Take Abreu's sugar with a grain of salt

It's hard to swallow the sugar Bobby Abreu dished about being unconcerned by the trade rumors. But, true or not, it's what the Phillies and their slugger have left to feed on, Jayson Stark writes.

Originally Published: February 21, 2006
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- He isn't Manny Ramirez. He isn't Miguel Tejada. And thanks mostly to those two, Bobby Abreu was never the biggest name bouncing around the Rumor Central honor roll this winter.

Jayson Stark talks about how Bobby Abreu put his "spin" on the offseason trade rumors.

But unless a whole lot of other clubs are lying, Abreu's team (the Phillies) tried even harder to trade him than the Red Sox tried to trade Manny. And unless Abreu's friends are lying, the reigning Home Run Derby champ was a lot more steamed about it than he claimed he was after checking into the Phillies' spring-training camp Tuesday.

So we're warning you before you proceed any further into this column: We wouldn't recommend real strongly that you take the words that came out of Abreu's mouth Tuesday at face value.

They were interesting, at least, on one level. They were revealing (kind of) on another level. They were pure spin at some points. They were muddled by Espanol-Ingles language issues at other points.

And somewhere in there, they probably reflect a guy who understands he has no choice but to ignore whatever it was that went on and move along to whatever it is that comes next.

But should any of us really accept Abreu's claim Tuesday that he thought all that talk and all those headlines were "just rumors," and that "I don't know too much about it?"

Sure. If you believe Philadelphia is just a small, peaceful town where people walk the streets happy merely to have a few beloved pro sports teams to call their own.

But that opening verse of "Don't Worry, Be Happy," was only the beginning of Abreu's feverish attempt Tuesday to paint a portrait of himself as a guy who would never let some pesky trade rumor -- or, say, 75 pesky trade rumors -- cross his mind. Let alone mess with his mind.

Even though his agent told this reporter two months ago that Abreu was "hurt" and "upset" by these reports, Abreu went so far as to claim Tuesday: "That's not true. I never said that."

As those trade stories were swirling -- for months -- the man in the middle of that tornado said he "didn't really think too much about that."

Even though his agent, Peter Greenberg, told this reporter two months ago that Abreu was "hurt" and "upset" by these reports, Abreu went so far as to claim Tuesday: "That's not true. I never said that."

And while Phillies GM Pat Gillick had said just minutes earlier that assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. called Abreu in Venezuela recently to reassure him, Abreu's version Tuesday was that "Ruben never called me -- for that. He just called to say 'hi' and 'How you doing?'"

OK, fine. So let's say that was, in fact, why Amaro called. Wouldn't you think Abreu had to have been curious enough to ask what was up with all that trade stuff? Nope. Never did, Abreu claimed.

"Not really," he said. "I was just having fun in Venezuela. I don't have to worry about doing things like that."

All-righty then. The exchange between Abreu and his media entourage went on like that for more than 20 minutes. Back and forth. Forth and back. He was Scott McClellan to our David Gregory.

The questions kept flying in one direction. Abreu's answers kept roaring off in a whole 'nother direction. So all we can do, in retrospect, is search for a few grains of truth between the smiles and the denials.

Here, then, are the two fundamental questions:

• 1) HOW HARD DID THE PHILLIES TRY TO TRADE ABREU?

As he has done all winter, Gillick backpedaled away Tuesday from all suggestions that the Phillies were the ones shopping Abreu.

Every team in baseball knew the Phillies had an extra outfielder to deal, following their trade for Aaron Rowand in November, Gillick said. So "we were approached about all our outfielders," he said.

The outfielder they wound up trading, ultimately, was Jason Michaels. And, "in fact, we got more hits on Michaels than we did on Abreu," Gillick said.

I don't get mad, or nothing like that because the Phillies' organization was the one that gave me the opportunity to play in the major leagues. So I'm not mad about it.
Abreu on whether the plethora of trade rumors upset him

But other clubs have portrayed the Phillies as being much more aggressive than that suggests. Maybe they didn't splash Abreu's name on any billboards to advertise his availability. But they made plenty sure other clubs knew he was on the market.

