Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's not about the money, but it's totally about the money

Interesting reporting on why Pujols took the offer from the Angels.

Summarizing, it seems that Pujols went with the Angels not because they offered more money, but because they demonstrated a greater commitment.  How did they demonstrate this commitment?  By offering a bigger contract.

At this point, it's tempting for a spurned Cardinal fan like myself to point to the absurdity of Pujols's position, and that of course he was just after getting as much money as he possibly could.  But I get what he means.

For one, I am oversimplifying a bit.  Pujols turned down an even bigger offer from the Miami Marlins that did not include no-trade protections.(i.e. "commitment"), so it seems that this was not just about money.

But what I think it is, to borrow from Perfectly Irrational, is that at some point during Pujols's career, his relationship turned from social-based to market-based.  By taking a clinical, analytical approach to its negotiations with Pujols, the Cardinals move their relationship with Pujols from the social zone to the market zone.

This was bad news for a couple reasons.  For one, once you're in the market zone, the rational thing to do is move if you get a better offer somewhere else.  If you're just working for a paycheck, does it matter if that paycheck comes from the Cardinals or the Angels?  The Cardinals were not in a position where they could win a bidding war, and in moving their relationship with their best player to the market zone, that's exactly what they set up.

The second reason is that most of us, in our hearts, want to have relationships that are in the social zone instead of the market zone.  The market zone is an exhausting place to be -- the assumption is each side is trying to screw over the other side, and we have to do what we can to protect ourselves (an maybe screw over the other side).  Most of us would rather be in a relationship, even business relationships, where we can trust the other person and not be on guard.

The Angels seem to have presented Pujols a convincing case that they were such a partner, and this is what Pujols wanted.

Now.  It may be that Pujols is kidding himself, and it will be interesting to see how this "commitment" holds up if Pujols gets hurt or his productivity drops.

I'm not sure if there was a point during the last two years where the Cardinals could have demonstrated this commitment with a lower offer than the one Pujols accepted.  I'm not sure it's even possible for a team's relationship with a superstar to stay out of the market zone.  And I'm not even positive that the Cardinals weren't prudent to do what they did.

But I do think what Pujols is discussing is real.  Contributing to Stack Overflow was fun, but became less so when they started charging people to be listed on their job board.   I've seen relationships with employers sour when it became apparent to me that the commitment they were asking for from me was not reciprocated.

It's a lesson that any company wishing to retain its star employees ought to absorb -- do everything you can to keep the relationship in the social zone and out of the market zone.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Pujols versus other departures..

To work through my grief of Albert Pujols leaving the Cardinals for the Angels, I'll put on my analytical hat and compare his departure to when other teams lost their superstars.\

In a way, what's happening with Pujols is unprecedented -- a superstar is leaving a team that he just led to a championship, despite that team's apparent good faith effort to keep him.
Some comparisons:

Michael Jordan's retirements from the Bulls.
Michael Jordan took his baseball sabbatical after three straight championships.  The Bulls kept the rest of the nucleus including Coach Phil Jackson, and the team remained competitive.
Jordan came back and led the Bulls to three more championships, then retired.  This time, the whole band broke up, which was already in motion, and the bottom fell out.

Wayne Gretzky Traded to LA
After Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers won 4 Stanley Cups in 5 years, there was a sense that Wayne had gotten too big for Edmonton, and he was traded to the LA Kings, in a move that was at least somewhat mutually desired.  Since they had such a deep reserve of talent, the Oilers remained competitive, even winning another Cup, but were no longer a juggernaut,  and slowly declined in relevance.

Shaquille O'Neal Going to LA, then Miami
The Magic hadn't won a championship yet, and Shaq's departure closed their window.

The Lakers had won 3 championships with Shaq, but were coming off a Finals upset loss to the Pistons, and transitioning to the Kobe era.

Kareem going to LA
Noticing a trend here...

The Bucks had won a championship with Kareem, but that was four years before he left, and the team was in decline already.

Rogers Hornsby traded from Cardinals to Giants
Hornsby didn't get along with Branch Rickey; Frankie Frisch didn't get along with John McGraw; so they were traded for each other.

This may be the closest parallel, even discounting that it's the same team.  Good news for the Cardinals: Frisch led the Gashouse Gang to more championships.  Bad news for the Cardinals: they aren't getting anyone directly in exchange for Pujols.


