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Business Relationships Are Everything - Especially in Baseball

General Managers may know talent when they see it, but they can’t get it without help.


Photo: Rich Schultz / Getty Images


The MLB trade deadline is about talent, but not just on the field. The hurlers and sluggers packing up for the postseason are doing so at the behest of a cadre of gray-haired general managers whose jobs are on the line. GMs are the real stars on deadline day - this years trade deadline boondoggle proved it – but baseball remains a team sport. Business relationships matter. You know who knows people? Ben Cherington of the Boston Red Sox. You know who doesn’t? Anyone on the damn Phillies.

Early in the morning it looked like the Athletics and Red Sox had made the trade of the day with Cuban masher Yoenis Cespedes going to Boston for lefty ace Jon Lester. The men pulling the strings on this deal, Oakland's Billy Beane and Boston's Ben Cherington, are cut from the same cloth. They're both numbers guys. Beane, of course, is the man credited with baseball's Moneyball revolution and Cherington is a born insurgent. But it goes deeper than that. Cherington's first MLB job with the Indians, where he was hired by Paul DePodesta, that dude Jonah Hill played in Moneyball. It’s these kind of relationships that allow GMs to agree to trades when it’s 4am in Boston and 1 am in Oakland.

On the other hand, we have Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro Jr., who spent Thursday doing nothing – but not for want of trying. With a huge payroll, aging stars and no chance of making the playoffs, the Phillies were in a perfect position to start their rebuild. Flipping Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, Marlon Byrd, Ryan Howard, or Jimmy Rollins for talented prospects would have given Phillies fans an excuse to reschedule the inevitable riot. As it stands, they’re probably buying batteries in bulk.

Amaro excused his ineffectiveness by claiming that other teams weren’t willing to give up enough, but that wasn’t the whole issue. Only two of the GMs Amaro has cut deadline deals with over the last five years are still with their teams. It doesn’t help that the guy has a reputation for trying to “sell swampland as prime real estate,” presenting poisonous contracts as opportunities, and behaving as though statistics are antithetical to sports.

Baseball may be a competitive industry, but you need to play nice if you want to recruit serious talent. Deals are struck based on mutual need and mutual respect. Amaro has all kinds of needs and nobody’s respect.

Finally, let’s talk about the biggest big deal yesterday: David Price to the Tigers, Austin Jackson to the Mariners and Drew Smyly and Nick Franklin to the Rays. If ever there was a trade proving the value of GM relationships it’s this one. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski wanted to land Price, one of the best pitchers in baseball, but he didn’t have the players to get it done. So he enlisted Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, a man he knows well from intense trade negotiations past. Zduriencik gave Franklin to the Rays and got Jackson from the Tigers. Dombrowski got his man, with help from Zduriencik, who improved his team.

Do the Tigers land Price without that relationship? Probably not. Are the Phillies going to win next year? Nope.

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