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Executive Decision


Translated: Trade with heart,
get stabbed in spleen.

Weird. I'm comfortable recounting every second of Die Hard, but am just as wary of delving into the plot of Executive Decision. I suppose it's because, as hokey and cartoonish as the latter is, it seems to entail a scarier and more massive sense of "realism." Or it could be because I love Die Hard but consider Executive Decision too stupid to recall with fondness.

At any rate, the movie Executive Decision (the rights of which, incredibly, were traded straight-up for those of Forrest Gump) is about exactly that: an executive decision. Within the context of the movie, it is a scrutinized, frantic, dramatic, and agonizing decision. The decision involves a "fail-safe line"---a point somewhere that is a close yet safe distance from the Atlantic coastline. Act too soon before the fail-safe line, and you haven't really held out long enough to do your due diligence, bringing disasterous results. Act too late, and you've waited too long, bringing catastrophic results. The key is to make just the right executive decision.

Within the context of a baseball season, the Washington Nationals face their own executive decision concerning Alfonso Soriano. Settle for too little for him, and you've wasted your greatest talent. Wait for too long, and you've foregone an opportunity to claim immediate, immense, and affordable talent in exchange for him.

On the one hand, there exists a buffer zone: If no trade occurs, then the Nats still stand to add a pair of high-scale draft picks for Soriano next June, should they be unable to keep him. On the other hand, I'm not entirely certain there is a way to play this situation just right. Washington is not Hollywood, and no resolution to this matter will please everyone.

I'm afraid I cannot add anything to his discussion beyond mere platitudes. For instance:

  • Maximize what you can get for him.
  • Don't settle for less than you think he's worth.
  • If you can't trade him for a bounty, weigh the value of the draft picks against what is the best current offer.
  • If the draft picks are more valuable than the best current offer, then consider whether Soriano's value to the team outweighs the value of the draft picks.
  • But, when weighing Soriano's value to the Nats, factor in the likelihood he re-signs with the team.
  • In addition, when weighing Soriano's value to the Nats, factor in the amount of money he is likely to make should he decide to remain with the team.
  • Evaluate how Soriano's presence (and salary), at this very moment and over the life of a new contract, would harmonize with the organization's current developmental plan.
  • If Soriano's presence is dissonant with the organization's current developmental plan, evaluate whether Soriano is worth an alteration of the developmental plan.
  • If it is determined that he is, then act like it; in other words, build a contender faster than originally anticipated.
  • Which means, spend money--and spend big on pitching
I'm not sure how helpful all of this is, but it's how I view the situation. At any rate, I think as as practical matter---weighing risks and all that---Soriano simply cannot be relied upon to be a Nat beyond October 1. But if it turns out he is, the Lernastens, BodesCo, and everyone involved need to resolve themselves to something very important: It's go time. In fact, let me repeat that with some emphasis:


If you sign Soriano
to big money, don't you
dare half-ass it.

In other words, if the think tank thinks Soriano is worthy of a big-time investment, it had better not let that commitment go to waste. Spending a wad on him and building up the kids otherwise are inconsistent courses; chances are, you'll be wanting to deal away Soriano before "the kids" develop into a winner.

If you keep him, you go for the gusto.

* * * *

Of course, that's assuming Soriano would want to stay. Nats.com (accurately characterizing Soriano as "the steal of 2006") reports that the organization is trying to sign Soriano to a contract extension---well, sort of:

In the meantime, according to the sources, the Nationals are hoping that Jose Rijo, the special assistant to the general manager, can convince Soriano to sign an extension with the club. Rijo and general Jim Bowden were not available for comment. It's not known how much money is being offered to Soriano.

I'm assuming Rijo's job is to attempt to persuade, not to negotiate. If so, I have to think it's quite late in the game to go that route, and this smacks of a sort of cover-your-rear-end gesture. ("Soriano wouldn't even listen to the respected Jose Rijo, a World Series MVP?") In fact, Nats.com also reports that, according to a source, Soriano won't talk money until the offseason, a position that seems reasonable enough to me.

Personally, I cannot blame Soriano one iota and in any respect. He's been a great player---and a great Washington National---this season, and he's well within his rights to cash in at the end of the season. He's foolish not to attempt to do so. As has been said many times (and certainly not just by me), this is his best short of his career---not just to get rich, rich, rich, but just as importantly, to control his destiny. He can control how much he makes, yes, but he can also control where he plays---in what league, in what division, in what city, and perhaps at what position (though he seems to have settled into left field long-term).

It's nonsensical to expect him to re-sign prior to Monday afternoon, and if not by then, than why would he not wait it out until the offseason, until he can become free?

* * * *

Opinions certainly diverge on what to do from here; this is the most obvious fact concerning the entire situation, other than the fact that we're all helpless here---we accept whatever happens. Divergent opinion is usually a good thing, and based on what we know now, I note that there's really not a clear-cut answer as to what is the right thing to do. There's a pragmatic course, and there's an idealistic course---and in a sense the pragmatic course is laced with idealism, and the idealistic course has a pragmatic gloss.

