C’mon Braves, At Least Be Honest

Before I get started, I am on the record defending the Braves’ decision to not match Boston’s offer for John Smoltz. I think it was the right move; and, even though many disagree, I think it should be understandable from a business perspective. So, why is the front office botching the PR of this difficult decision in a way that makes the organization look even worse?

Here is the response of CEO Terry McGuirk.

“John is a great guy,” McGuirk said. “He follows his own head, and I just don’t know what’s going on with him right now. We’ve offered less of a guarantee, but we’ve offered a substantial guarantee. Coming off an injury like this, we feel like it’s the right thing that we should be doing [in regards to the incentive-laden offer].

“We’ve offered him a package that would get him in the $10 million range, if he were to pitch a full season and pitch well. For him to walk away from that and to go to another place, I’m just shocked and surprised.

“I read today in something that his agent said the other set of incentives [from the Red Sox] were ‘more attainable.’ If John Smoltz pitches like John Smoltz pitches, I think [the Braves’ incentives package] is attainable. If he’s not healthy, it’s not going to happen.”

Supposedly, the Braves had a contract on the table for $2 million guaranteed, with a $1 million bonus for being on the active roster and an additional million for every month that he spends on the active roster. On it’s face, McGuirk’s statement is literally true. If Smoltz is on the roster opening day through the entire season, he would receive a total of $9 million ($2 million base, $1 million roster bonus, and $6 million for every month he is on the roster). I think it is fair to say that this is in “the $10 million range, if he were to pitch a full season.” However, this ignores the reality that Smoltz is not capable of pitching the entire season.

Rehab will most likely keep Smoltz off the active roster until late-May/early-June according to all the reports that I have seen. Thus, Smoltz’s contract would have maxed out at the $7 million which has been reported in the press. The Red Sox are guaranteeing around $5 million before another $5 million in incentives even kick in, and the incentives appear to activate with lower thresholds that are congruent with Smoltz’s recovery schedule. The difference between the Sox’s and Braves’ offers is $3 million, not $1 million, as McGuirk seems to insinuate—or maybe he thinks $7 million in the $10 million range.

We also have the following quote from GM Frank Wren.

“We were willing to pay John as much or more than the Red Sox to pitch,” Wren said early Thursday evening. “We just weren’t willing to pay him as much as the Red Sox were to not pitch.”

Again, this is misleading. I think it refers to the fact that the guaranteed bases represent the biggest difference between the two contracts. But, unless the Braves were offering greater marginal incentives than the Red Sox, the statement that the Braves are paying him “as much or more than the Red Sox” to pitch is incorrect. Let’s assume that the Red Sox and the Braves have the same incentive plan on the table ($1 million roster bonus plus $1 million per month); thus, here is what Smoltz will get in millions of dollars according to his time on the roster.

Months	Braves	Red Sox
0	$2	$5
1	$4	$7
2	$5	$8
3	$6	$9
4	$7	$10

Wren is apparently referring to the first derivative of the incentive schedule. For both teams, the change in the salaries with roster time is identical; however, Smoltz clearly gets more income from the Red Sox when he doesn’t pitch and when he pitches. Being healthy for the Braves wouldn’t get Smoltz up to the salary that he would earn with the Sox. Technically, what Wren said could be true—we don’t know the exact details of the Sox’s incentives—but from Smoltz’s perspective his he still gets more from the Red Sox even if he is healthy. Now, if the Braves had offered $2 million base with $2 million per month pitched, then being healthy for the Braves could get him a salary equivalent to what the Red Sox offered.

Why are the Braves doing this? I’m no PR expert, but I think it’s time for the Braves to scale back the whiny commentary. When the offseason started, I didn’t expect the Braves to have a healthy Smoltz on the roster in 2009 nor to acquire Rafael Furcal. Yet, fans are now up in arms complaining about the failure of the team to get these guys on the roster.

In Furcal’s case the team cried foul over alleged agent misbehavior. It doesn’t matter who is at fault. In both cases the team should have just said, “We tried to acquire a player that we thought would help the team; however, financially we were not willing to meet the salary demands without sacrificing the long-run competitiveness of the team. We wish him well, and we will continue to pursue other avenues to pursue the team.” This doesn’t eliminate fan disappointment, but I think the negative effects of the rejection wouldn’t linger in fans’ minds as long as they have because the team engaged in a meaningless blame game.

