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August 3, 2001

6-4-3

Push Over the Top, Part One

by Gary Huckabay

The frenzy surrounding the July 31 trade deadline is a relatively new phenomenon. I don't know--and am too lazy to check--whether there are more deals around deadline time now than there were, say, 10 years ago, but to my untrained eye, it sure appears as if there's a lot more attention paid to "Deal Week" than ever before. It also appears as if all this attention has served to create more deals and interest in deals among GMs than ever before.

Sandy Alderson said that deals to add a player at the deadline "demonstrate to your players that the people in the front office are working as hard as they are." This may or may not be the case, but it appears that many GMs definitely believe this to be true. Over time, I expect this to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and for more deals of less consequence to be made as a demonstration to a commitment to winning.

But does it make sense? The environment in which deadline deals are made is exactly the environment that good business leaders try to avoid when making important decisions. An artificial deadline exists, accompanied by a great deal of hype and pomp about the importance of taking some sort of action. Competitors are making moves that will garner a lot of press attention. Anybody with a vested interest in activity (read: the media weasels like us) is creating as much sound and fury as they can, kind of like Lou Dobbs and his financial pornography.

To draw a somewhat tortured parallel, would you want to make a decision on the purchase of a home when:

  • The real estate market is moving fast and furious and...
  • The lease on your apartment expires in 15 days and...
  • You're expecting a baby in the next 6 weeks and...
  • The Church of Scientology is looking for a nice neighborhood for a new compound?

Of course not. You'd want to have a plan in place to make sure you got the best results possible. Your plan may well include some items designed to provide flexibility in case some tremendous opportunity presents itself, but by and large, you'd want a plan, you'd want it to be well thought out, designed in such a way that it can be executed properly, and you'd want it to be something you can rely on to provide guidance in case conditions get frantic and overheated.

I don't like deadline deals. I never have, and I probably never will. I believe clubs need to have a long-term plan in place, and need to walk the fine line between planning to win three to five years out, and trying to get into the postseason every year. That's a very difficult task, but it can be done.

Let's go back in time about two weeks, and take a look at the current state of the Kansas City Royals. This is grossly oversimplified, but play along anyway.

Kansas City Royals: July 24, 2001

A plan is worthless without a goal. Let's make a wild guess at the top priorities of the Royal organization over a two-year period, and work with that as our core assumption, for better or worse.

  1. Achieve Profitability
    1. Control costs
    2. Increase revenue
      1. Increase ticket sales
      2. Increase contract revenue
        1. Local broadcast contracts
        2. Local advertising revenue

  2. Maximize Flexibility
    1. Potential labor stoppage
    2. Possible ownership status change

Under the assumption that the improved performance by the team will result in increased ticket sales, and, in the longer term, increased contract revenue, we want to improve the team's performance, first to .500 within 18 months, and to perennial contention within 36 months.

Current Record: 39-61 (.390)
Runs Scored: 439 (13th in AL)
Runs Allowed: 538 (11th in AL)

Organizational Strengths:

  • Pitching depth. We have a number of good young arms, including but not limited to Kris Wilson, Chad Durbin, Dan Reichert, Jimmy Gobble, Chris George.

  • Young outfield. Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, Dee Brown all have some promise.

  • Low expectations. No one in Kansas City thinks we're going to contend this year or next.

Organizational Weaknesses:

  • Extremely limited financial resources. We're not winning, we have a small overall budget, we need to keep costs down because ownership may transfer

  • Inability to reliably convert young athletes into major-league talent.

  • Best players (Dye, Sweeney) soon to dramatically escalate in cost.

OK, that's it for this week. What would you suggest for a plan of action? E-mail me at huckabay@baseballprospectus.com. Next week, we'll include the best plans submitted by readers, annotated with comments. The following week, we'll present a plan of our own. Be as specific as you like, and the more you tell us about why you're doing what you're doing, the better.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Gary's other articles. You can contact Gary by clicking here

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