Rosenthal: Execs give fans peek of ‘inside baseball’

Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik (left) scored big with the signing of Robinson Cano.

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PHOENIX — Here are highlights from Friday’s panel discussion, "Decision-Making in the Front Office," at the SABR Analytics Conference.

I was the moderator of the Society for American Baseball Research event, which this year was held at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Phoenix. In a separate session, I interviewed Brewers owner Mark Attanasio.

The participants were Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, Rockies VP of major-league operations Bill Geivett and Giants assistant GM Bobby Evans.

Q: Jack, this offseason, the Mariners made the biggest splash of all — [former Yankee] Robinson Cano, 10 years, $240 million. How did that come about?

Zduriencik: We’€™ll identify certain areas. This year, one of the things we thought we needed was an impact offensive player. There were some players we liked and thought we had a shot at. But we really thought that was a need based on where our club was at —€” we had young players who were on their way to producing. Some have, some have not yet.

When we first met at the general managers’€™ meetings in Orlando, I got a really good feel. You meet with a lot of different agents. And as we walked out of the room after meeting with Robinson Cano’€™s group, it just seemed like, "€œOK, you never know what will happen."€ But it was positive. And it carried on.

The next couple of days, we followed up. The next week, we followed up. Timing is everything. And if you look back on what happened to the Yankees, where they wanted to stay under the (luxury-tax) threshold, it probably affected their initial offer. Then this whole process started with the agents coming to Seattle. We sat with them. We got a really good feel. The very next day, we made an offer to Robinson Cano. We put the offer on the table and we got their attention.

I think they were like, "Whoa!" Instantly, within 24 hours, they had a legitimate offer from us. We had a second meeting that was very positive as well. And then the third meeting, the whole Roc Nation group [that represents Cano] came up. Jay Z came. Robinson Cano came. There were probably eight of them that rolled into Seattle.

AROUND THE HORN

You may know this, you may not, but a little inside (info). It was Jay Z’s birthday [Dec. 4] the day before. We had a birthday cake for him. We sang happy birthday. And this is well-documented. After the birthday cake I said, "Congratulations, but I was the original Jay Z." He liked that.

We tried to make it really light. We did a really good presentation for them. They were very engaged. It was very interesting how the process came together so quickly. We were all in the room. Robinson had great questions. He’€™s a very astute baseball guy. Direct — "€œThis is what I want to know. This is what I see."€ He knew our club inside out.

We met for about three hours. They toured the ballpark, toured the clubhouse. We broke up. We were going to dinner. They went back to their hotel room. I took the whole group, about eight of us who were sitting in the office. I get out of my car in front of the Capital Grille and the phone rings. It happens to be [agent] Brodie Van Wagenen, about an hour after we broke up. He said, "€œIf you can get to 10 years at 240, we got a deal."€ We weren’€™t there. I said, "Let me make a couple of phone calls."

I called [various Mariners officials, including] Howard Lincoln, who was in Hawaii. Chuck Armstrong, who was still in the office. Chris Larson, one of our owners. Bart Waldman, our lawyer, was with me. After about a 45-minute conversation, we called ‘€™em back and said, "€œ240/10, we got a deal? We got a deal."€ The rest is history.

Q: As you were going through that process, what was your heartbeat level?

Zduriencik: I’ve had it broken before. We’ve been down this road before. It was really funny about this one. I know during the week leading up to that, we were (described as) the stalking horse, "€œThe Mariners will never get Robinson Cano, the Mariners are being used." We heard all of that. But I don’€™t know. There was a feeling that this might really happen.

He liked playing in Safeco. He really loved the city. He recognized all of the young players. He envisioned himself, he and [pitcher] Felix [Hernandez] —€” and about nine other guys who he recommended that we sign. It was normal. It was exciting. Sitting with Jay Z and that whole group, that was interesting. But in the end, it was a process that we’€™ve all gone through. The dollars were enormous. The years were enormous. But it was a fun process.

I didn’t know where it would end. I didn’t know what kind of permission I would get from ownership to spend. But it was neat. It was fun. It wasn’€™t stressful. It was fingers crossed. And it worked out.

Q: Bobby, the Giants are in a unique position. You’ve won two of the past four World Series. That influences decisions, too. You want to reward the guys that got you there. How tricky is it weighing that vs. when to let a player go?

Evans: After winning in 2012, we felt like the team that won it was not the team that started the year for us. In many ways, bringing them back in 2013 was bringing back the team that had been together for the last two months of the season —€” namely, Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro.

But the truth is that both times we haven’€™t come back very strong after bringing back the team that got us the ring. As we evaluate the makeup of our club, the strengths of our club, we’re prepared every year to take a fresh approach. But ultimately, there are limited options. We also know what is in the pipeline for us.

We worked hard after the 2010 World Series in discussions with Juan Uribe, bringing him back. He was a big part of our club. We also knew that Pablo [Sandoval] had a setback in 2010. We wanted to prepare ourselves and have Juan come back in a super-utility role. Well, the dollars were not super-utility dollars. Ultimately, he went to LA. Pablo came back in better form, had a good 2011. It ended up working out for us by 2012 to acquire Marco Scutaro to fill our second-base need and Hunter Pence in the outfield.