The list of teams they spoke with included the Dodgers, Orioles, Cubs, Red Sox, Giants, White Sox, A's and Blue Jays. The names they talked about were whoppers -- from Tejada to Ramirez, from Mark Prior to Mark Buehrle, from Barry Zito to Jason Schmidt. And many more. Almost all of them All-Stars or mega-stars.

"Look at his numbers," Gillick said. "This guy puts up numbers. And he plays. He goes out there on the field [nearly every day]. So any deal involving him has got to involve premium players."

But in the end, Gillick said, "we really never got close enough to try to work something out" with Abreu on waiving his no-trade clause. And it was because they never tried to "work something out" that Abreu was able to chalk the whole affair up as "only rumors."

"If they were going to trade me," Abreu said, "they should have come to me to talk about it first."

Which, is true, technically. But just because they didn't talk to him certainly doesn't mean they didn't try to change his area code.

• 2) WAS ABREU UPSET OR NOT?

There were 57 variations on this question Tuesday. But the responses barely varied.

"I don't get mad, or nothing like that," Abreu said at one point, "because the Phillies' organization was the one that gave me the opportunity to play in the major leagues. So I'm not mad about it."

And to be honest, he never looked mad. But for weeks now, Abreu's friends have been telling a very different story.

Initially, they have said, he was "shocked" to hear his name in those rumors. And those friends also say he was well aware that the newspapers weren't making up this stuff to amuse themselves.

So when he filed those reports in his "Just Rumors" folder Tuesday, one friend suggested that was most likely a language-barrier issue. We may think of "rumors" as reports without much substance. But to Abreu, the friend said, "rumors" would more likely be defined as anything that doesn't actually happen.

"There's no question he knows [this was real]," the same friend said. "He absolutely knows."

Gillick also spoke like a man who knew his right fielder was, at the very least, unsettled by all this.

"He was concerned, but I don't think he's upset," the GM said. "I don't know him that well. But I think he took it much too personal. He let it bother him. And I could understand why a guy like that would have some concerns."

Right Field
Philadelphia Phillies

Profile
2005 SEASON STATISTICS
GM HR RBI R OBP AVG
162 24 102 104 .405 .286

Gillick also left no doubt that Abreu, at least through his agents, inquired about exactly what was transpiring here.

"I think any of our players -- whether it's Abreu or whoever -- all have a right to ask what's going on," Gillick said. "It's their career. It's their future. Bobby has been here a long time. We've got to show him that respect and tell him what happened."

No matter what he may have felt for most of the winter, though, Abreu's buddies say he has come to terms with the fact that this was just a bunch of talk that never turned into action.

"I think he's had time to think about it," one friend said. "He realizes what the game is. He's been playing baseball a long time. He's seen a lot of players come and go. So I think he understands, and he's gotten past it."

But the closest Abreu came to actually saying that Tuesday came when he was asked a hypothetical question -- about whether he would be hurt if, by some miracle, it was true that the Phillies had been talking about dealing him.

If they had been, he said, "they were just trying to help the team, maybe make the rotation stronger." So it's "understandable," he said. "It's a business -- baseball."

And on that, they can all agree. So now, of course, it's time to get back to business. And while Abreu has apparently come to terms with his winter stroll down the rumor-mill high wire, his friends say he hasn't forgotten.

Asked if he expected Abreu to use this experience as fuel this year, one friend replied: "No question about it. I know the way he thinks. I know the way he operates. And I think he will. Definitely."

If he does, that would be fine with the Phillies' powers that be -- who at times have questioned Abreu's fire, even while they've never questioned his talents. He hit just .243 after Sept. 1 last year, as the Phillies were stampeding through a rarified September playoff race. Which just fueled those questions.

But Gillick wasn't around for any of that. So he doesn't care about what happened then. He only cares about what happens over the next eight months. And this team needs Bobby Abreu to be as great as he can be, trade-rumor hangover or no trade-rumor hangover.

"This guy's a good player, he's been around eight years, and he's made a lot of money," Gillick said. "Now the thing we want to do is win. Money can only go so far. What we've all got to do now is win."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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