Friday, December 17, 2004

Anatomy of a Blockbuster 

How did we manage to get Adrian Beltre yesterday? Here's how I think it happened, take it for one man's opinion.

Early in the offseason, it was established that the only players for Beltre were going to be the Dodgers and the Mariners. Thankfully, the Yankees and Red Sox were never involved. Other big market teams like the Cubs also had 3B solutions. And bless the Angels for taking themselves out of the picture by committing to Kendry Morales. Beltre was a West Coast guy. So the players were the M's and Dodgers. And that's it.

Boras wants 7-yr, $90 million for Beltre. That's $13 million per season for 7 years. Wisely, the Mariners are not comfortable with contracts in excess of 4 years, but will go to 5 years for young superstars like Tejada and Beltre.

Bavasi wants to establish the market just like he did with Tejada and hope that this year, no Oriole team shows up late to blow the offer out of the water. So, Bavasi puts an aggressive 5-yr, $62 million offer out to Beltre. He realizes that this may not be enough, so he is also making big news with large offers to Sexson and Delgado. His (public) stance is - one big bopper is as good as any other, doesn't matter what position. This is of course, silly, but its what we saw in the papers for most of November and December.

Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta knows that Bavasi isn't a "Moneyball" guy, and the Bavasi track record is not littered with genius so he buys into it. The M's will sign Sexson and Delgado, and they'll be tapped out. Beltre will be left for them - all they have to do is wait. And if that fails, he knows that he is willing to go 6 years while the M's are not. And since the M's hit Boras' annual salary average and he didn't immediately sign, he must be waiting for more years, right?

The Dodgers want Beltre back, but they'd like a hometown discount. I mean, they've earned it haven't they? Nursed him back to health from a botched appendectomy, and dealt with high expectactions and frustrations through Beltre's late teens and early 20's. And DePodesta is used to getting discounts as assistant GM to the A's, he was always hunting in the bargain bin.

So, all the Dodgers have to do is wait out the Mariners. Eliminate the competition and Beltre would have no choice but to sign for something like 6 years, $9-12 million per season. It would be a coup for DePodesta, and allow him to do other things within the Frank McCourt budget. So he tells Scott Boras that the Dodgers want the last word, but that they are working out their finances and trying to dump Shawn Green so they have more money for Beltre, or some other story to buy time. The M's will be outta this thing before too long. They can't afford to be patient after their disastrous 2004, can they?

But on December 15th, things start happening fast. Very fast. The M's sign Sexson to 4-yr, $50 million, a huge amount that shows not only are the M's gonna be players, but that they are not necessarily waiting for Beltre to make their move. The articles that come out with the signing still say that they have offers out to Delgado and Beltre, and will sign whoever says yes first. Or, if you don't believe that, they are going to start thowing out 4-year, $40 million offers to Edgar Renteria.

Pressure is now squarely on Scott Boras. He sizes up the situation and decides the M's are too stupid to wait for Beltre, and they are going to spend themselves out of contention for his services. This is not what he expected. I mean, Sexson isn't even a Boras client! He calls his buddy Bill Bavasi on the phone and tries to convince him that he NEEDS Beltre and only Beltre. And with that Sexson contract, he should be willing to pay Beltre even more.

But Boras made a mistake with his initial contract demands. He established the rate at $13 million per season. If he had asked for 5-year, $80 million initially, the mindset might have been set that Beltre is a $16 million player. Instead, he went for the years, but one of the two teams in the market doesn't go more than 5 years.

Bavasi explains the 5 year limitation, but then throws Boras a bone. "Okay, Scott, I'll help you out here. We can't have Adrian signing for less than Richie can we? I'll bump the offer up so that he's making on average more than the $12.5 million that Sexson signed for. How about, 5 years, $64 million. That will make him the highest paid player in Mariner history!"

