SABR speakers break down the art of the deal
Zduriencik, Evans and Geivett give behind-the-scenes look at front offices
PHOENIX -- Despite all the negotiations and gesticulations of the free-agent marketplace, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik told an audience on Friday morning during the third annual SABR Analytical Conference that All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano might have been won over because of a birthday cake for his agent.
"The whole Roc Nation crew came up," Zduriencik recalled. "Jay-Z came, Robinson Cano came. There were probably eight of them that rolled into Seattle. You may know this, you may not know this, but here's a little insight: It's was Jay-Z's birthday the day before. We had a birthday cake for him. We sang 'Happy Birthday.'
"I told Jay-Z, 'I was the original J.Z.' He liked that. We tried to keep it light."
Later that evening, Cano had shunned the Yankees. He signed with Seattle for $240 million over the next 10 seasons, and the Mariners had the most coveted free-agent prize of this past offseason.
"We made a great presentation," Zduriencik said. "It was amazing how the whole process came along so quickly."
Zduriencik told the story to the appreciative and laughing crowd of about 400 as part of a panel that included, Bobby Evans and Bill Geivett, who hold the duel titles of vice president and assistant GM of the Giants and Rockies, respectively. Ken Rosenthal, a reporter for FOX Sports and MLB Network, moderated the panel.
It was the first of a long day of discussions during the three-day convention at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix that ends on Saturday.
The trio of baseball operations people were asked how their clubs made trades, signed free agents and whether analytics are used during the process. What was clear is that all the research done behind the scenes, crunching numbers and compiling statistics, is essential, but might be superseded in the end by elements of the human condition.
The Giants confronted all that this past offseason when it came to re-signing Tim Lincecum, the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner, who was a big contributor to World Series victories in 2010 and '12.
"The toughest one for us this offseason could have been Tim Lincecum, just because of all he's accomplished as a Giant," Evans said. "But what is the future for Tim Lincecum? Those are the decisions that can't be considered based on emotion or you're going to make yourself miserable. This was a pitcher who had never shown the discipline in the offseason to prepare himself the way that most pitchers today prepare themselves.
"We thought we could get through to him. We also had the benefit of the fact that he was willing to do a shorter term deal."
So before Lincecum could file for free agency, the Giants decided to bring him back as a middle-of-the-rotation starter, signing the 29-year-old right-hander to a two-year, $35 million deal.
"Decisions are very complex at times," said Evans, who is a longtime assistant under longtime Giants GM Brian Sabean. "You try to take everything into account: the person, the performance, the potential, the age, the dollar value and how it stakes up against your alternatives. Ultimately, we want to put a team out there that has a good chance to win regardless of what we did the year before."
Geivett, whose club must compete in the NL West, with the much-higher spending Dodgers and Giants, said that obviously the Rockies can't compete financially with those big boys.
The Dodgers, at $216.6 million last year, had the second-highest payroll in Major League Baseball behind the Yankees. The Giants were sixth at $140.3 million. The Rockies were 25th at $71.9 million. Though spending continues to increase, that gap is not going to appreciably change this season.
"We're in a much different situation than the Giants, and this [World Series] ring here is a constant reminder of that," Geivett said, looking toward Evans' hand. "We're coming off a couple of last-place finishes, still believing in a core group of players. And how do we supplement that?"
Still, it didn't stop Colorado from coming to San Francisco's aid late in the 2012 season.
Geivett made this abundantly clear in response to a question from the audience about trading within the division.
"We have never really traded with the Giants; one, we really don't like them, personally," he said, setting off a huge round of laughter. "But we're kind of getting over that."
The Rockies evidently "got over that" on July 27, 2012, when they traded second baseman Marco Scutaro for utility man Charlie Culberson. The deal wasn't quite so altruistic because the Giants inherited at least a portion of the $6 million remaining on Scutaro's contract for that season.
But those are the elements of why sometimes a trade is made.
"We knew Marco was a good player," Geivett said. "The Giants wound up winning a World Series with him. I don't know how much of that ring I get, as far as that goes."
Scutaro batted .500 in the 2012 NL Championship Series and was named MVP of that come-from-behind victory in seven games over the Cardinals.
It remains to be seen what the Mariners will net from their $240 million birthday-cake acquisition of Cano.
"It's a process we've all gone through," Zduriencik said. "The dollars were enormous, the years were enormous. It was a fun process, but we didn't know where it would end."
They still don't!
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.