Now that the 2014 MLB season is underway, many teams are relying on the players they signed in the offseason to get to the playoffs and beyond. While many fans know the big names of favorite players and coaches, few of them know what goes on in making the deal, behind the scenes in MLB front offices, or in the minds of owners.
These were some of the topics covered at the 2014 SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Sportswriter and TV commentator Ken Rosenthal interviewed owners, general mangers, and others who play key roles in making these moves happen.
The first panel of the day was "Decision Making In The Front Office," which featured Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik, Rockies Assistant GM Bill Geivett, and Giants Assistant GM Bobby Evans. The three executives discussed their jobs in their clubs’ front office what goes on when deals are made. But the highlight was Zduriencik describing how the Mariners signed stud second baseman Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million megadeal.
Zduriencik said that Cano's agent, hip-hop/rap star Jay-Z, had had a birthday the previous day, so they had a cake for him to try and sweeten the deal. "I told him that I had been the original JZ," Zduriencik joked, referring to his initials. Geivett added in that he thought Zduriencik knew how to get things done. "He wanted Cano, he gave Jay-Z the cake." Zduriencik went on to say that he was confident Cano had loved Seattle, and really wanted to get a deal to play there. They had discussed how they found a solution Cano and the team would all accept an amount of money and length of contract since Cano had really wanted 10 years for $300 Million.
Another behind-the-plays glimpse of MLB life was Rosenthal’s interview with Brewers owner Mark Attanasio. He grew up in the Bronx and dreamed of owning a team someday. At the conference, Attanasio told attendees that he was shocked when he learned MLB had selected him to take over the Brewers. His dream had come true! He also shared how tough owning a team can be sometimes, like when he was unsure about the job his manager was doing when he brought in a long-traveled relief pitcher.
The reliever story happened seven or eight seasons earlier when Milwaukee had had only one reliever on their roster, Joe Winkelsas. A year earlier, Winelsas had never even entertained the thought of playing baseball. The new pitcher had literally just been picking up garbage for work. But Milwaukee somehow found him and got him a job in the bullpen. His MLB debut came on July 4 that year in a tie game against the Nationals. Winelsas took over late in the game with the bases loaded and outfielder Alfonso Soriano at the plate. Attanasio called the manager and asked why he put in Winkelsas during such a critical point in the game for his debut. And before Attanasio even finished his sentence, he was interrupted by the cheers of the Washington crowd. Attanasio turned around to see Soriano rounding the bases after hitting a grand slam. Attanasio might have been unhappy with the decision, but he knew that he had to give his manager the right to make those kinds of calls without interference.
Attanasio also explained why he was willing to bring slugger Ryan Braun back to the Brewered after Braun was suspended for using PEDs. He said he feels Braun is a sincere guy who made a mistake when he was young and he deserves a second chance.
The Zduriencik and Attansio stories are just some examples of insights and information fans get from SABR and the Analytics Conference. And what makes the annual event such an awesome experience for baseball fans.
Max Mannis is an 11-year-old special correspondent for sikids.com and a member of SABR. Catch his posts on advanced baseball statistics. To learn more about SABR and to join, visit www.sabr.org.
Photo courtesy Max Mannis