On sunk costs, the value of wins, and the course of the season
Today’s earlier post veered frighteningly fast from my “here’s a good thing that’s happened” to “blow the team up aieeeeee!”
Which was a little disconcerting for me. But it took an interesting turn late into sunk costs, with a comment about, as I understand it, a box with contents almost everyone would find disappointing.
As fans, we’re in a really strange spot for what to hope for.
Not a lot of faith that the team’s going to compete
We know the team is great at marketing and has huge amounts of revenue and a sweet stadium deal that allows them to print money
Ownership that is not particularly savvy and isn’t interested in getting with the program, if you will
A front office that reflects that philosophy
A front office that isn’t particularly good at talent evaluation, but pretty good at drafting and player development
Which leads to a whole other spiral: you don’t want anyone fired if you can reasonably believe that their replacements will be worse (and I really do think that Bavasi & Co are as forward-thinking and talented as we’re likely to get hired under Lincoln’s stewardship). Then what?
If you think they’re totally incompetent, you don’t want them to tear the team down because they’ll never recover from the funk. And even if they tore down, who would they trade, and why should you think they would get anything worthwhile back? But then again, they were pretty good at losing there before, and player development pretty much saved their butts… and you don’t want them to go for it, because they’ll trade the rest of the team for the wrong veteran reinforcements. Even if they rally, keep it close, that’ll just extend the current regime’s reign. And playoffs? This punchless, no-field team with a shaky pen’s going to have a hard time getting anywhere even if they do luck into it, but their berth will get everyone even longer contracts.
Really, if you believe that the people running the team are totally incompetent, there’s no course of action you want to happen except a team sale and house cleaning.
Your fandom, not the off-season acquisitions, are the sunk cost.
Still, I’d like to talk for a second about something Dave and I wrote about repeatedly during the worst of the losing years: there’s no need for a Cleveland-style rebuilding. There’s no need for the team to blow everything up and lose 100 games for a few years. There’s a huge reason for them not to: while as a borderline obsessed fan I might willingly trade years of terrible teams for a World Series title, the team’s financial viability and fanbase depends on winning games. People who come to see the team and watch the M’s lose over and over stop coming to games.
Others have done a lot of research into what drives a team’s marketing reach, and we find that it’s a team’s success over years that brings in the TV deals, keeps the turnstiles going, and so on. It’s worth winning 76 games instead of 72, and it’s worth winning 72 over 68, because unless you get the #1 or #2 draft pick, it’s not that big of a deal.
Or to put it more bluntly, a win is probably worth $2m to the M’s. Probably more. Winning keeps the revenue coming.
To tie that back in, look at the rest of the season. The M’s are unlikely to make a playoff run at this point. Do you, as many people have advocated, tear it all down?
I don’t see the point. For many of these guys, the M’s don’t have internal replacements and it’s hard to see who’s going to trade them enough prospects in return. There’s value in giving playing time to young prospects if you’re trying to develop them, or sort out how they fare against major league competition. If they’re all organizational fodder with no long-term future, it doesn’t help anyone (except the fodder, who get delicious service time).
Take Beltre. Beltre, as Dave’s argued, is a fine value when weighed against his competition, even as he’s generally slagged for being a free-agent bust. If you traded Beltre now and stuck Bloomquist out there (or Cairo!) to finish out the season, whoever you received in return would have to be good enough to make up for that loss over their Mariner career. I don’t see who offers that. Better to take his contributions this year and enjoy his play.
And so on, down the roster. Maybe you pull a Beane and try and haul some top-line guys for Bedard, but to who, and when, and what can they offer the M’s that helps in the long term?
Because of the way the team budgets (the “no carry-over” accounting method) there’s almost no point even in trading Sexson. Saved salary doesn’t benefit you next year, so unless you can make an improvement on the field now, you might as well pay him.
It’s no good to argue that the M’s should trade their vets for good prospects. That’s all fine and dandy. But on any serious consideration, it becomes extremely hard to imagine reasonable scenarios where the players the Mariners have on hand that have trade value would get them the blue chip prospects they’d need to get in return.
And similarly, I’d argue that even if the M’s have a 10% chance at the playoffs, there’s no reason not to keep working towards improving the team. Ibanez is still a huge defensive liability — if they had a chance to upgrade left field and move Ibanez to DH… whoops, Clement’s there now. My point is that there’s no reason for this team to ever give up wins, much less seasons. I for one would much rather see a .500 team playing interesting baseball late in the season without a shot at a division title than I would a torn-down team patched with more Cairo-style acquisitions to patch newly created holes from trading off players they don’t have replacements for.
If you think the team’s run by incompetents, there’s no course of action short of a Politburo-style purge by a new leader that won’t make your skin crawl, so your skin’s going to be crawling. Sorry.
If you think they’re about as good as we’re going to get right now, we have to accept that and draw our enjoyment from what we can (Ichiro! Felix Day and so forth).