When the 2019 Major League Baseball trade deadline approached, things were chaotic; more so in fact than in previous years, now that the July 31st cutoff also includes waivers.
I kept my eye on Twitter voices from national names like Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman and beat reporters for all 30 clubs. I also watched MLB Network’s MLB Tonight and ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.
These are my thoughts and notes of the coverage by MLB Tonight and Baseball Tonight:
- Each show had its own strength. Each network also spent much of the day shuffling between breaking trade news and providing game updates.
- Both television networks had panels of four analysts to break down the significance of moves that were made official.
- On a fluid day, reporters for both networks were ready to pounce on freshly-announced moves involving player personnel.
ESPN’s Baseball Tonight
- The hosts of ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, Karl Ravech, Buster Olney, Tim Kurkijan, Mark Teixeira and Keith Law, appeared
to have a more stoic approach; a calm, in-depth look at each deal and its implication.
- They neatly assimilated game updates, freshly-announced trades and analysis.
- ESPN also kept watch for the next big splash. While reporter Jeff Passan was digging for the latest piece of player personnel moves, host Ravech and company analyzed past deals, including those that had been announced in prior days.
- ESPN’s trade coverage was done almost exclusively in the studio, including the four analysts and Passan at another station. While Passan was leading most of the breaking news, Olney was also frequently and visibly on his phone and laptop learning of new transactions. This central setup allowed those digging for news to naturally share their findings and insights.
- Karl Ravech and Buster Olney shared duties of hosting Baseball Tonight, and they managed to keep the discussions under control and easy to understand. Whenever Olney was preoccupied keeping tabs on Twitter, Ravech would step in to tighten the conversation between the analysts in the studio.
MLB Network’s MLB Tonight
- On MLB Network, Greg Amsinger, Harold Reynolds, Tom Verducci and Dan O’Dowd sifted through the chaos in a
similar format while frequently going to Rosenthal to shed light on new reports as they surfaced. (Rosenthal’s excellent work overall was reviewed in a past Sports Broadcast Journal column.)
- Amsinger was tasked with moderating discussion on MLB Tonight. The disadvantage of having to receive the news remotely from Rosenthal rather than having him on the set led to some minor disruptions at times.
- Ken Rosenthal excelled with both his speed and depth of analysis on breaking news. He was frequently called upon to explain updates that he had posted on Twitter. Doing so, he both added heft and elaborated on other developments. Rosenthal was frequently the first to report a transaction and how the trade occurred.
- While each network had moments in which it was the first to break a story, MLB Tonight seemed to have the slight advantage, largely due to Rosenthal’s connections through both MLB Network and The Athletic for which he writes.
- Analysis was where ESPN excelled. As the minutes ticked down toward the trade deadline, ESPN remained focused on each team’s needs while MLB Network continued to speculate on rumors they were hearing from around the league.
- While MLB Network had several moments that appeared disorganized and difficult to follow, the team at ESPN retained its focus and made sure that each topic was covered in a thorough manner.
- Rosenthal is the gold standard when it comes to breaking baseball news. But even when MLB Network was the first to break a development, ESPN wasn’t far behind.
- ESPN did properly credit either MLB Network or The Athletic as its original source when applicable. Then ESPN’s analysts would share their take on what was announced.
- MLB Network’s strength is the speed with which it breaks news. Although ESPN reported some stories before MLB Tonight did, thanks to the work of Passan and Olney, the crew at MLBN seemed to have the overall advantage in the speed of breaking the news.
- ESPN’s Jeff Passan and Buster Olney were usually slightly behind Rosenthal’s updates, but they tended to show more cohesion with their analysis because they were in the same room and had the ability to listen in at all times.
- While the trades were occurring, several games were also being played. ESPN cut in with recaps of the action after they occurred, while MLB Network provided live look-ins between analysis of the trades. While game updates on ESPN were often slightly delayed, its deadline coverage was unrushed and smoother. (ESPN may have some restrictions on live look-ins while MLB Network which is owned by MLB has more flexibility.)
ESPN and MLB Network consistently present top-class baseball analysis and their 2019 trade deadline coverage was no different. As noted, each network excelled in different facets.
MLB Network’s MLB Tonight thrived on its speed of reporting and ESPN’s Baseball Tonight rivaled speed with its smooth presentation and thorough implicational coverage, transaction by transaction.
ESPN’s Baseball Tonight: A-
MLB Network’s MLB Tonight: B