Trust, But Verify

Trust, But Verify

August 11, 2023 0 By Dan Freedman

With the trade deadline behind us, the recriminations have come fast and furious. Fans from coast to coast were left scratching their heads trying to figure out what their favorite team did, and why? All these fans have theories, and ways in which they would have done it better. Those fans include my son, who continued to send me text messages that simply read: “Chaimmmmmmm!” in the days and hours leading up to the 6pm ET cutoff.  

But, as I have previously written, and as I have repeatedly explained to my son, it takes two to tango. A general manager cannot make a deal by him/herself; they cannot make a deal just because they want to or because the fans are demanding it. Heck, they cannot even make one when they make one (more on that below). GMs need a trade partner. This has been true for time immemorial. And in the compressed moments of the trade deadline, reasonable minds often differ on value and compensation, on outlooks for the future and assessments of the present. In short, regardless of what Phil from Fall River says on WEEI, it may not be Chaim Bloom’s fault. 

Further, not every deal that Steve from Spokane thinks will be great for the Mariners will actually improve the team (either this season in the years to come). Rationality and reasonableness are not necessarily the coin of the realm on Twitter or talk radio. 

Nearly every MLB team is owned by a billionaire. And each such owner employs a head of baseball operations and/or a general manager, each of whom leads a team of scouts, evaluators, and quants, all of whom are in active dialogue with their coaches and players, as well as their counterparts throughout the league. Those people have risen to decision-making positions within an organization that is one of only thirty in a $12 billion industry. They watch every game, they review every prospect list, they scour every farm system, they track nearly every collegiate program. At this moment in time, this group of roughly 600 people know more about the current state of Major League Baseball than anyone on the planet. And yet… 

And yet, Walt from Washington Heights is calling for Brian Cashman to be fired because the Yankees didn’t do much at the deadline. Walt, who works for UPS, or is a tenth grade Social Studies teacher, or is an accountant or lawyer, has no compunction about calling into WFAN to tell Brian Cashman how to do his job, or how to do his job better. Forget the fact that Cashman has forgotten more about player evaluation and the competitive balance tax and winning and losing than Walt will ever learn; forget that Cashman has an owner in one ear and a staff of people in another. According to Walt, he knows something that Cashman doesn’t. 

I don’t mean to pick on Walt or Cashman. These same conversations are happening all across the league. It makes some sense, insofar as “fan” is short for “fanatic,” and “fanatic” is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal.” But general managers don’t have the luxury of being excessive or single-minded. They have organizations to run, and not just for this season. They are fiduciaries for the long-term health and welfare of their team. Isaac from Indian Hills doesn’t have to worry about next season Reds’ lineup; all he cares about is winning, today! Fortunately for the Reds, Nick Krall does. 

Furthermore, as stated above, just because a GM wants to make a deal, it doesn’t mean the other side does. Maybe the Red Sox tried to get Tommy Edman from the Cardinals, but the Red Birds weren’t willing to let him go; or they wanted a king’s ransom for him. We know the latter to be the case for Dylan Cease. Sure, Cease would have solidified the Red Sox rotation, but at what cost? Was he worth two of the Boston’s best prospects for a flailing chance to make the second Wild Card slot this season? 

Sometimes a GM thinks they made a deal. The Dodgers and Tigers had a trade in place for Eduardo Rodriguez. However, no one asked Rodriguez if that was okay with him, and he invoked his no trade clause to thwart the deal. Andrew Friedman’s fault? That said, as an aside, I do believe there is fault to be laid on this one: (1) Scott Harris, the rookie President of Baseball Operations for the Tigers, screwed that up royally (Tigerly?); (2) Rodriguez claimed he wanted to stay on the east coast (Detroit?) to be closer to his family…in Florida, which might be plausible if; (3) Rodriguez’s agent didn’t acknowledge (albeit cryptically) that they were trying to sweeten Eduardo’s deal to allow the trade to go through, but they just ran out of time. But, I digress. 

The Orioles got crushed for not doing more at the deadline. By all accounts they are a year ahead of schedule, so they had to decide how much of their future they were willing to mortgage for the present. But, despite what Glenn from Glen Burnie posts on X, they most assuredly did the analysis. The decisions the Orioles made – regardless of whether or not fans in the DMV agree with them – were not rash and were based on considerably more information than that possessed by the guy sitting at the bar licking Old Bay off his fingers. 

Many teams reached out to Perry Minasian about Shohei Ohtani. Is it their fault that the Angels (most notably, owner Arte Moreno) elected not to trade him? I am sure that many organizations – the Giants and Mariners come to mind – wanted to improve their lots. But, it is possible they didn’t have the resources – financial and/or human – to make the trades that their fanbases would have loved. Which begs the question, which fanbase loves what their team did? The Rangers? Maybe the Astros? Possibly the Braves? That leaves 27 disappointed fanbases. You can’t please everyone. 

I truly wish that each team was required to deliver some sort of post-trade deadline “Truth and Reconciliation” report. They would state whom they were in on, who they made offers to, why they didn’t make certain offers, and which side scuttled potential trades. Of course, to quote Rodney Dangerfield, this type thing could only happen in “Fantasyland.”  

But fans do deserve some level of transparency from their teams. The fans pay the exorbitant tickets prices and the ridiculous parking fees and the obscene cost of beers. The fans buy the merch and watch the games on TV, which allows the team-owned RSNs to charge inflated fees to cable providers (for now, at least). In short, the fans are entitled to the truth – or at least some reasonable facsimile of the truth. So, if the “Truth and Reconciliation” report cannot be prepared, every GM should be required to give a post-deadline press conference wherein he/she answers questions from beat reporters about the choices the team made. And, for kicks, I would allow a few fans into the room so they can ask questions as well. 

The Red Sox did a truncated version of this, with both Chaim Bloom and GM Brian O’Halloran answering questions. I think O’Halloran summed up the experience and his team’s (and very likely many other teams’) choices quite well:  

“[Deadlines are] always an assessment of are there any trade opportunities that we can do that make sense in our position — not just in the standings, but our position organizationally. I think [all those deadlines are] actually pretty similar in that we contemplated tons of things, and just none of them made sense to do.” 

Fans are free to agree or disagree, that is what makes this a great country. But a little perspective is important. Acknowledging how little we actually know is important. These men and women want to win as much, if not more, than Hal from Huntington Beach, as their livelihoods oftentimes depend on it. So, some benefit of the doubt may be in order. But, as Ronald Reagan often said, “trust, but verify.” See you at the press conference.