Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Expectations Management

Today we got another WaPo article about how serious the Nationals are about signing Mark Teixeira or another top-flight free agent (no pitchers, which if I had my way is exactly where we'd be focused given our glaring need and the depth of the free agent pool, but leave that aside).

I wonder whether it's in the interests of the team to be raising expectations so high now. It's possible that the team is trying to change their "cheapskate" reputation by at least making noises about how they're
trying. Maybe this'll help by juicing season ticket renewals a bit or by sending a message to guys like Ryan Zimmerman, who has (very diplomatically) expressed worries about the team's commitment to winning and willingness to spend.

But let's consider the question OMG posed: what if we come away with nothing? Won't fans be left even more cynical about the team's intentions? Won't people feel teased? And at that point you can't go back and argue that you have a "plan."

It's quite startling how different this off-season has been from past off-seasons, when the team really seemed to work to lower expectations. Now, this wasn't a popular strategy in all quarters either. Some of my friends were ready to label the Lerners among the worst skinflint owners in the history of baseball within about ten minutes of buying the team.

But let's go back in time and remember the way this team was talking around this time two years ago. Kasten was out front making the most pro-active pitch he could for passing on big-money free agents who might be good for a few years but will likely stink by the time the rest of the team is ready to contend. Here's Stan in November 2006:
"I don't want to rule anything out, but [signing big-name free agents] is not my current game plan," Kasten said. "I have said that when you sign free agents I actually think you take yourself farther away from your goal, if you are not ready to take advantage of the money you spend."
I'm not really interested in this post in debating the merits of this or that approach to team-building, but that's about the strongest argument that can be made for what the Nationals have been doing, that committing long-term to a Zito or a Jones or a Sexson *might* bring some fun for a year or three but will in the end move you further from having a contender because you're saddled with a crappy player later. Whether you buy it or not, that's the case for passing on big money free agents.

If you want, click the link and read the rest of that article, and it's amazing how different things are now. I guess you could say that 9,000 people watching on TV was a verdict on Stan's marketing approach and now they're going for more flash. You can't say the team is any better, that's for sure.

But what if we don't get Tex or Dunn? How will that be better for PR, fan enthusiasm?

By the way, if there was ever a clear indication that Kasten is on the outs, this might be it. Aside from one brief--and predictable--statement a few weeks ago about how everyone needs to cool their jets, Stan's been almost totally silent. And the messages coming out of the team seem obviously not his.

I mean, when the bloggers are the ones left to caution fans not to get their hopes too high, we've really moved through the looking glass.


Dave Nichols said...

i think you touch briefly on one of my biggest complaints but brush it aside too quickly.

after last season, this organization needed to address the product it put on the field. the MAJOR LEAGUE field. as a season ticket holder (one of the rapidly dwindling few) that is what i pay to see.

you know i'm a sophisticated enough baseball fan to know that building the farm system is important and fundamentally the right way to go. and while there are differing opinions on how successful Mr. Kasten, Bowden and Rizzo have been at that so far, the thing they have not had ANY success in is attracting folks to come see the major league product.

they can talk all they like about being happy with last year's attendance, but that's BS and everyone knows it. marketing aside, you can't expect people to pay for filet mignon and serve them McDonald's (or Ben's Chiil Bowl, if you like).

that's the thing that some folks are missing in their assessment of "The Plan (tm)". pundits forget that real people pay real money (a lot) to be entertained.

is a ten-year, $200M contract for Teixiera going to bring a WS title? maybe. maybe not. will Mark Teixiera make this team more interesting and add to the idea that the Nats are a viable player in the market? certainly. are the two ideas mutually exclusive? they don't have to be.

do we have the right people in place to make both strategies pay off?

Steven said...

I hear you. That's not really what this post was about. Mostly I'm just saying that for someone like you, if they had managed expectations better, then you wouldn't be EXPECTING a big signing. Hoping, sure, but not expecting it. NOw, if they come away empty, people like you will be more disappointed than if they had just said, "the Plan!" all winter.

Steve Shoup said...

I think the Nats backs are up against the wall and they will do what it takes to bring in some respectable ML ball player. If its not Tex (which I doubt it will be) it will be an over pay for a Dunn or Burrell.

I think when this team didn't sign Crow, wasn't active in FA market and resigned Guzman they lost the ability to say "The Plan". Now it wasn't just for those reasons, the Plan took a blow also b/c even with Crow our minor league system took a hit ( won't be even close to 9th overall in BA rankings this year and I doubt Crow would have made much of a difference) Marerro's injury, Maxwell back on the DL, Detwiler, Smoker struggling, McGeary a long way off. If not for J-Zim, Burgess, and Smiley year 2 we would have nothing to look forward too. Remember Lannan is still the only pitcher we have really developed, and while Milledge, Dukes and Flores have taken starting roles none seem that close to All-star status just yet.

Dave Nichols said...

it won't be me, specifically, being disappointed if they come away empty-handed without any big ticket players. i understand how the business works. i was around when Syd Thrift said he was working with "confederate money" while with the O's.

sometimes you make the biggest offer and they go somewhere else. sometimes you do it for the press. sometimes you don't do it but say you did. i know how the game is played. but you're correct that there are many, many members of the team's fan base that aren't as, um, nuanced shall we say? those are the folks that will be diappointed, and i imagime those are the folks that aren't re-upping their seasons tickets anyway.