Scott says he'll call him right back. First he tells Beltre about the offer, and Beltre is digging it. "They love me," he thinks. But Boras says the Dodgers love you too, and we need to give them one more chance to prove it, so he hops on the phone to the Dodgers. "Look, the M's are going after this full tilt, and Adrian Beltre is not feeling the love from the Dodgers. You need to bring a big offer to the table and quick, or he's going to be a Mariner." DePodesta is caught off guard. Just this close to seeing the M's sign both Delgado and Sexson, and taking themselves out of the Beltre battle. All of a sudden things are happening too fast. Obviously, Beltre's big concern is the years, so he offers a guaranteed 6 years (maybe for $54 - 70 million) and add a 7th year option. Boras tries to explain that the years are nice, but Beltre needs to see the cash. But Boras has cried "Wolf" that way many times before. This is a bluff. The M's are about to sign Delgado, and Boras is trying to cash in before he goes. Stand firm, Paul. Years, not dollars is what's important to Beltre. Oops

Now its too late for the Dodgers. Its all about the money now, not the years. The Mariners offer is still for more money, and Beltre has to be thinking: "Who needs a 6th year? Look at this market. An injured FIRST BASEMAN gets a 4-year, $50 million offer at age 30. What could I get at 30? 4-year, $100 million? Forget the years, just give me the money now, and let me go to the team that obviously wants me - making me their highest paid player in team history. I'm tired of the Dodger fans and media and seeing that Kirk Gibson home run over and over on the Jumbotron. And look at the money ex-Mariners make! That place is a gold mine!"

Boras realizes that the leverage of the M's will likely go away if he waits any longer. He's done the best he can do in this situation. Win some, lose some. Besides, Beltran is going to be his big ticket. And, if the Dodgers lose Beltre, they'll have to become players in the Beltran sweepstakes right? That will drive up the Beltran price with the Yankees so much that it will make the extra $20 million lost on this deal look like chicken feed.

He gets on the phone with Beltre. "Adrian, the Dodgers are not going to top the Mariners offer. They'll give you extra years, but the M's package is still worth more. I think you should take the M's offer." And Beltre quickly agrees. An announcement is made and the Dodgers are STUNNED.

You can see this in DePodesta's quotes in the ESPN article
"We're disappointed. It hurts," Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta said. "Obviously, we would have loved to have him back.

"I think all of us knew this certainly was a possibility. We feel like we stepped up and made a very competitive offer, actually tried to make it a compelling one by offering a sixth guaranteed year. Unfortunately for us, Adrian decided to go elsewhere."
When asked if the Dodgers were given a final say in the matter, DePodesta said: "Not in so many words. They didn't come back and say, 'If you can do this, he's coming back.' "

"Scott did have a sense of urgency, we did try to step up to that. That really wasn't the forum. But then again, I'm not blaming Scott for that, either. Everything he did in this process was above board. There's no villain here," he said. "At the end of the day, Seattle stepped up and made a great offer. We had multiple meetings, face-to-face meetings."
That is a man who is still in shock and denial over the whole thing. He can't believe he just lost Beltre.

I'm guessing the key factors in this deal were:
1) The M's coming in early, and meeting the $ average that Boras asked for. Meeting with Beltre and showing him the love early and often.
2) The M's applying pressure by courting Sexson, Delgado, and eventually Renteria
3) The M's signing Richie Sexson
4) That this was a two team race.
5) The Dodgers misreading Beltre's desire to stay in L.A. and importance of years over average salary.
6) The Dodgers waiting around too long, and not showing Beltre the love. This gave Beltre time to really think about becoming a Mariner.
7) Scott Boras representing Adrian Beltre and Carlos Beltran. This is the biggest stretch, but watch the Beltran bidding now, and see if the Dodgers get involved.

So, congratulations to Bill Bavasi. He used the same strategy on Beltre that failed on Tejada the previous year. He established the market for the best fit for the team early. When that player kept the M's on hold trying to find a better fit, he held firm, telling that player that the M's were going to be top bidder, but not going to be manipulated by agents. He started looking at alternatives to put pressure on that player. Any similar offer is likely to still have the M's on top, because the player has been thinking about the M's for awhile, and liking what he sees (great facility, great fans, lots of money, competitive, no ghosts of Championships past to compete with).

With Beltre, the M's remained the underdog for the signing. Last year they were the favorites (and some reporters even announced Tejada to the M's as a done deal). But last year, the Orioles read the situation perfectly and swooped in with an offer that blew the M's out of the water. There was no way for the M's to recover from that without blowing their negotiating stance for future years. They upped their offer to 5 years, but it was too late.

This year, there wasn't an offer to blow the M's out of the water. The Dodgers thought the low-ball would work and that Beltre wanted to return to LaLaLand. They didn't think they needed to do what the Orioles did last year.

They were wrong.

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