A Lesson in Failure
Where is everybody? I mean, where are the questions? Where are the demands for explanation? Is there anyone in Minnesota that cares? Your team just got absolutely clobbered, and someone needs to be accountable.
Let’s start at the top. Just for a goof. Carl Pohlad. Owner of the Twins. Some analysts have said that he is the – not one of the – he is the richest owner in baseball. But he’s got to deal Johan Santana because he can’t afford him. First of all, dude, decide right now whether or not you want to own a profitable baseball team. If owning the Twins is just a way for you to solve your celebrity jones by showing up at the ballpark, waving at the loyal minions and drinking in your own marvelousness, fine. Just know that you’re dragging this team and its fans right down to the ground. You can’t run a baseball team like a profit center. It’s not like selling tractors or breath mints. It’s not about keeping your expenses low and maximizing your dollar. A healthy bottom line is not the best predictor of future financial success. Strange but true, and it’s where professional sports is truly unique. You need to build the brand to achieve consistent financial success. And to do that you need to win. Period. It has always been the only way and it will continue to be the only way. That’s the only way you will consistently put fans in the seats, sell the gear and paraphernalia, and expand your brand outside of your host city. And that last one is most crucial when you play in a small market. If you can’t stomach some red-ink years, you shouldn’t be an owner in Major League baseball. If you can save a buck or two, great. But don’t do it at the expense of the talent of your ballclub. Win first. The bottom line will follow.
Next up, the front office. I was getting ready to crush Bill Smith, the general manager of the Twins. But upon further review, I guess you can’t assume that he was pulling all of the strings in this mess, because he’s only been on the job for four months or so. Maybe he was only a marionette. But either way, he’s wearing the GM hat, so I’m going to direct my shots at him.
Believe it or not, I’m not going to kill the badly overmatched Bill Smith for getting massacred in his negotiations with Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein and Omar Minaya. He was just that. Badly overmatched. He tried to play the Yankees and Red Sox against each other, the de rigueur maneuver of MLB general managers over the last ten years. Note to Bill. This game usually works better when the two teams are bidding for foreign stars. When it comes to in-league talent, Cashman and Epstein usually get the guys they stake out. They have come to a kind of understanding over the last few years, interestingly. So anyway, Smith had both teams dangling pretty rich packages in a potential deal for Santana. By all accounts, the Yankees were dangling a package that included Phil Hughes, Melky, and two other prospects. The Red Sox were offering Jon Lester or Jacoby Ellsbury, Coco Crisp, and two other prospects. Either way, the Yankees had a better deal on the block. But Bill the Bad thought he could also get the Yankees to throw in Ian Kennedy, or get the Sox to upgrade to Ellsbury and Lester, Crisp and a prospect. So he said no. Well done, Bill. But that’s only part one of the story. And again, I’m not going to kill him for that. It happens. He got greedy, he got burned. He thought he had a better hand than he had. And he’s only been at this for four months. It’s the next part of the story that makes me scratch my head as to how he’s not fired.
There we were last week, the 11th hour fast approaching. Another mis-step by the Twins, offering Santana a contract and being turned down, gave notice to the market that a deal needed to happen. Santana was not going to stay for the peanuts Pohlad was willing to pay him. So here was Bad Bill in a sticky situation. The Yankees and Red Sox had long since pulled their original deals off the table. Hughes was a ghost. Lester and Ellsbury had been re-valued. Bad Bill Smith was going to get far less than he had already turned down. So he had a decision to make. The smart play would have been to cut his losses and take the best deal he could get. And that would have landed him Melky, Ian Kennedy and a couple of prospects, or either Ellsbury or Lester and prospects. But there was one price he also would have had to pay in those deals. Everyone would know that he blew his negotiation. Not that they didn’t know that already, but this would truly have underscored it. After all, there’s nothing worse than getting less than you were originally offered. This is where the clever Omar Minaya came in. I have no idea what Minaya’s pitch to Smith was, but it probably went something like this: “Look, Bill. I’m the only other guy that can pay him. And if you deal him to one of those two guys, all anyone will ever talk about is how you took a lesser deal than you were originally offered. If you deal him to me I’ll tell everybody you made me up my offer three times.” And poor, overmatched Bill was ripe for this mad talk. Right up until the end, he could have had the reduced-but-still-far-superior Red Sox or Yankee deal. But he tried to save face, instead of getting the best possible deal for his team. And he got clobbered. He came away with nothing. Absolutely, stunningly, nothing. A guy who everyone agrees will never be a major league hitter and a few probably-will-miss-prospects. Nobody major-league ready.
In the end, Bill Smith took the coward’s way out. And that’s why he deserves to get killed by the press. But they’ve laid off. Why? I have no idea. Everyone seems to tiptoe around it. Lots of stuff like, “He did what he had to do.” Or, “He had no choice. He had to trade him.” Or “Yeah, maybe he could have gotten more, but in the end he had to make a deal.” Everyone is missing the point. The guy not only got outmaneuvered, he tried to save face instead of doing his job. Sometimes it hurts to swallow your pride and do what needs to be done. Bill Smith failed his team and his team’s fans. Kudos to Omar Minaya. He didn’t have much of a hand, but he played it like a champ. And the Mets were spectacular winners in this deal. Cashman and Epstein are glad the other guy didn’t get him and they both probably don’t mind keeping their top prospects, but their biggest sin was probably overestimating Smith. They figured he would go for the better deal. And he should have. Sorry, Twins fans. You deserved better.