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On Monday night, the Toronto Blue Jays agreed to a three-team exchange that would have netted them Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce. (Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo)
On Monday night, the Toronto Blue Jays agreed to a three-team exchange that would have netted them Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce. (Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo)

Baseball

Kelly: Failed trade reveals lack of information control by Blue Jays brass Add to ...

The Blue Jays traded for American League MVP Josh Donaldson late on a Friday night a few weeks after the end of the 2014 World Series.

The news broke after the deal was done. At the time, it appeared a preposterously one-sided transaction in Toronto’s favour. It seems much more so now. Getting Donaldson for overcaffeinated malcontent Brett Lawrie was a species of larceny.

Saunders focused on Blue Jays training in wake of trade rumours (CP Video)

Had the particulars been made public beforehand – like most trades in baseball are these days – who knows if Oakland would have had the steel to go through with it.

But since no one knew, there was no public blowback, and thus, no second thoughts.

That’s the way all of Toronto’s big recent moves have gone down – quietly. The Troy Tulowitzki trade; the David Price trade; the paradigm-shifting 12-player swap with the Miami Marlins.

A crucial element to the club’s three-year rise from the middle of the pack has been its ability to keep information close.

They’re losing that talent. We’re already seeing the messy results.

On Monday night, the Jays agreed to trade outfielder Michael Saunders in a three-team exchange that would have netted them Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce. We can’t “know” know that happened, but we know.

We know because most of the network-affiliated U.S. insiders whose primary job it is to ferret out and expose deals before they’re finished were all over it. These guys occasionally get one wrong, but not all at once. Later, Bruce would essentially confirm it.

We can argue about the wisdom of the trade. Actually, we might as well, since everyone and their cousin was on Twitter picking it apart before it was done. Bruce is Saunders, just healthier and a hell of a lot more expensive. You can make the case for it, but you have to do logical gymnastics to get there.

The deal collapsed when one of the involved players – reportedly an unidentified Blue Jays minor leaguer – failed a physical.

From a Toronto perspective, there is both harm and foul. You don’t get the guy you wanted. The guy you tried to get rid of now knows you don’t rate him. And everyone involved looks foolish. It’s a trifecta of incompetence.

They pushed rookie general manager Ross Atkins out Tuesday morning to (not) talk about the (non-existent) deal.

Atkins filed the whole thing under “rumours.” Manager John Gibbons and Saunders would later use the same word with the same metronomic frequency. There are few things so charmingly obvious as sporty types armed with talking points.

“I don’t know where these rumours get started,” Atkins shrugged at the end.

You want to believe he meant it ironically, but sweet Jesus, what if he’s serious? Rumours come from everywhere, from every person who has an interest in the deal – the players, their agents, rival executives and people in your own organization.

If you don’t control the flow of information, the information controls you. Atkins may be new to the corner suite, but he’s been in pro baseball for 20 years. This shouldn’t be part of the learning curve.

Saunders tried to sound upbeat, but was clearly shaken. After most of a 2015 season lost to freak injury (tripping over a buried sprinkler head), the 29-year-old B.C. native thought his Canadian baseball dream was finally coming true. Now, the odds are good that, despite spending 15 months on the Jays roster, Saunders will not play a regular-season game for the Jays this season.

Though a proven pro and a very good guy, Saunders is still minor cog. It’s the Jose Bautista situation that should be sounding a long, steady alarm back at the Blue Jays HQ.

On Monday, Bautista announced he’d given the team the hard years-and-dollars numbers that it would take to re-sign him. We were all left guessing at them.

On Tuesday, a TSN report citing unnamed sources took a stab: five years, $150-million (U.S.). That’s a lot of money. This skinflint organization will choke on it. Shortly thereafter, Bautista told Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi the report is “false.”

Bautista loves to split linguistic hairs, often inscrutably. It’s very possible that there is something in the story he thinks negates its basic premise, but that the number is roughly correct. It hardly matters.

What does matter is that this thing is already springing leaks like a Popsicle-stick canoe, and pulling the focus of spring down with it.

Where are Atkins & Co. on this? Oh, they’re over in the executive bunker, pretending that when you pinkie swear a baseball buddy to keep your secret, he always does – no take-backs.

“I can’t comment on negotiations,” Atkins said with regard to Bautista. “There’s really nothing we can say. There’s really nothing more to it than that.”

Roger that, chief. Someone asked again in a different way. Looking pained, Atkins took the fifth. And again. And again. And again. And again. Six times in all.

“To me, it doesn’t need to be public,” Atkins said. “And it won’t be … [significant pause] … from our end.”

So where’s the info coming from? It could be a Rogers exec trying to put pressure on Bautista, and going through their main rival to provide distance. It could be a semi-informed busybody passing on gossip masquerading as fact. It could be Bautista’s camp planting misinformation. It could be a Blue Jays staffer. There’s huge interest and a lot at stake – the perfect mix for all sorts of shenanigans.

If you’re not going to meet Bautista’s non-negotiable demand, the right play is to announce that now. There is a risk that Bautista goes rogue and demands a trade, or enters an epochal sulk. But he needs a career performance this year to give himself a shot at a nine-figure deal. There is no surer place to do that than buried in the midst of Toronto’s best-in-the-game offence. That reality likely guarantees his co-operation, however grudging. It’s either that or sign him.

Give in or give up – those are the smart things to do. The dumb thing is what they’re doing – dithering while others hijack the conversation.

It’s now up to the Jays to prove they know what smart sounds like before someone else reports it for them.

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Follow on Twitter: @cathalkelly

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