The Silent HotStove Topic

There’s a lot of analysis of statistics during the hotstove season and many, many, many scenarios are tossed around. People make a case for their latest trade theory and then others knock it down or support it. There is one thing that is not discussed too much however. What kind of influence does the professional baseball player have on his team’s front office decisions?

In the NBA, a single player can have a huge impact on his team – particularly if he is a franchise player. Witness Kobe Bryant who singlehandedly turned the Lakers from a power house team to middle of the pack or worse. But does a major league baseball player have this kind of influence on a team? Can Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, or Pedro Martinez dictate a team’s overall direction? Let’s look at the Cardinals. The Cardinals organization takes care to ensure that Pujols is a happy man. I have to believe that if the organization did something that ticked Pujols off that the fans would definately come down hard on the organization. The exception to that rule is if Albert is percieved as greedy in the situation by the fans. Both cases could be backed up. When Albert was negotiating his current deal, he stated plainly that he would not be giving any ‘hometown discounts’ as McGwire did. There was a minor fan backlash against that. On the other hand, if the Cards committed to a slow team rebuilding project, Albert would have a lot of sway over things. If he didn’t feel like the organization was commiting itself fully to getting back to a winning team – the fans would take his word on it. So what we have here is a bit of fan influence that surrounds Albert since he’s a premier player. Still though, if that’s the best he can do, Albert can’t really dictate the direction of the team unless the general manager is afraid of the fan’s reaction. Ticket sales are important but Cardinal fans have proved that they’ll come to games even if the Cards are losing – which is good in my mind.

So we’ll tentatively say that a premiere player like Albert can’t control a team outright. But he and the other players can surely influence trade decisions and such though right? Clubhouse atmosphere is a very real thing that cannot be measured. Heck, it’s been one of Tony LaRussa’s downfalls in the playoffs according to some. The thought is that Tony has trouble being too intense during the playoffs. His players get rigid and press too hard, then the Cards drop out of the playoffs. But LaRussa changed his tactics this year. The World Series result backed up his new approach since his team won by being loose and comfortable. Having a good mix and friendships will have that kind of impact. Almost everytime after a big series win in any team sport, the guys interviewed will talk about how the team “came together” or “believed in each other”. If you are a general manager this has to play into your offseason decisions a little bit. I’m guessing the Cards felt that way about Scott Spezio. David Eckstein and him were on the same team with Anehiem. It’s pretty likely that Eckstein gave his approval and support in some way for that situation. Now I’m not saying that this definately happened in that case but it’s to support the theory that this kind of thing probably happens around the major leagues. I’m sure that GMs consult players on occasion or at least consider the impact a particular move will have on team morale, cohesiveness, and roles that need to be filled in a clubhouse.

Another thing a GM has to consider that is nonstatistical is how moves will look to those outside the organization. Chris Carpenter will be a free agent at the end of next year. What will the Cardinals offer him in cash and in contract length? Will the fans feel as if they’ve lowballed Carpenter? Will Carpenter come out as the greedy money hungry player? More important to future dealings – what will players across the league think? What will Cardinal players tell other players on other teams? Frankly a team has to mix it up. You can’t please everyone but you need to present a balanced image to the league. I think that could be one of the primary reasons that Jim Edmonds was just signed to more years and dollars than what made sense. The Cards need to present the image that the organization cares about its players and that it has an element of loyalty to it. That particular deal has a nice upside to the gamble as well if Edmonds returns to even a shade of his former self before this past year. Either way, even the small time players will move from team to team and how they percieve themselves as being treated will move with them. That worries me sometimes when you hear news stories about LaRussa not telling Rolen he’s sitting the pine in a major game or a traded player having no clue that he’s gone until he sees it in the newspapers. Someone needs to call him before a reporter gives him the news. In any case, this sort of thing plays into the offseason decisions.

One thing that sort of counteracts what I’ve been saying is team turnover. Of the Cardinals that were on the team that lost to the Red Sox, how many are still on the team? I’d have to check but I’m betting less than a dozen are still on the current roster and we are losing some to free agency this year probably. This definately is on a GM’s mind, but I think the reputation of the team still goes along with the departing player carousel.

So from a brief examination of the issue, it looks like the players of an organization definately have an impact on a GM’s decisions. The chance of impact depends upon the organization’s treatment of players, how big a star they are, and/or how long they are projected to be on a team. The level of impact – it appears to be different depending on what organization you are talking about. The Yankee’s organization seems like it would be bulletproof against any sort of player influence. Steinbrenner runs a dictatorship over there with a ton of star players wanting to play for him for a chance at a ring. Most teams would let a star walk before being dictated to.

The purpose of all this is to get us thinking about what might be going on behind negotiations and decisions beyond just number crunching and guessing games. I feel like if one could get a handle on this part of the negotiation process that we’d be better able to predict the moves that a GM would make beforehand. Essentially, we’d end up profiling the GMs and deciding how they operate, what player they are likely to go after or avoid, why do they use free agents more than trading or vice versa…

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