Inside the GMs office: Anatomy of a deal (cont.)
At this point, within your organization, you're meeting face-to-face with most of your people. Your scouts, your scouting director. You're in your office or in a board room and then, once your game starts, you go watch the games together. You're on the phone a lot now, never with everybody but probably with 10 or even 15 teams that you might have a match with.
There's not a lot of shooting the breeze. Most general managers have relationships with each other, so you don't have to spend time schmoozing anybody. I heard where [former Mets GM] Steve Phillips said they're short conversations -- names of players, then yes or no -- and you get that a lot. You usually get on there and get off of there. Steve was one guy who was always very aggressive. He knew what he wanted, he knew what he was willing to give up -- he was very good. Depending on your history with a guy, you know how he operates. Now there are a lot of new GMs, so it takes a little while to get to know their style.
You always like to get the guy who makes the decisions. Some teams, the GM has to take everything back to his owner. It's like working with a car salesman, where he has to go to his "sales manager" with your counter-offer. That can get very frustrating. It always takes more time, that's for sure.
You can have a deal, have a deal, have a deal -- and then you find out you don't have a deal. Suddenly a club will go in a different direction because they find something they think is better. That's when it gets discouraging. But you can't get mad. They have a job to do just like you do. All you can do is try to have other options, which is why you might be talking to five teams right up to the deadline instead of just two or three. You never want to be dealing with just one team, because of that.
While all this is going on, you're thinking about your players. They hear the talk shows, they read the papers and the Web sites. Some guys don't care when their names are out there. Some guys don't want to know. But there are some guys who let it have an effect on them. Which is too bad, because -- and I tell them this, if they're interested -- historically at the trade deadline there aren't too many players who end up moving. We've got 30 teams now and there aren't that many deals in any one year.
The technology has changed the way we work right up to the deadline. You really don't want to be on the road the week leading up to it, but if we were, we'd all leave phone numbers with the commissioner's office for anyone that needed to get hold of us. Now we don't have to do that. With text messaging, with e-mails, you can get in touch with people a lot more quickly.
The more you do it, the more you get comfortable with the whole process. But I don't know if you necessarily get better at it, because so many parts of it are out of your control. I was never a wheeler-dealer type. The Shannon Stewart trade [with Toronto in July 2003 for Bobby Kielty] really jump-started us one year. But last year, I was criticized tremendously for trading away Luis Castilla [to the Mets for farmhands Dustin Martin and Drew Butera]. I was trying to make our club better, and a lot of people didn't think I did.
No one works harder to improve a ball club than the general managers. Most of the time, they know who's available and who isn't, what's possible and what isn't. But there are times when something breaks late and an opposing GM can only say, "That's a heckuva deal." Then, sometimes, a year later, it doesn't look so good. Or you're criticized for a deal that, a year later, makes you look pretty smart.
Once a trade is done, the logistics of getting the player to your team, you have to make sure everything is in order. But all those steps -- anything medical, the transportation -- it's not as dramatic as it used to be, back when the rules said you had to have the player in your city by the deadline. There used to be a safety factor, back 10 or 15 years ago, where you had to get the guy on a plane or on the road and rush him to your city. It was a little odd, I always thought. Now you don't have to do that anymore, as long as the deal is finalized and the player is on board and the paperwork has been filed.
POST-DEADLINE: THE AFTERMATH
People sometimes think this is like April 15 for a tax accountant, where you can exhale and relax a little after the trade deadline has passed. In fact, the month of August, there's still plenty of work. You can still make trades -- and you might have very impactful trades -- only now you have to deal with the waiver process. It's very difficult to get a player through waivers and it's getting tougher. A lot of GMs just don't like to let players clear waivers. That used to be less of a problem, because some teams didn't want to take on a player's contract. But the game is healthy enough now, with attendance up and revenue-sharing, that teams are better able to handle the bigger payrolls. Look at the Twins, who are considered a smaller market. We always have to look at payroll. But we're "healthy" now. We're not losing money. I can't speak for the other teams, but that seems to be the case in a lot of markets now. Teams are healthy [financially] and many of them are more willing to spend. (Don't get the wrong idea; our payroll is $20 million less than it was last year, with [Torii] Hunter and [Johan] Santana gone.
Sometimes you're going to have a September trade but, really, you might see a young guy who comes up [from the minors] and makes a terrific impression. But the stuff within your own system, that's ongoing. You're focused on that from the first day of spring training to the end of the season. By September, most of the time, you are who you are.
This is the first time in a long time that I'm not "the guy" at the trade deadline. I'm involved enough where I'm certainly a part of this, but not to where I'm on 24-hour call. It's nice at last, because I'll be honest with you, I had zero life. I still watch an awful lot of baseball. But when you've been doing the same thing for 13 years -- you have the same things, the same days -- this is a nice change.
Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has served as president or vice president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association since 2005. His new book, The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Minnesota Twins, can be ordered here.
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