Timing is Everything

by Ross Friedman

<!-- Article Starts Here --!> How a team will fare in the 2001 season is largely determined by what they do now, in this off-season. This is why you always hear about teams and their plans for the off-season as they are so crucial to the team's performance. However, having a good plan isn't necessarily enough, knowing how to execute it, and timing it correctly is imperative.

Already this off-season, three of baseball's better organizations have hurt their chances for success in the 2001 season by incorrectly timing their moves.

First let's discuss the timing of the off-season. It's made very clear by baseball's rules. After the World Series, players are able to file for free agency. For a specific amount of time, the player's former team has exclusive negotiating rights. After a specific date, all of the other 29 teams are able to negotiate with the player as well. At this point, most of the players are still out there, but teams make contingency plans in case their primary plan falls through. Finally, the team is either done, or begins to execute their contingency plan.

Now let's look at the Mets, Mariners, and Indians, and see how each of these teams hurt themselves by not timing their off-season correctly.

First we'll look at the defending National League champions, the New York Mets. During the time in which they had exclusive negotiating rights with their own players, the Mets were not negotiating with their own players. They were forming a strategy to go after Alex Rodriguez. They completely ignored their own free agents and now almost certainly will lose Mike Hampton, most likely lose John Franco, and could lose Rick Reed and Turk Wendell as well.

Since he was completely ignored by the Mets in that time, it seems now that Hampton isn't even considering the Mets as a possible location to pitch in 2001. They also made a good relationship with the other players a rocky relationship, and have helped push them away. The Mets did not have to sign any of these players during the period of exclusive negotiating, but they did need to lay a foundation and make the players feel wanted. Instead they focused all of their attention on a player that they couldn't even negotiate with yet.

What happened when they finally sat down to negotiate with Scott Boras about Alex Rodriguez? The Mets dropped out of the A-Rod hunt. So now it seems they will not sign Alex Rodriguez, and have lost out on their own players, and a top-notch pitching staff as well. The Mets went into the off-season with the goal of increasing their chances to win next year's World Series, and instead they, so far, have decreased their chances of even making it back.

Now let's look at the American League West champions, and ALCS participant Seattle Mariners. The Mariners are trying to find a way to put themselves over the top. They made the ALCS last year and now want to make it to the franchises first ever World Series. They made it very clear they will try to do what's necessary to bring Alex Rodriguez, one of the best players in the game, back to Seattle. Now the Mariners, and everybody else, knew there was no possible way of doing this during the time of exclusive negotiating. Scott Boras would never let that happen. However, once every team was allowed to get involved, the Mariners needed to make sure they had a huge presence. Let A-Rod know that they want him back. Instead, the Mariners sent their entire front office to Japan to bring back Ichiro Suzuki. They were able to do exactly that, but at what price?

Forgetting the fact that they will be forking over an average of $10 million per season to get Suzuki (an unproven player), which could inhibit their ability to pay A-Rod, what was the rush? Suzuki couldn't go anywhere. The Mariners won the exclusive bidding rights to him. They should have gone after A-Rod first, and then, when that was complete bring in Suzuki. Instead, they were ignoring Rodriguez while he figures out if he likes doing the Tomahawk Chop. Now they try getting back into the A-Rod hunt, but only after giving him the opportunity to envision himself in another team's uniform. They have an advantage in that Seattle is all Rodriguez knows. Well, they let him know a bit more while they were in Japan. And A-Rod may like what he found out.

Finally, let's look at the Indians, who after winning 5 straight AL Central titles, they missed the 2000 playoffs by one game. Their primary off-season goal was to re-sign Manny Ramirez, arguably the best hitter in all of baseball. Knowing that this could be a tough task, they properly made contingency plans in case they were not able to do that. However, the Indians know it will be a much easier task to make the 2001 playoffs with Ramirez than without him.

So the Indians offered Ramirez a 7-year $119 million deal to stay in Cleveland. Ramirez turned it down. The Indians decided they couldn't spend more than that, so they went to their contingency plan, and brought in Ellis Burks, a 36-year old, yet productive, outfielder with very cranky knees. They signed Burks to a three-year deal worth $7 million per season.

There is only one problem though, this was their CONTIGENCY PLAN! Yes, as in their backup plan, or as we often refer to as Plan B. The primary plan, Plan A, hadn't failed yet. Not only had Ramirez not signed with another team, it has become questionable if any other team will match the offer the Indians made for the slugger. You don't go to plan B when there is a good chance Plan A will work. The Indians jumped the gun, and now look like they will let Manny Ramirez sign somewhere else, instead of hitting in the middle of their own lineup.

Now it's still early in the off-season. All three teams still have a chance to salvage the off-season and make it a good one. The Indians could get Mike Mussina or still resign Ramirez. And either the Mets or Mariners could wind up singing Ramirez or A-Rod. However, if these teams timed their off-season moves better, they wouldn't have to be trying to salvage this off-season, and instead could be planning for the 2001 post-season. <!-- Article Ends Here --!>

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