Your Blue Jays and their agents have gone hiding this winter

Agents have gone into hiding making themselves unavailable

By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network

Back in the day when I was a beat writer for the Montreal Expos, Monique Giroux, one of the team’s splendid public-relations people along with Rich Griffin, would come up to us media types at the end of each season and hand out a piece of paper.

That sheet of paper contained the names and off-season phone numbers of all of the players, coaches and whoever was the manager of the day, whether it was Buck Rodgers, Tom Runnells or Felipe Alou. It was like gold to have those numbers.

More often than not, if I called any of those numbers, the person would come to the phone or somehow we would get connected in a day or so. That kind of scenario doesn’t happen much today. Players, for the most part, go into hiding. They look at call display and just hide behind the number or hide behind an answering machine or email address.

For example, the Blue Jays don’t give the beat writers any such sheet of paper with phone numbers. It’s up to the player to give out phone numbers. They have no obligation to do so. Players for the most part want anonymity in the off-season because they know that when spring training comes around, they are expected to deal with the media until the following October.

If you have noticed, not many Blue Jays are making themselves available this off-season, except maybe for those who show up on the annual winter caravan, or those who come to Toronto like Marco Estrada and sign a free-agent contract, or someone who might agree to chat on sports-talk radio 590 The Fan, which is owned by Rogers, which owns the ball club.

We saw recently where Jays superstar Jose Bautista agreed to do several phone interviews. I managed to get an interview with Bautista’s agent Jay Alou Dec. 4 but when I called him again in early January, he wasn’t interested in talking.  Give Alou his due. He is one of those rare agents, who actually answers his own phone at the number supplied by the players’ association. He doesn’t hide behind an answering machine or wait to be transferred by a receptionist.

Agents, in general, are a hiding breed compared to the late 1980s and 1990s when I was much closer to the baseball scene than I am now. Agents loved coming to the phone to talk with reporters around the majors. If players had a beef with their club about something or wanted to talk in general about a client, then the agent wasn’t adverse to coming to the phone and complaining to a reporter about it, on top of what the player might say.

I remember when Mark Langston was negotiating a contract with the Expos in the summer of 1989. His agent Arn Tellem would talk to me. Adam Katz would present agent hype numerous times presenting his side of the story as opposed to what Expos’ management might be saying about some of his clients such as Pascual Perez and John Wetteland.

But Katz hasn’t talked to me since I broke the story in 1996 about Wetteland saying in mid-season in an interview with me at the SkyDome that he wouldn’t return to the Yankees in 1997 and that he hated playing in New York. Katz had to fly to New York to do damage control with the media over the story. As you know, Wetteland never returned to the Yankees.

I don’t know how many contract stories I did involving Tim Wallach but it was in double digits and in many cases, his agent Rod Wright was more critical of the Expos than Wallach himself, who was very private.

It was gold when agents would talk to me or any other reporter for that matter. Today, though, the landscape has changed dramatically since the 1980s, 1990s and part of the 2000s. Sure, there is the odd agent who will spill his beans about a client who might be wronged at the bargaining table. But for the most part, there is agent silence. Big time.

Take the case of the agents for AL MVP Josh Donaldson. From what I know, they didn’t publicly talk about his pending arbitration case or the ensuing multi-year contract. I have tried and numerous other reporters have tried without luck to get MVP Sports Group to talk. 

Even though Donaldson and his agents worked out a two-year deal with the Jays last week, neither the player nor the agent talked to the media. As far as I know, Donaldson has not publicly talked to any reporter this off-season about his contract status. But when the doors open at spring training, the first person reporters want to chat with is Donaldson. 

Not only has Donaldson been silent this off-season about his contract but so has Edwin Encarnacion. He’s another guy the media would love to talk with. How is he recovering from the sports hernia operation? What does he think of a possible contract extension beyond 2016? Instead, Eddie is hiding, resisting the temptation to answer the phone or return calls.

When this corner, a back burner reporter, e-mailed and phoned Jesse Chavez’s agent about his contract recently, there was no acknowledgment. Silence, compared to decades ago, isn’t golden for reporters. 

I put out a request to talk with Brad Penny of the Jays, who has signed a minor-league contract with an invite to spring training. There was no acknowledgment from the agent to an email or a phone message. I even asked the agent for an interview. Again, no response.

I thought it would be interesting talking with Penny because he hasn’t pitched in the majors on a full-time basis since 2011, although he had 26-inning and 28-inning seasons in 2012 and 2014, respectively. 

As you can see, there is a fortress going up around players. Most agents have changed their strategy over the years. They don’t want to go public much anymore about contract talks and they don’t want to come across as greedy and they don’t want to come across as being critical of a club. 

So they have become clandestine, private, reclusive and elusive. They want to protect the integrity of negotiations and they want to say next to nothing about their clients.

In what has become the norm, many agents have been armed for years with public-relations staff, who in turn, never say anything but pass on word to their bosses that a media member wants to get an interview.

Again I say this: if only the landscape was like it was back in the 1980s and 1990s. I remember when former Expos Pascual Perez signed a three-year deal worth $5.7-million with the Yankees in November, 1989. There was no conference call so after about a week, I decided to walk from my residence in downtown Montreal to our Montreal Daily News newsroom a few blocks away and see if I could track Perez down on the phone.

It was a Saturday night about 10 and the newsroom was completely empty because we didn’t publish on Sundays. I plunked myself down on a chair, wondering if this 809 phone number given to me by Monique Giroux for the Dominican Republic would work or be out of service. The dial tone went through.

Sure enough, a woman answered the phone and gave the phone to Perez almost immediately and we talked for about 15 minutes. Then I had to hope and pray that nobody else in the Montreal media got a hold of Perez. We didn’t publish until Monday so I went into the office again the next day and a copy editor/deskman asked me if the Perez story could be held for a day. I said no, that it had to go in Monday’s paper.

Those days are over. Wouldn’t it be nice to get a hold of Encarnacion in the Dominican Republic? Yes, but it won’t happen.