Well, this hasn't been a terribly instructive exercise, at least in helping to figure out how the Cardinals will be without Pujols.

The Cardinals have been able to punch a bit above their small market weight.  The popular explanation is that the Cardinals are an institution in St. Louis, home to the best fans in baseball, etc.  But I wonder how much of that is a function of having in large part lucked into employing the services of the best player in baseball for the past decade.  It wasn't that long ago that Philadelphia was spoken of as a small baseball market, and teams like Toronto and Baltimore were powerhouses.

Is St. Louis intrinsically a great baseball town, or is it only when it has stars like Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols?  We may be about to find out.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The case against Pujols taking his talents to South Beach

As a St. Louis resident and Cardinal fan, I obviously have a vested interest in the results of Albert Pujols free agent negotiations.   Still,I think my analysis here I relatively free of bias.

Reports are that the Marlins have offered Pujols a 10 year contract, compared to the Cardinals' 8 year offer.

Here's how I see Pujols's situation around 2020 if he takes the deal:

  • His skills have degraded to the point where he's now a league average first baseman.
  • He will probably have had several years of solid performance, but probably not at the same heights as his career so far.
  • His salary remains among the highest in the league.
  • He may or may not have led the Marlins to 1 or more world titles.  Considering the Fish won the 1997 and 2003 titles, this wouldn't quite make him a local hero.
  • The team and interest in the team will likely decline along with Pujols's skills.  The Marlins have been through a few boom and bust cycles.  Yes, they're getting a new stadium, but Pirates and Nationals fans can tell you that's not a guarantee of long term success in the stands or on the field.
  • Pujols's contract will be identified as a major obstacle to the Marlins competing, and he will face pressure to rework his deal or accept a trade.
If he were to stay with the Cardinals, here's how things look:

  • The skill will not have changed.
  • He will have led the Cardinals to at least 2 world champions, perhaps more.
  • He will be saluted for having chosen to stay here.
  • He will in general be a local institution.
In short, nobody in 2020 is going to be regretting the Albert Pujols experience, even if he's struggling through an injury-plagued year with the team doing poorly.  This is not true in Miami.

Now, there may be other considerations.  And I know that I myself recently left a position where I had accumulated some goodwill for a position with more upside.  

But it seems that by taking this deal, Pujols would be setting himself up for a bad situation several years hence.  I know it's hard to look that far ahead, but it's worth considering.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Ok, maybe we do need a playoff system...

Few things excite me less than the annual whining about the BCS.
I was glad to see Houston go down today so we avoided another round of lamentations on the plight of mid-major conference schools in the BCS system. 

Sill as we march toward a championship rematch of the LSU-Alabama snoozefest / defensive classic that no one a day's drive from the Gulf Coast wants to see, it might be worth considering if there's a better way.

One thought is that the BCS is chained to the grim logic of the 1-2 match up.  It's difficult to argue that any team is superior to LSU and Alabama.  LSU played a hellacious schedule ans emerged with college football's sole undefeated record.  Alabama's only loss was in overtime to LSU.  (though it may be worth considering if we'd be in a better place if that game was allowed to end in a tie)   The BCS's whole reason for existence is to produce a 1 vs. 2 match up, and that's LSU-Bama.

This begs for the human element. Bama had its shot at LSU and didn't come through.  Why should they get a shot and not, say, Oklahoma St., whose sole loss was on the road in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy in their athletic department.   The situation begs for the human element, for someone to have the authority to say, "Yes, Alabama objectively seems to be the 2nd best team, but they missed their shot and didn't win their conference. So we're giving another team a shot.

What about the old bowl system?  That had the human element -- each bowl tried to put on an entertaining game.  Seems like that would get us something better.

Except that while the BCS must serve.its master of objectivity, the old bowl system had to serve its conference commitments.  LSU, as SEC champion, would play in the Sugar Bowl.  Big 12 champ Oklahoma St. would play in the Orange Bowl, perhaps against Alabama.  It's not clear who LSU's opponent would be.  Virginia Tech, fresh from being clobbered by Clemson? Stanford, who also couldn't win its conference? This doesn't seem to be an improvement.

Seems like we need a system free from the grim logic of the BCS and the commitments of the old bowl system. Maybe this is possible without a playoff, but I don't see it.