21 Responses “C’mon Braves, At Least Be Honest”

  1. Heath says:

    JC,
    I am really enjoying your statistical perspectives. I am not a stat-guy so this is great for my one-track mind. Bout to drop a bomb though: I don’t think the problem was the Braves guaranteed offer. John Smoltz wanted to go to the Red Sox! He’s been taking less money to stay in Atlanta for years. He wouldn’t stop now unless he knew he was on his way out, that this was probably his last contract, and that he will more than likely be on a team that is going to seriously threaten for a World Series title. It hurts me to admit this, and I don’t think I could do it one hour ago (definitely couldn’t yesterday). But after my morning coffee I have a better perspective. So goodbye Smoltz, thanks for the memories and good luck with the series, you old dog you. And bring on Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward. Atlanta Braves serious contenders 2010? Time will tell!

  2. sabernar says:

    I think you’re being too harsh on the Braves’ management.  Of course they’re going to put a little spin on the situation.  The main problem is that Smoltz is the one who is fabricating reasons for leaving.  Let’s face it, he jumped at a couple extra million and a chance for another World Series ring – no more, no less.  The Braves paid him, what?, $130,000,000 over his career with the Braves and now he’s all ‘insulted’ that they ‘lowballed’ him for a couple million?  Please.

  3. ADC says:

    What I read (I think in the ESPN article) was that the performance based incentives in the Braves offer included 5 million if he made 30 starts or threw 200 innings. That brings the max value of the deal to 12 million, which would top the Red Sox offer. I think they could have laid out the incentives more favorably for Smoltz, but I also bet that they did not estimate correctly how willing he was to leave Atlanta. Perhaps you are correct that the team could have managed the PR better, but I feel like they made a smart offer and their statements were probably honest.

  4. JC says:

    There does appear to be some disagreement here.

    Sources from both sides have verified the guaranteed portion of the offer provided by the Braves was anywhere from $2-2.5 million.

    While Braves sources have said their incentive package could have allowed maximized earnings greater than Boston’s offer, Smoltz is of a different opinion. He has told his former teammates that he likely wouldn’t have made more than $7 million if he’d chosen to stay in Atlanta.

     

    However, if the Braves would be more specific in their public explanation (which they shouldn’t have given in the first place) we could remove some confusion. Just say you thought you made a competitive and fair offer and shut up about the rest. This public disagreement over vague terms just makes things worse.

  5. Heath says:

    He’s not upset, he knows what he’s doing. Letting the blame lie with Atlanta’s front office, when really he just wanted a chance for a ring. He doesn’t NEED the money. He’s been taking less of it for years to stay in Atlanta, as has Chipper (see Chipper’s comments yesterday). So why change now? I think that fact that he is leaving is very telling, concerning Smoltz’s ideas on how much longer he will be able to pitch. Would I personally have spent the extra 3million on him? YES, but that is because I am a sentimental fan. Frank Wren is running a business, and frankly, I think he’s done a great job not overpaying people like Burnett who only show up to play in contract years (look up the stats). I much prefer really solid guys like Javier-the-innings-eater and D. Lowe. While it would have been nice to sign vintage Smoltz, I think we should trust our organization on this one; vintage Smoltz may not exist anymore. I couldn’t admit any of this yesterday (not even an hour ago), but I have more clarity now after my second cup of coffee. Hence, so long Smoltzie, thanks for the memories, I hope you win a ring if we don’t. And don’t be so down, Braves faithful. We have some hot hitters and golden arms down on the farm; Wren knows this all too well. Why bungle up your roster by overpaying for 40-year olds when the next big thing will be in AAA ball this year? 2010 is the year. Use 2009 to plan and develop young talent. Charlie Morton, J. Reyes, J. Heyward, Tommy Hanson, Boyer, get ready boys. Time to take the training wheels off! Oh, and sign Orlando Hudson for second, move Kelly to left. Platoon center-field until Heyward is ready. Amen.

  6. Heath says:

    Haha, I didn’t think my first comment posted, so it got re-worded in the second one. Seriously Braves nation, we are going to be okay in the long-run. We have to think big picture. Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward will both probably be in high A ball this year, and major-league ready no later than 2010. If you don’t know about these guys, when you do, they will give you hope. Wren didn’t want to trade the whole farm for Peavy, and I agree. We have a lot of the key pieces in place–great catcher, solid infield, great bullpen. A couple of moves and we are in this thing. But paying 80 million for Burnett doesn’t make him an ace. Wren can’t spend money and make moves just to look like he is being productive…it’s bad for us long-term. Also, there’s no reason we can’t make an early season move (i.e. the Teixera trade) for another quality starter or a power-hitting outfielder. Or, sign Orlando Hudson for a couple of years, putting Kelly in left field. Holding onto the money and being smart with it will give us options. So as much as it pains me to say it, I think Wren has done the right thing by letting Smoltzie walk and not overpursuing guys like Burnett.

