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.