Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Barry Zito Signing: A Complete Upper Management Failure

It is time to clear up who is to blame for one of the worst signings in the history of baseball and how the biggest failure is not the performance on the field but the performance on the third floor of the Giants building.

Here is my take on what happened in the week leading up to the signing of Barry Zito:

Meeting Attendees: Peter McGowan (Owner) and Brian Sabean (General Manager)

Here are two other individuals that should (could) have been at the meeting –

1) Director of Marketing: This position is an actual job within the club and should be consulted before any major league ready player is acquired.

2) Director of Trading: This position does not exist. Every team should have a person responsible that understands the fundamentals of buying and trading assets. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about buying bananas at a Farmer’s market or trading distressed corporate debt, there are basic fundamentals that need to be followed. This person would make sure those fundamentals are strictly enforced.

“We have some money to spend and it is time we find the new face of the franchise. This player must be the exact opposite of Barry Bonds. Bonds doesn’t treat me with any respect and there isn’t a person I despise more than him. As the result of my extreme dislike for Bonds, I feel like Barry Zito is the perfect player and, more importantly, person for this franchise.”

DOT: The number one rule in trading is “Do not trade on emotion.” I already feel like this decision to sign Zito is based on your personal relationship with Bonds and not on Zito’s projected value on the field.

Sabean: “It is going to take a lot of money to sign him because I know the Mets are very interested. I have to believe that we are going to need to offer him ~$15 mm a year.”

McGowan: “Do whatever it takes to get it done. He is the perfect player to transition this franchise away from the Barry Bonds era. Unlike Bonds, I am sure Zito will return my phone calls and resurrect the reputation of the franchise.”

DOM: Barry Bonds has made us a LOT of money over the past 6 years. I realize he is difficult to deal with, but the fans love him. Your belief that the fans of the Giants want a new face of the franchise seems to be somewhat unfounded.

“We project Zito to be a number 2 starter, but I cannot justify paying him more than $15 mm. After all, Zito was not the number 1 starter on the A’s last year … Dan Haren was.”

“He is worth at least $3 mm more in public relations and marketing. In two years, every young Giants fan is going to be wearing Zito jerseys and they will all but have forgotten about Barry Bonds. Zito is the perfect combination of talent on and off the field.”

DOM: Actually, starting pitchers are like left tackles in football. While they are very important when it comes to winning games and championships, they are never the face of the franchise. Paying up for an everyday player for marketing reasons makes a lot more sense. Big Papi and Manny sell jerseys for the Red Sox not Curt Schilling.

Sabean: “Let me see what I can do. Let’s talk later in the week.”

Later in the week …

Sabean: “We believe the Mets have offered him something between $15 - $17 mm a year. I am not comfortable going over $15 mm.”

DOT: If you don’t feel comfortable offering more than $15 mm than you shouldn’t do it. At the minimum, we should review our due diligence process to make sure we are not missing anything.

McGowan: “Brian, please stop looking at this signing as a pure baseball decision. This franchise needs a fresh start and players like Barry Zito do not come along very often. Offer him $18 mm a year.”

Sabean: “There are rumors that Zito has contacted the Yankees and told them he would be willing to accept a deal that is less than what the Mets are offering. Furthermore, the Yankees have told Zito they are still not interested. There is something they know that we might not. I would like a little bit more time to think about how we approach this deal.”

DOT: The biggest player, the Yankees, in this market place is not willing to take this guy at $15 mm a year!! Under no circumstances can we offer him more than $15 mm!

McGowan: “I could have run you out of this town over the Joe Nathan trade but I stuck with you and I have remained loyal despite rampant criticism over that deal. Now, I am telling you to get Barry Zito in a Giants uniform before the calendar turns over to 2007. GET IT DONE!”

Sabean: Yes, Sir

DOT and DOM: Did we fail to mention that starting pitchers are signed to win championships and soft tossing pitchers generally don’t win in the playoffs?

To be clear, Peter McGowan should be remembered for saving the Giants in San Francisco and building one of the most beautiful ballparks in the history of the game. However, there is little doubt that he had a significant amount of influence over the Zito signing.

There are two lessons to be learned here:

1) All General Managers should consult a marketing person and a trading person before making any personnel decisions about the big league club.

2) Owners should have very little say when it comes to the team on the field because the majority of them made their money doing something else besides winning sports Championships.

(I know many of you are thinking that Lincecum is the perfect face of the franchise for the Giants. While I will not disagree that his outstanding performance on the field and his near perfect personality off it, the goldmine for the Giants is Pablo Sandoval. If he becomes a regular in the All-Star game, he will sell more tickets, jerseys and t-shirts than Lincecum ever will.)

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