  7. OKGA says:

    The offers really don’t seem to differ that much. I still can’t determine what happened with talks/negotiations between Smoltz & the Braves. He was going to get a bunch of $ either way. Perhaps that does make the most sense that he might have wanted to be on a competative team for his final year of his career. Kind of seems like a backstab for Braves fans though….

  8. Wes says:

    I hate to say it: but how about SMOLTZ IS HONEST WITH US!  I love ‘em.  But he left for Boston because he has a better chance at another ring there.  The guy has made $130 million as a Brave…..if anyone thinks 1, 2 or 3 million is going to make a difference on any decision he makes then you’re nuts.  He left because, frankly, he thinks the Braves are going to suck.  That’s it.  He wants to go out a winner (who can blame him.)  But please, John, have the decency to be honest to the Brave fans who have paid your salary for 20 years.

  9. Dylan says:

    Good afternoon Mr. Bradbury. I could be wrong but I was under the impression that Smotlz’s deal could have risen to 12 million if he met more stat driven requirements. I read O’Brien, Bowman, Shanks and whoever has a decent opinion on my beloved Braves. So I could just be incorrect but that’s what I thought I read. If I have time and locate the article I will email it to you. If not just realize I was wrong ;) I do agree that signing Smoltz for what the Red Sox did would have been foolish. He didn’t think he would ever start again at the end of last year. He has one solid bullpen session and all of a sudden he is an ace again. Now he is talking about money=respect and such. If he were to say I love the Braves but I feel the Red Sox have a better chance to win this year. I could handle that. But all the bigger and better contracts he left on the table back when he came up for free agency before weren’t worth it because he was a Brave. He could have just played his final year as a Brave but as of now it’s because they offered him 3 million more according to your article it’s shows a level of respect. I just don’t get it. All the money he has left on the table in years past and he leaves us for 3 million. I guess I’m just shocked that both sides couldn’t have reached an agreement. My dog’s name is Smoltz.. LOL He has always been my favorite Brave because he had his flaws but always rose to the stage that he was pitching on. More human than Glavine and more heart than Maddux. Now he is a Red Sox so he could get 3  million more dollars. I’m shocked.

  10. Ron E. says:

    Braves’ management has been acting like clowns this entire offseason with all their excuses for why they never get the players they are pursuing, but let’s face it. If the Braves had offered Smoltz the exact same deal as the Sox, he’d still be going to Boston. He wants to win a ring this year which may well be his last and the Braves are at best (if they sign Lowe and Dunn) marginal wild card contenders who will be swept in the first round if they somehow back into a playoff spot.

  11. Marc Schneider says:

    I think the money did make a difference to Smoltz because these guys equate money with respect. I do think he realizes he has a better shot at a ring in Boston but I wouldn’t underestimate the effect of the money even if he doesn’t need it.  As many have noted, when a ballplayer says it isn’t about the money, it’s about the money.  In this case, at least, Smoltz isn’t making any bones about it.

  12. Ben says:

    Who cares? Let him go. Let Glavine go. We already dumped Hampton. This is the best thing that could have happened. Finally we can see what our farm system has been doing with all those top drafted pitching prospects. I cant wait for the season to begin. Everyone who’s talking so much crap about Wren will be eating crow. We already lead for the services of Kawakami and we got Vasquez. If we get Lowe our rotation would start the season Lowe/Jurrjens/Vasquez/Kawakami/Hanson or Campillo. And Hudson will be back in the summer. WHY IS EVERYONE FREAKING OUT?? Instead of whining about Smoltz leaving for greener pastures why dont people shift their focus to complaining about us getting some outfielders? Braves fans have really got me pissed this year with all the crying. The key stat…..34 HRs….that’s all the HRs every outfielder who put on a Braves uni last year hit. But yeah, lets complain about losing a 41 year old coming off surgery. Gimme a break.

  13. Jammie says:

    Smoltz left because he is broke and needed the extra 3 million.  Remember he is recently divorced and his wife took a bulk of his fortune with her.  He only has 1-2 years left to make money for himself, so this year was his only chance.

    I say let him go, and lets see what the baby braves have this year.  Save the payroll to land some big guys in the next 2 offseasons.

  14. Wes says:

    Well, Ben I agree with absolutely everything……..except Huddy won’t be back next year.  He got hurt way too late to be back this season.  It would be nice for Wren to do something right and actually work an extention with him throughout this season to keep him here for a bit longer after his rehab is done.

