When Is It Ok To Lose?

In the film Major League, the team’s owner wanted to move the Cleveland Indians to Miami.  In order to do so, the team had to get out of its lease with Cleveland.  And the only way that could happen would be for the team to stink; to lose every game possible.  A team of losers is put together.  Of course, they end up winning and going to the playoffs.

In the film, the owner wanted to move to Miami not as much as she felt they had a better chance to win there, but because she was a former nightclub dancer and thought Miami was a nicer place to live than Cleveland (she inherited the team after her husband died).  She is the story’s villain, but, as owner of her team, she had the right to desire to move it.  Losing every game possible was her wish and, even though it was opposite of what the Cleveland players and fans wanted, her right as owner of the team.  Whether her reasons were exactly dignified don’t matter.  An owner of a team has a right to do what he/she wants.

In real life, team movement is a rarity in MLB, even though we just saw the Montreal Expos move to Washington DC not too long ago.  But if you follow the money, as any team owner wants to do, you’ll see wins and losses correlate.

Which brings us to a quandary for a team like the New York Mets.  Should they win or should they lose?  They are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.  The purpose of the team winning more games this year would be to keep fans coming to a brand new stadium, Citifield, giving them hope for next year, thus leading to, at the least, flat ticket sales with 2009.  Plus, if you’re into psychology, a 10-game September winning streak could help this year’s players who will be on the team in 2010 believe more in their personal and team abilities to win it all next season.

There’s a reason why losing could help the team.  A big reason.  If the Mets continue to lose games at the rate they’ve been losing in the second half, they’ll have a strong chance at “earning” a Top 5 amateur draft pick next June.  Put aside the (strong) possibility that they’d make a bad choice with that pick.  The fact is, a Top 5 pick in Round 1 (and subsequent rounds) could help infuse an ailing farm system with (again, if they pick well) top talent, either creating inexpensive talent for the big club in a few years or quality talent to trade for established stars (i.e. the 2011/2012 Roy Halladay equivalent).  Losing games now gives the organization more flexibility down the road.

So should they win or should they lose?  Let’s follow the money and see if it makes the decision for us.

Losing every game now has a payoff, but its years down the line.  While the team could, in theory, reap the benefits of top minor league talent from the draft, they’d have to pay for it next year.  Is hope worth $3 million to $5 million for an 18 or 21-year old Top 5 “prospect”?  Suppose the prospect doesn’t live up to expectations talent-wise or gets hurt before making it to the big leagues or getting traded.  That’s money down the tubes.  That’s the end of your hope.

Losing now doesn’t help the now or the next season.  Losing now will bring further media criticism on the entire organization.  With ownership not known to be a group of men with thick skins, can GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel survive a 5 and 14 slide in the final 19 games?  Unless the team can completely turn around in 2010, neither man will be around when next year’s Top 5 draft pick bears fruit.  There’s no incentive for these two to want to lose.  They’re going to make every effort to go 19-0 before their season ends.

Ownership is in the quandary.  They have suffered through an embarrassing year, both on and off (Madoff, Bernazard) the field.  There were championship dreams when Citifield was unveiled at the end of March.  Those dreams still exist, just not for this year.  If you owned the Mets, what would you want?  It’s not an easy decision.

Built into the decision-making process is not just the psyche of the fans and players now and the need to sell as many tickets as possible next year, which would bring in more concession revenue, more SNY network (through commercials) revenue, more merchandise sale revenue.  But those future revenues are based upon next season’s team.  The budget for next season has to be made and enacted before a dime of revenue for 2010 is earned.  Based upon this season, do you cut next year’s budget (rumor has it they will)?  Do you keep your budget flat?  Do you increase the budget for minor league operations, allowing for the increased expected expenditures for higher draft picks?  If you do this, is it at the expense of the parent club, the one fans pay to see?  Are you hurt even more if your team loses so much in September that you’re forced to fire your GM and manager to save face, continuing to pay their contracts in 2010 while bringing on new individuals to run the field operations?  And are you realizing that, with the firing of manager and GM, you’re also firing a coaching staff and many of your GM’s “guys”?  Does that mean your new hires will be hired based more on their paychecks than talent?

It’s not a simple decision.  For ownership, there’s always a balancing act between now and the future, between making money and winning games.  For a team like the 2009 New York Mets, losing now may bring in incrementally more revenues in a few years.  But since there’s no Major League option of moving the team to Miami, they’re going to have to get through 2010 and 2011 first.

Jimmy Scott is probably the greatest pitcher you’ve never heard of.  Visit Jimmy Scott’s High & Tight to read more from Jimmy and guests Desi Relaford, Eric Valent & Cassidy Dover.  You’ll also hear a new interview every Monday morning with former MLB players, agents, wives and others; giving new outlooks on this great game we call Baseball.  Go there now to hear Jimmy’s latest interviews with Rollie Fingers, Desi Relaford, Brent Mayne and MLB Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt.  You can follow Jimmy on Twitter or Facebook.

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