Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Part I: Managing Carlos Beltrán -- Investing in Quality Yields  

One of the hottest playoff contributors is Carlos Beltrán, the Houston Astros' center-fielder. There are a lot of interesting stories circulating about him since the Astros earned their wild card berth, from his home-runs-in-consecutive-games streak to speculation about where his free agency in the off-season might take him.

To a management consultant, though, the three stories about Beltrán that are the most worthwhile haven't been batted about much. One is an instructive lesson in mentoring, one a lesson in courage, and one is about a universal trend all managers would do well to pay attention to.


Second base in the Management by Baseball Model is managing people. You can't just be good at people management and expect to be very good, but once you've mastered first base (operational management), it's the next critical area a manager needs to master.

Allard Baird, the Kansas City Royals' general manager, has shown a good example of a little-known but very rewarding technique that's especially useful in our current rent-a-body climate where the talent doesn't stay in any one job very long.

Baird offers himself up as an active mentor to team players who are willing to take mentoring and maintains the relationship with them once they leave. In baseball, leaving is common, but it's especially pronounced for a franchise like the Royals that more often than average doesn't offer bids for prime-career talent that will match offers made by other teams. Case in point: Beltrán, who is going to be the most-attractive position player in the free agent pile this winter. Beltrán is a skilled hitter who hits for pretty good power and pretty good average, plays a skill position with very good success, has a positive arm and is an excellent base-runner and stealer.

With the Royals' season in a shambles, and with the opportunity to squeeze a little value out of the Royals' investment in Beltrán, Baird traded him in late June to the Houston Astros, a team with a shot (and determination) to make the playoffs.

But, according to The Sporting News' Ken Rosenthal, that was not the end of Baird's relationship with Beltrán.

Royals general manager Allard Baird on Astros CF Carlos Beltran, whom he parted with in a three-team trade earlier this season: "I'm really proud of him. I call him about every 2-2 1/2 weeks. He'll call back and update me on how he's doing. I think a lot of the kid on a personal level and professional level. He's got a chance to be as good as he wants to be. Now he's on a stage where everyone can see that."

Baird is not bitter about losing Beltrán to a wealthier, currently-more successful team. Their relationship, a work relationship not a friendship, continues beyond Beltrán's tenure with Baird and the Royals. Baird (deservedly) chooses to see Beltrán's success as an extension of his own success, without having to dress up in a rabbit suit and jump up & down signalling it to the world.

The reward for Beltrán, who had played his whole major league career in the American League and for the Royals, is an element of continuity, this connection with someone who knows him as a contributor. Like a young person goes off to college but can drive home for the weekend to do laundry and get some emotional support, a contributor who moves on to another department or another organization benefits from some transition time, some additional perspective on her new environment.

The reward for Baird is that, by maintaining his relationship with Beltrán, he gets an extra pair of eyes, possible scouting (so-and-so who you played against is in the trade market...would he fit in here? That manager, what does he tend to do?), and perhaps the chance to re-acquire the contributor later in his career either when Beltrán moves on to another organization or Baird does. Moreover, if Baird is looking for work for himself or another protege, Beltrán might prove to be a reference or a contact or an instigator. And if the contributor participates in some innovation elsewhere, the mentor might get advance insight into it.

Maintaining a long-term work relationship with quality individuals is worthwhile -yes- emotionally, but there are solid business reasons, too.

Be like Allard Baird. Invest a little extra in your charges while they are with you; help build their careers and don't assume that mutual reward should stop when they move on.

In the next entry, I'll elaborate on the second nifty lesson relating to Beltrán -- the courage of a manager in doing the right thing even when that manager has been lambasted for doing it previously.

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