While perusing a piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune about the San Diego Padres being more likely to deal prospects this offseason, this quote from A.J. Preller jumped out at me:
“It comes down to value,” Preller said. “We have specific value on each one of our players and a value on the guys we have a chance to trade for. If those line up, we’re going to look to make moves.”
And in reading that quote, it struck me that that best summarizes how modern front offices are operating. What Preller is describing isn’t a process that is unique to the Padres — it is how most teams are doing business.
Front offices assign a value to players. That value is determined, most likely, by a proprietary algorithm. That algorithm ultimately determines how much a team will pay a player in free agency, how much they will give up for a player in a trade, and how much they want in return for one of their own players in a deal. And front offices are now staffed with guys from Ivy League business or law schools, whose approach is more disciplined and analytic. Guys whose priority is seeking value.
A.J. Preller is known as a scouting guy, a guy who beats the bushes and is pursuing high-ceiling toolsheds with huge bust potential. But he’s also a Summa Cum Laude grad of Cornell who made the Dean’s list all four years he was there. He’s a perfect example of your modern fusion between the old school scouting types (Don Welke was his mentor) and the Ivy League analytic types.
When teams don’t want to give up top prospects for one year of Mookie Betts — one of the best five or so players in baseball — its because their algorithms place the value of Betts, net of his salary, as being less than the value of the top prospects.
When teams all are offering roughly the same contracts to a generic, fungible veteran reliever in the free agent market, their algorithms are likely all spitting out the same value for that player.
Gone are the days when deals are casually struck between g.m.s while they are standing at a men’s room urinal. As Preller says, deals are done based on value, value measured and calculated to a degree not conceivable even a decade ago.
This is, for better or for worse, MLB Baseball in the 2020s.