the right handed pitcher up under the team’s control through the 2019 season.

The deal was first reported on February 7 by Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports. The report was immediately met by guarded denials from Mariners officials, who did not deny the existence of an agreement between the parties, but merely maintained that “no announcement is planned or imminent.”

The denials led to speculation. Speculation gave rise to the need for explanation. And the need for explanation caused journalists to seek out a source – any source – who might possibly hold the tiniest semblance of information as to why Seattle was not yet ready to make the contract extension official.

On February 10, Buster Olney wrote a story on stating that the Mariners and Hernandez were “not close to finishing an extension” and that part of the reason was that “concern has developed over the condition of [Hernandez’s] pitching elbow.”

His source for this information? A source. No, seriously. Each insight was provided by “a source” or because “sources say” or was something “one source said.”

And in the end, there was no serious elbow issue. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik called the report “ridiculous” before adding that he had been watching Hernandez pitch for more than a month and the ace right-hander looked like his normal self.

Seeds All Day discounted the indications that contract talks had hit a major snag, and predicted that a deal would be completed by the time pitchers and catchers reported for spring training. But that’s because we have learned to be dubious of anonymous sources in reporting.

With regard to Olney’s information, readers were given no name, no position, and no indication of a relationship between the source and either the Mariners or Hernandez. So there is no way to judge the source’s veracity or credibility. Anonymous could mean anything – the general manager, the player, a manager, a bat boy, a wife of a cousin of a friend, a fan who reads baseball blogs, a magic eight ball with a Seattle Mariners decal – the possibilities of who or what  “a source” actually is are endless. So a report that relies solely on “a source” is not only misleading, but it’s irresponsible.

Look, I understand the importance of maintaining source’s anonymity in certain cases. It allows people with access to information an ability to share it without fear of repercussion. But investigative reporting into a baseball team’s contract negotiations is not as substantial a matter of public concern as was Watergate. Stories like the one about Hernandez need verification – whether that be by documentation or by corroboration by another source.

We are living in an era of TMZ styled report-first, verify-later sports journalism. It has become more important to break a story first than to report the story accurately. And it has resulted in reporters’ willingness to take whatever an anonymous source might tell them and to throw it blindly against the wall to see if it sticks.

Just look at the timeline of Hernandez “elbow issue” headlines as an example:

With ace pitchers, the biggest fear is always that of a serious arm injury, so it would come as little surprise if the contract did have a provision that might offer the Mariners some insurance in the event an arm injury developed in the future that caused Hernandez to miss significant time. The right-hander has always been somewhat of a high risk type of pitcher due to his usage and mechanics.

First, the 26-year-old has been nothing short of a work horse during his eight seasons with the Mariners. The right-hander has pitched 200-plus innings in each of the last five seasons and 232-plus innings in each of the last four. He has already pitched 1,620 1/3 total innings . Only four pitchers since 1969 have logged more innings before the age of 27 (Bert Blyleven, Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden).

Second, Hernandez’s mechanics have always been cause for concern. Below is an XMO video of a delivery, where you can clearly see the torque and strain placed on the arm during the pitch.

However, the fact remains that there have been no substantiated reports that Hernandez failed a physical. He has not suffered any injuries. He is proceeding with his normal offseason regimen without any delays or setbacks. The only actual history of arm trouble the ace has had was back in 2007, when he suffered a forearm strain that caused him to sit out a few starts.

There were no “elbow issues” that served as a real impediment to any deal. The agreement was announced as official on schedule – at the start of spring training – and the contract is set to be signed at tomorrow’s news conference.

All of the speculation surrounding Felix’s arm proved to be just that – speculation.  It was the result of reliance solely on one anonymous source, and it resulted in the sports media chasing a story that in the end did not really exist in the manner in which it was reported.



About Matthew George

Matthew George graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2008 with a bachelor of science in journalism. He spent three years writing sports for the Kentucky Kernel, the university's daily paper, and served as assistant sports editor. After undergrad, Matthew attended Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University where he earned his juris doctorate. He is now admitted to practice law in Kentucky and Indiana.

2 thoughts on “The Felix Deal and Why I Hate Anonymous Sources

  1. CNN was guilty last night. Stating that Dorner had died in the fire, yet the LAPD on scene said they had not yet entered the house, or what remained, because it was entirely too hot. Not sure if they use an “anonymous” source, but they jumped the gun – wanted to be the first to break the story.

  2. I guess it’s a consequence of living in the social media era, but inaccurate reporting can do so much damage, it just isn’t worth it to push forward on a story without at least some corroboration.

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