Cubs player learned about pending trade just an hour before reporter tweeted about it

Cubs President Theo Epstein weighed in Wednesday on the controversy leading up to the trade of popular pitcher Ryan Dempster, saying one factor in the nine-day drama was how quickly news spread through social media.

Early last week, Epstein worked out a deal to send Dempster to the Atlanta Braves. The news was leaked and MLB.com reporter Mark Bowman reported that the deal was “confirmed.”

But Dempster hadn’t approved the trade, which players of his seniority level have the right to do. Dempster decided to hold out for a deal to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Braves decided not to wait.

The affair set off a firestorm among some fans and in the blogosphere, as some turned on Dempster for costing the Cubs valuable pitching prospect Randall Delgado. A week later, and just minutes before Tuesday afternoon’s trade deadline, the Cubs sent Dempster to the Texas Rangers for two lesser prospects.

Up-to-the-second reporting via social media may have affected the outcomes for four teams.

Epstein, speaking to reporters Wednesday, said Dempster knew the terms of the trade for only an hour before Bowman tweeted about it.

After that, “the story leaked and with the nature of technology and social media these things obviously spread quickly like wildfire,” Epstein said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “So Ryan never got the opportunity for more than I’d say an hour to fully contemplate Atlanta with a deal actually in place.”

Epstein defended Dempster’s decision. However, he and Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer disputed the notion that Dempster had been “blindsided” last week.

By all accounts, Dempster didn’t have much time to consider the trade once the two teams had an agreement in place. But Cubs executives Epstein, and Hoyer in a radio interview, said Dempster knew for days that Atlanta was the most aggressive suitor. While Dempster wasn’t really against going to Atlanta, he wanted to wait until the “last possible second” to rule out the Dodgers, Hoyer said.

In a radio interview, Dempster essentially said that his inaction had been interpreted as action. His explanation shows just how mucked up the situation had become:

I didn’t turn down any trades. All I asked for was more time on one particular trade. I didn’t really get that time. It got leaked out that I said yes and then I said no. And even after I said no — I never officially said no — I said I needed time to think about it, and I have the right to that time. I know people want an answer overnight, but I’ve been traded twice in my career with no say and so to have a little bit of say and time to make a decision, that’s all I wanted.

It’s hard to say exactly how much the deadline-is-now nature of modern journalism changed the fortunes of four baseball teams last week. The initial report, limited to 140 characters, didn’t note that Dempster had not yet approved the deal — a key factor.

A few years ago, Dempster may have had more than an hour to contemplate a major life change — one that he was considering amid some difficult personal issues, including a divorce and a daughter with a rare developmental disorder. In fact, one wonders if the Braves would’ve given him more time to consider going to Atlanta if word of the trade hadn’t become so public, so fast.

The whole affair apparently even confused some of Dempster’s teammates. Fellow starting pitcher Paul Maholm — who, instead of Dempster, was traded by the Cubs to Atlanta — reportedly had some fun with Dempster in their final hours together in Chicago.

“I looked at him and said ‘Well you said no, I guess they wanted somebody,’” Maholm told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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