  15. Tom says:

    The problem with this analysis is that it doesn’t factor in any other incentives that Smoltz might have earned.  We only know the incentives he would have gotten for being on the roster.  Mark Bowman said there were bonuses for Cy Young votes (and if CC Sabathia can get Cy votes for two months in the NL, what’s to say Smoltzie couldn’t get a few), and All-Star selections (admittedly unlikely).  Couldn’t there have been other monies for things like starts, games finished, etc.  We don’t know all the details, so your analysis is based on an awful lot of speculation.

  16. jfalk says:

    No comment on Smoltz, but I love the sentence: “Wren is apparently referring to the first derivative of the incentive schedule.”  You may think he’s a rocket scientist, but at least you think he knows calculus!

    Now my question: is the payment function upper-semicontinuous?

  17. Neil says:

    I think there’s plenty of blame on both sides here.  But I hardly think that ponying up an extra 3 mill for Smoltz would have mortgaged the competitiveness of the team.  I have to agree with Chipper on this one.  The Braves have spent a lot of money on guys that didn’t pan out.  (Remember Dan Kolb?)  Surely the icon of your organization is worth a gamble.  There’s nothing in his past to suggest he won’t succeed on some level.  The way this has panned out, now I’m afraid Wren has lost his clubhouse,  including Cox.  That can’t be good for an organization.
    On the other hand,  I’m also in agreement with those who are ready to blow it all up and bring up the kids.  That’s how we started the amazing run in the first place.   Let Bobby be GM again,  give TP the reigns and let’s see what happens.

  18. Hawes says:

    Smoltz is the most competitive guy in baseball.  It shows in his ability to pitch through pain if it means a win for the team.  He’s put his body through many surgeries and enormous pain over the years.  Everyone saying that Smoltz still would have left for Boston if Wren had matched the Boston offer are speaking out their kiesters.  As Schneider said, Smoltz say the Braves offer as disrespectful.  The incentives – to have meant anything comparable to the Boston offer – would have required him to leave Spring Training ready to pitch.  That’s insulting. 
    The Braves need to shut up and sign someone, rather than say, “We want to bring in Burnett/Furcal/Peavy” or “We want Smoltz to pitch here if he’s healthy.”  And just DO something.
    And for all those who say good riddance, what else are the Braves doing to improve this club for 2009?  Signing Smoltz wouldn’t block Hanson or Heyward.  Signing Smoltz wouldn’t forfeit prospects.  It would just allow one of the game greatest competitors to retire a Brave.
    Read Chipper Jones’s reaction to this to see how Wren is destroying the fabric of the team and alienating the fans.

  19. Andrew says:

    I’ve been a Braves fan for too long. The issue is that the Braves front office has lost credibility, first starting with trading for J.D. Drew for one year and giving up too much, not trading Andrew Jones for Roy Oswalt when we had the chance, trading for Tex for one year and giving up too much,  trading for Kotsay for one year and giving up too much, tipping our hand with Glavine when the Mets probably wouldn’t have offered arbitration, and thus losing out on a number one draft pick. Etc. Smoltz did the right thing because of a front office that is in disarray (and disrespectful). Smoltz should have been signed back in November. Instead, they couldn’t make a commitment and when they were forced to, they offered a smaller carot ring. You snooze, you lose…rs.

  20. Heath says:

    I don’t think I ever mentioned that signing Smoltz would block Hanson or Heyward. And Smoltz was asked to reconsider before his deal with Boston was final, and he turned it down. He simply didn’t want to pitch in Atlanta.

    Hawes wrote: “The Braves need to shut up and sign someone, rather than say, “We want to bring in Burnett/Furcal/Peavy” or “We want Smoltz to pitch here if he’s healthy.”  And just DO something.” 
    Hahaha. So you would rather Wren just blow some money on a schmoe instead of being smart with it? Just to look like he is doing something? Maybe we should sign Barry Bonds, that would be something.

    It might make you happy but it will cost him his job pretty fast. We are in a good spot to land Lowe and Kawakami, and that gives us a decent rotation…projected Lowe, Vazquez, Kawakami, Jurrjens, Morton/Glavine/Reyes. No clear cut number one but still a decent rotation…maybe even better than we all think with our bullpen. Time will tell. But making stupid moves for the sake of doing something is…stupid.

  21. true999 says:

    Well, folks on this thread look a bit silly today with the signing of Lowe.

    Smoltz left over $2-3 million, he’s made over $130 million not counting endorsements. He wanted to leave and he wanted the front office to take the hit for his fit of ego and desire to be in the spotlight.

    I love Smoltz, but this idea that he can do no wrong is misguided sentiment.