Sunday, July 30, 2006

Markets and MLB

Markets and MLB aren't so different. Sure, we'd like to fantasize some pastoral anachronism about loyalty, teamwork, and fair play, but we're far too sophisticated to believe. Players correctly recognize they are fungible, fans are tools of ownership, and ownerships run businesses, not toys.

Fan-centric ownerships could indeed try to cultivate 'mutual participation', but could that succeed in an industry run by lawyers and led by a used car dealer? Also, what kind of industry would set up franchises where the richest would have payrolls ten times the smallest, with all competing for the same prize?

Which brings us to the trading deadline? You are untradeable if you have a no trade clause (which you wouldn't waive for the right price), or in certain instances because you have extreme value. For example, Jonathan Papelbon is having a historical season, at a bargain basement price. From a market perspective, you would say he's the ultimate growth stock, which you have options on for cheap.

Players become irritated because their name comes up in trade talks. Why not? You move your family around, get settled, and perhaps try to become a member of a community, yet you can be uprooted because you have 'value'. There is some irony to your value creating instability. In most areas in life, we associate value and stability. You wouldn't expect to see the Mona Lisa relocated from the Louvre, but you almost expect Roger Clemens to don a new cap periodically.

Value in MLB reflects not only your actual performance, but your trade value, your recent performance (all of a sudden Cory Lidle is Juan Marichal?), and your salary, both immediate and future price tag. If you take the salaries of the Abreus and Liebers, then you can exchange suspects instead of prospects, and Philly management can use the fig leaf to promise the fans some new free agents, right?

And your value also depends on the fundamental principles of supply and demand. If the Cardinals want Mark Loretta, they might be willing to take on Julian Tavarez, and the Red Sox also have a blue chipper in Dustin Pedroia, as well as a capable back up in Alex Cora. Maybe that gets you Josh Hancock and a prospect, and you flip Hancock to the Rockies for Ryan Shealy.

As a GM, you want to improve your team, without destroying the all-too-fragile chemistry that generally exists. If you're the Red Sox, why risk a Bagwellian adventure for an overpaid veteran? Because you're afraid that your competition will one-up you?

If the Bombers want to 'buy' the available talent, then they can. If the Steinbrenners of the world lack enough security to try to win with the biggest payroll in baseball, can you change that? Buffett reminds us that when the investment tide departs, it reveals who wears no trunks. Maybe some GMs need to keep that in mind, lest it also reveal who's carrying the smallest bats.

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