"U trade Omar/Anibal 4 Turner/prospects?"
That's not the exact phrasing nor the extent of the conversation between Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski and Miami's president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest when the two agreed to a deal on July 23 that sent Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to the Tigers and Jacob Turner and Rob Brantly to the Marlins. They did, however, conduct most of their trade discussion via text message, a burgeoning practice among the league's primary movers and shakers.
"The majority was accomplished through texting," said Dombrowski, who has served as the Tigers' president/GM since 2002. "I think the younger individuals, that's pretty much how they handle a lot of things in life: texting or sending a lot of emails back and forth."
Front-office executives didn't always operate that way. Before general managers could depend on emails and texts to host their conversations, they relied on phone calls. Once upon a time, they even met face to face -- a custom that now occurs sparingly outside of Winter Meetings or events such as the All-Star Game and World Series.
In his 1962 autobiography "Veeck -- As In Wreck," the late Bill Veeck, a longtime Major League owner and ever the opportunist, claimed he once finalized a trade in person with Larry MacPhail of the Yankees by writing the terms of the deal on a napkin from a concession stand at the ballpark.
Administrators don't have to revert to such tactics in today's age of streamlined communication and instant-gratification technology. Indians president Mark Shapiro estimated that "75 percent of trade conversations" are conducted through text messages.
"It's amazing how often somebody just fires you a text with an idea about something," Dombrowski said.
What makes the latest wave of communication difficult is getting a sense of a colleague's true motive to make a deal. Dombrowski, 56, said his 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son have taught him some of the texting shortcuts to fit in with the younger generation.
"They text me all the time, and they have their lingo," Dombrowski said. "General managers do the same thing: When they type the simple 'you,' they type 'u.'"
Still, it's not as if front-office bigwigs merely respond with a smiley face when approached about a favorable deal. Text messages can conceal emotion that phone conversations or in-person dealings spotlight. That can present a challenge to general managers working hastily to complete a transaction.
"It's harder to explore things over text messages," said Indians general manager Chris Antonetti. "You lose some of the nuance of communication when you communicate via text. You're limited. It's almost like just giving a sound byte."
Veeck noted that "Building a ball team is like dealing yourself a poker hand." Text messages, then, are the ultimate poker face. Dombrowski, who has worked in baseball since 1978, won't sign off on a trade until he hears his colleague voice the soothing tune of confirmation.
"I like to hear somebody's voice say, 'We have a deal,'" Dombrowski said. "I've never made a complete deal all the way through without talking to somebody. But there are probably general managers who have."
Antonetti is one of those GMs, though he stressed he doesn't negotiate blockbuster swaps with just a few swift taps of the thumb.
"There are some deals that we have completed over text or email," said Antonetti, who took over as Cleveland's GM after the 2010 season. "I would say not any deal of major significance, but Minor League deals or smaller deals."
Antonetti first joined Cleveland's front office in 1999. Then the only thing keeping him awake at night was his own mind, constantly putting thought into his work at all hours of the day. Now, he is no longer surprised to be woken up at 3 a.m. by a text from a fellow general manager inquiring about a player or deal.
"Now that communication is a little bit different," Antonetti said, "I think that the availability and the technology allows for more around-the-clock communication."
General managers' interactions extend beyond a slew of texts near the Trade Deadline. Antonetti said he has regular contact with his cohorts about "non-transaction-specific topics," whether it's to discuss a particular game or check in after a winning or losing streak. Dombrowski, who considers himself to be one of the more traditional, old-fashioned general managers in the game, said those talks have decreased in frequency over the years as short quips delivered via text have become the standard mode of communication.
"Those days of just picking up the phone and chatting, you don't do that very often," Dombrowski said. "Not as often as we used to."