On April 19th there were reports that the Washington Nationals had been scouting Tampa Bay Rays center fielder B.J. Upton. Up to that date, Upton was hitting .250/.350/.423 albeit in a small sample of 60 plate appearances. The decent triple-slash line coupled with his defense and stolen base ability were music to Rays' fan's ears and hopes of a potential 5 WAR season looked to be good.
From April 19th to May 5th Upton's stats took a little hit as he would slump through 65 PAs over that span, hitting .211/.292/.351. Was it news of scouts and trade rumors that put him in a slump or just another small sample size prone to randomness and bad luck on balls in play? His season line dropped to .229/.320/.385 at this point.
With no more rumors swirling Upton would go on to hit .261/.354/.464 over his next 79 PAs through May 30th. But, the next day, rumors came out that the Nationals were willing to overpay for a center fielder. They did not mention the Rays' Upton as a target but the rumors were already out there that Upton was a potential target of theirs.
We have been playing with small samples so far but, please, stay with me.
From May 31st, the date of the latest rumor, until the end of the waiver trade period, Upton's name would surface many times in the rumor mill.
On June 5th the Nationals claimed to have continued interest in Upton.
On June 19th Buster Olney tweeted that the Rays will, in fact, listen to offers on Upton.
On June 24th MLBtraderumors.com indicated that Jayson Stark reported the Rays had scouts on their own players to see if they were ready in case an Upton trade went through.
On June 28th Joel Sherman (from MLBTR) indicated the Nationals were willing to give up Tyler Clippard in an Upton trade.
On July 16th Ken Rosenthal is saying the Rays could be sellers and Upton is likely a piece they would trade.
On July 20th Tim Dierkes of MLBTR says Olney claims that the perception among teams is that the Rays are willing to move Upton.
On July 23rd Ken Rosenthal flat out says Upton "will be traded. You can trust me on that."
On July 24th Nick Cafadro writes that the "Nationals are considering offering the moon for him."
I think you get the point. A few more similar rumors are reported but August 1st hits and Upton is still in a Rays uniform. The only problem is that rumors still won't die and rivals believe the Rays will place Upton on waivers with the intention of trading him during the waiver period.
Over that time dating back to May 31st and ending when it was finally guaranteed that Upton would not be traded, Upton looked like the 38 year old Mike Cameron of this year, hitting a pathetic .213/.291/.379 in 310 PAs. In case you were wondering, Cameron hit .203/.285/.359 in 269 PAs this season.
Now that the rumors were finally gone Upton could concentrate on being a Ray and helping his own arbitration cause this offseason. Since August 30th Upton has hit a robust .333/.446/.611 in 65 PAs and has been a driving force in the Rays push for the playoffs.
We sometimes like to think that baseball players are machines, that they are not hindered by the normal distractions that us common folk often worry about. I am terribly guilty of this but after looking at the dates of the rumors and how Upton performs during rumors and during times of certainty I cannot help but believe, at least in the case of Upton, that trade rumors do hinder one's ability on the field.
If those were dates and numbers weren't enough to convince you and you want a bigger sample size then take a quick look at Upton's career monthly splits. July is by far the month with the most rumors and it is Upton's worst performing month in his career.
Maybe rumors don't affect certain players but I think they affect Upton and the Rays need to offer him certainty this offseason or trade him because I don't think Rays' fans can take another 300+ plate appearance slump while he is making $7M or more next season.