Monday, December 01, 2003

The Mets: Keep Your Eye Off The Prize  

Sometimes, to advance, you have to know when to take your eyes off the prize.

The New York Mets, struggling mightily last year, missing the wild card by 25 games and having lost 9 games more than in 2002, are looking to make a dent in their dimunuity by making some off season acquisitions that will both enhance their place in the standings and look like they give cause for hope and excitement. The Mets have to make a big splash in fan awareness, not just in reality, and that's a challenge that can distort the outcome.

The tough New York press is throwing ideas at them faster than a pitching machine on no-delay. And, of course, usually these columns are random, full of clever and unsystemic plans that involve recognized names and little thought about what it might actually mean on the field. Thanks to Baseball Primer, I was able to read this one by Joel Sherman from a New York daily, which is thoughtful, probably a little unrealistic, and exposes one of the great lures that snares management in decision-making chaos.

Sherman, like many, wants the Mets to buy the services of Japan's star shortstop Kaz Matsui (and a laundry list of others). As a free agent, but not from the major leagues, the team that acquires his services doesn't have to trade any players to get him nor, as would be the case with an already-playing-in-MLB free agent, they don't have to give up a choice draft pick either. Matsui is a switch-hitter, was at one time a base-stealer and has some foot speed. A very good shortstop, apparently, who can hit (not a populous roster of guys who fit that description). Some scout believe he can be a leadoff hitter (though his historical on-base percentage makes that look unliklely unless his makes some adjustments (possible).

That makes him roster candy for most teams. But not the Mets. This is one prize they have to take their eyes off of.

Because the Mets have José Reyes at shortstop, one of the most promising players in the league (bat + glove). Meaning to take advantage of Matsui, they have to take less advantage of Reyes by shifting him to another position or trading him. Or take less advantage of Matsui by moving him to another position. Not an optimal acquisition from a field-performance optimization perspective.

I see this happen all the time outside of baseball. The prize looks so succulent, so attractive, that the manager can't take his eyes off it. I had a client that had been shopping for a computer system to manage her "traffic" for a long time. The analysis we did said the systems available would not make her operation significantly better than her current kludged manual system with a few automated aids was doing. I came back from a vacation and discovered one of the better vendors had put a deep discount on their candidate (limited time only), and she bought it. The price was right, but the decision wasn't. The logistics of implementation have been hard for her company and if the economy was any better, trying to keep up would have killed the org. As it is, she has a good system that won't help her overcome her key limiting factors.

Marketing departments fall into this, as well. Publications will discount advertising and a marketing department that's already analysed its needs and spent its budget will buy advertising it doesn't need, just because an opportunity came up for good placement, like a spot on the inside front cover. And of course, if you buy what you already have enough of, it's very hard for it to turn out to be a good deal.

If you're the Mets (or any organization), it pays sometimes to take your eye off the prize.

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