The toughest one for us this offseason could have been Tim Lincecum, just because of all that he accomplished as a Giant. Two World Series, two Cy Youngs, an amazing job in the 2012 postseason in relief. What was the future for Tim Lincecum? Those kinds of decisions can’t all be based on emotion. Otherwise, you’€™re going to make yourself miserable as you watch your club throughout the season.

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Some of the things we looked at in knowing your player best —€” this is a player who never had shown the discipline in the offseason to prepare himself the way that most pitchers today prepare themselves. We felt like we could get through to him. We also had the benefit that he was willing to do a short-term deal, and of kind of knowing there was a "floor."

There was no way we were going to get him signed below the qualifying offer of $14.1 million. We had some ranges. Ultimately we brought him back in the hope that he can fit in as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter with Tim Hudson, who we think will be a great mentor to him.

Q: To follow up on that, the Lincecum deal came early, before free agency even began. The market is different every year. It’s difficult to predict at all times. How did you determine a value? As we saw, the pitching market did not erupt except in rare cases, [Masahiro] Tanaka being one.

Evans: We had the opportunity to get a two-year deal done. And on the market, you just don’€™t know where clubs may be willing to go, whether it be three, four, five years, you just don’t know. The fact that we had an opportunity to get a two-year deal done with an overpay without him even going into the market … for us, there was value in that.

The potential, the metrics of what he is capable of accomplishing even with diminished velocity, we saw at a qualifying offer you were looking at a two-year deal being at 28. Obviously, they started much higher. But we both quickly came to the two-year (term). Then it became a matter of bringing them down and bringing ourselves up, knowing we were going to at least be at 28.

We knew there would be an overpay potential here, just because you’€™re keeping him from even going into the market. That was where we compromised.

Q: Bill, how did your offseason evolve?

Geivett: We’re definitely in a much different situation than the Giants. This ring here (pointing to Evans’€™ hand) is a constant reminder of that.

We’re coming off a couple of last-place finishes, still believing in a core group of players. We try to position ourselves in terms of making sure we have the type of pitching we need to be competitive in a very offensive ballpark. That’s basically where we were. How do we supplement that with veteran players, knowing that we would have injuries and setbacks? What is Plan B?

Our Plan B was typically youth. We continually would put out youth as our backup. That took us down in terms of experience and being able to be competitive and actually win. We were competitive, but we really couldn’€™t win.

Now it’s to the point where we went into the offseason saying, "We needed to add experience. Not just leadership, but experienced players who not only could compete, but help you win." That was the biggest thing for us.

You go in with that plan, whatever it is. Jack wanted to get an impact player. He went out and bought a cake. (Turning to Zduriencik, smiling.) The 240 [million dollars] really didn’t matter, it was the cake? This guy must really like cake.

Q: To follow up on that, Brett Anderson is throwing really well in camp so far. He had some physical questions, and in fact had flunked Toronto’€™s physical to quash a trade that they had set up. What did you see in the medicals and how did you determine this was a move we were going to make?

Geivett: He had Tommy John [surgery] a couple of years ago. He had come back from that, was Oakland’€™s Opening Day starter last year. He hurt his foot. I know there were some teams that had interest in him and some had questions about the foot. From what our medical people saw, everything would be fine with the foot. He was back and it was not a concern for the medical guys. It was still for us a little bit. You want to see all your guys healthy.

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At the same time, we knew going in that we needed to improve our starting rotation. We wanted an impact starter — a strike thrower who gets groundballs but has the ability to be an impact starter … We wanted somebody to match up with the top guys in the division and also stabilize our bullpen, get deeper into the game. He’€™s a very efficient guy.

To go out and get an impact starter on the free-agent market, you’€™re going to spend a lot of money. The acquisition cost for (Anderson) was expensive in Drew Pomeranz, certainly in years of [contractual] control and only having two on Brett. At the same time, it was worth the risk for us, even with the perceived medical issues and two years of control. We really feel like we needed that impact at the front.

Q: How hairy is the last hour before the trade deadline? How difficult is it to think with all that is going on?

Zduriencik: It can get hairy. This year was a good example. We didn’€™t make any moves and got criticized for it. We had probably four or five guys we could have moved.

That last 15-20 minutes, we were getting calls left and right. "€œAre you going to move [Michael] Morse? Are you going to move [Kendrys] Morales? Are you going to move Oliver Perez?" You can get crammed. Now all of a sudden someone pops in the picture that you really haven’t thought about. It can get confusing. But you keep it under control. If you’€™re going to make a move, you make a move for the best player.

Geivett: I can remember one time, six or seven years ago, maybe more than that, we were sitting in the office and we got a call two minutes before the deadline. It was the first we had talked about a trade. And we executed it.

But at the same time, I think you’€™re starting to see it earlier now. Clubs are more ready to act than they ever were. With all the research, you really target the guys you want. So much work has to be done to lead up to making a decision. You can’€™t just pick up the phone and call your scout and make a trade. Those days are over.

Evans: Two of the last four years we’€™ve had some last-minute deals that didn’€™t get executed. That due diligence is part of the hang-up. You do need to do medical review, that sort of thing.

Jack and I were working on one that came down to those last 20 minutes. We just couldn’t get it executed. You never know what may come up. Sometimes the "€œask"€ changes in the closing minutes. Sometimes when you’€™re zoning in on two or three deals at the conclusion of the trade deadline, you have to prioritize.

We had one even this past offseason with the White Sox where we were close to something and it just didn’€™t happen. In the end, that last hour does get to be an adventure sometimes.

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