Doug McKinney of NatFanatics enthusiastically and adversarially (as a "closing argument") advocates retaining Soriano. He contends:

  • There's no assurance that "prospects" acquired for Soriano pan out.
  • The Lernastens can certainly afford Soriano.
  • Soriano is a singular superstar.
These are valid points, to be sure. Today's Grade A prospect is potentially tomorrow's display at the manufacturer's defects outlet mall. (This is especially true if you are trading for pitching prospects.) And that's assuming you actually get a Grade A prospect, which given the comments of one think-tanker---"We would lose our jobs [in the future] if we made some of these deals."---seems less than certain. And Poppa Lerner ain't starvin' for dough. And Soriano is hot to trot this season; he's made a lot of people (including yours truly) look really, really foolish.

But it's not a matter of "get[ting] rid of him," however---at least not completely. It takes two to tango, and even if the Lernastens promise to lasso the moon for him, well, maybe he doesn't want the moon. Maybe he just wants to play somewhere else. Maybe he'd like to stay in DC, but when push comes to shove, isn't convinced that the Nats offer the best hope for being on a contender in the conceivable future. Maybe---assuming any accuracy from the rumblings of guys like Charley Steiner---he just plain, deep down doesn't want to play for a team run by Jim Bowden.

There's also one other thing. I'm reticent to broach this, because I don't want to be fooled twice by Soriano's talent. But I think I've got to mention this (and certainly I'm not alone in mentioning this): While Soriano is playing like a star---maybe even a superstar---this season, what assurance is there that he actually is a star or a superstar? Certainly, he's put up numbers before, but he's doing things he's never done before: flashing more power, displaying more plate discipline (off and on, I know), just seeming like a far more consequential star. It's quite possible he's having an eminently well-timed career year, you know.

What I'm saying is that the people bemoaning trading Soriano for "prospects" speak much of the risk involved: You know what you have with Soriano, and you don't know jack about whatever youngsters you get. That's true to an extent, but the risk isn't all on one side of the equation. If you want Soriano to stay, you had better believe Soriano actually would stay, and you have to recognize the risk of committing lots and lots of money to a (blessedly dynamic) player who is blowing up during his walk year. Expecting Soriano to do this again, or over the life of a contract, might---just might---be unrealistic. And, if we're not getting this, then are we happy to get what we'd get?

Like I said, there's no outright correct answer. This isn't a bright-line subject, to borrow Doug's legal theme; it's a totality of the circumstances. And, when the issue is framed in such a posture, reasonable minds can certainly disagree.

* * * *

Capitol Punishment points out something important, something I alluded to earlier in this post:

Assume that the Nats hold on to him next year. We're looking at a contract with a minimum of 4/$48 million. On an open market, it's much likely to be higher than that, but let's play conservative. Nick Johnson gets a $2.3MM raise. Brian Schneider bumps up $800K. Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez are arbitration eligible and are likely to make $4-5 million more combined. Even woeful Jose Vidro's going to be making half a mil more.

That's a lot of extra money tied up into the same players. Unless the team is going to bump up the payroll by $25-30 million, there might not be room for Soriano's salary. And given all the noise about building for the long-term, what would you place the odds of a $25-million payroll increase?

This is what I mean by going for the gusto. What Chris has provided is merely the requisite to maintain the status quo. Maybe Bowden could find a naive buyer for Vidro, but who knows. At any rate, these considerations don't add tremendous value to the team, and as much as Soriano talks (talked?) about being excited about the future of the club, one reasonably has to believe that if he remains with the Nats, he wants serious action. Remember what A-Rod did when he signed with the Rangers and then thereafter--- Paraphrasing three years into one sentence: I signed there because I liked the young kids on the horizon, but why do I have to play alongside them?

I'd consider it likely that Kasten, Bowden, and the gang had better build a winner toot sweet, or we might be having this conversation again before too long. Soriano might not be a happy guy without a winner around him. And, if the Nats shoot for the moon in convincing him to remain, perhaps they'll have an untradeable contract on their hands. They might have to dump it for inferior value, or perhaps kick in money to send him a place where he'd want to be.

What I'm saying is that retaining Soriano carries significant risk. I'm assuming everyone knows that, but it can't hurt to explore that further.

* * * *

One more thing, from OMG:

Don?t let a hot month or a hot week deter you from your duties Kasten, Bowden. Alfonso Soriano must be traded. Some worry. Just look at our own manager. Frank Robinson was traded at age 30. It didn?t work out too well for the Reds. But in the 6 years preceding being traded, Frank only had 1 non-awesome year. In the six years preceding 2007, Soriano has had only 1 awesome year. This one. Don?t be swayed by a couple of ill-timed hot streaks. Trade. Trade. Do not go gentle into that offseason, Good management should burn and rave at close of the trading deadline; Trade, Trade against the dying of the light.

Dramatic!

Forget the call to trade Soriano. Well, don't forget it, but let's put it aside for a second. View it in context of what Harper is saying here: Don't not trade Soriano on the basis of what he's doing right now.

Soriano was an investment last December, and he's an investment now. View him in context of what he can do for you today, tomorrow, next month, next year, three years from now, and five years from now. All of it.

If he's worth it---and if he wants it---then he had better be worth it. And the Nats had better make it worth their and his while.