Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Getting the Little Things Right

Back about a month ago, I was writing about the Mets search for a President of Baseball Operations that wasn't going very well. None of the names that Alderson and Cohen had prioritized were panning out. They couldn't get permission to speak with many of them, and the ones they did meet with cited family reasons for not wanting to uproot and come to New York City. It was amusing when a few items started popping up in the media questioning whether the struggle to get candidates to even interview represented some sort of early failure for Cohen's regime. Talk about a hot take!

There's certainly a long road ahead of Sandy Alderson and new GM Jared Porter in their quest to transform this club from being a constant punchline to one of the best organizations in baseball, but that quest now seems well underway. In my post linked above, I expressed my hope that the Mets would give up trying to lure an established name and instead hire and develop the next great leader of an organization. Now they seem to have done exactly that, given the unanimous accolades that Porter seems to be receiving. I'm not going to indulge in my own hot take care by prematurely anointing Jared Porter as an unqualified success story, but he does seem ideally suited for the job he's taking on.

It would have been quite a story if a big-name gunslinger like Theo Epstein, David Stearns, Chris Antonetti or Erik Neander came riding into town to assume the title of PBO, but the truth of the matter is that task of running a modern baseball organization is exponentially bigger than a one man job. Alderson gave an excellent summary of the skills required for the job in a press conference just before Thanksgiving:

"The type of person that I'm looking for in that role would be the type of person I'm looking for in any leadership position: somebody that has some modicum of experience in this particular area, baseball. But also somebody that has the ability to provide solid inspirational leadership, and that's about communication, it's about empathy, it's about understanding how organizations function, emphasis on teamwork, collaboration, inclusiveness. Sort of a humble approach to leadership, as opposed to one that really has to do with title and responsibility and authority.

“I'm looking for somebody that can work within a team, and that's what we're trying to create not just on the baseball side but also on the business side. When I say that, I don't mean to suggest all the decisions are going to be made collaboratively. But people have to be willing to collaborate while at the same time we're going to try to delegate and push down as low as possible the decision-making throughout the organization so as people feel that while they're accountable and responsible, they also have the freedom to make decisions."

As happy as I was to read all of the great things written about Porter in the press the last couple of days, it's important that his eventual success in this job will be determined by the quality of the people that he has working under him, and how well he can create an atmosphere where they all contribute to the overall success. One of the big differences between running an organization and running it really well is to get, as much as possible, all of the little things right. And the only way to do that is have great people working under you and empowering them to be great at what they do.

I guess this all sounds like management basics, but there has been a marked failure in the Mets organization for many years in getting the details right, along with the perception that the Wilpons weren't willing to spend on under-the-radar moves like investing in new technologies and new ideas. This didn't make the organization attractive to really talented people and, at least from what I've read about it, young organizational talent tended to leave the Mets for better opportunities around baseball.

Not that everyone who stuck around here was a dud. This summer I wrote about positive reviews I've been reading for Marc Tramuta, director of amateur scouting, and Tommy Tanous, Vice President of amateur and international Scouting for the Mets. The Mets have had a noted improvement in drafting talent over the past few seasons, and they've been a big part of that. As, I'm sure, are some other folks that haven't been written about. But for sure there needs to be more great people and more success stories in Queens to turn this thing around. And the best thing that Porter can do to ensure more success stories is to be the type of boss that these people want to work for.

You're not going to get a chance to watch a Zoom press conference for most of these people when they join the Mets, and the vast majority of them won't get pieces written about them by the media that covers the team. I'd love to hear their stories, and I'm sure some of you that read my stuff would enjoy it, too, but the vast majority of fans don't care to delve that deeply into the nuts and bolts of a baseball organization. Yet it's the very people and operations that don't get the limelight that make the difference between a bad organization, a run of the mill one or a truly great one. We may not know much about them, but Jared Porter will, and hiring and empowering these folks will be every bit as important as anything trade he might make or any free agent he might sign.

I remember reading about all of the things that the Dodgers do to ensure that their system remains productive for them. Baseball America had a good piece on their scouting and development that I wrote about in October as a potential roadmap for the Mets:

From a financial standpoint, the Dodgers' level of investment in both player acquisition and development and also player welfare sets them apart.

The Dodgers employ 86 professional and amateur scouts, fourth most of any team according to the 2020 Baseball America Directory.

Between coordinators, coaches, analysts and directors, the Dodgers list 54 employees in player development, tied for seventh most in baseball.

They are one of only two organizations, along with the Red Sox, to rank in the top seven in both.

"As a staff we're able to spend a lot of time and energy in identifying superstar staff members and recruiting them and bringing them in and developing them," Dodgers farm director Will Rhymes said.

"We invest heavily in staff development. We have turnover because every year people get promotions with other teams and it makes us an appealing place for the high end of the market."

The money allows the Dodgers to bring in among the most, and often the best, coaches and development staffers. It also allows them to provide their minor leaguers with better nutrition and facilities, setting the foundation for superior physical development.

The Dodgers are a large market team like the Mets, but they've been able to sustain a high level of winning for years by excelling at doing so many of the little things. The Mets have maintained a level of consistency, too — they've been mostly bad, because they generally fail to get the details right. While the money has been tighter since the Madoff scheme came crashing down, the Mets weren't acing the small stuff before that happened, either, and lagged far behind teams with a much smaller budget than they were working with in organizational success.

I'm sure that bringing in some of the best coaches and development staffers is a goal of the new Mets regime, but it goes beyond that, too. The BA article mentioned that the Dodgers go out of their way to feed their minor leaguers very well:

This year, the Dodgers will have traveling chefs for every affiliate from Rookie-level Ogden through Double-A Tulsa, an expansion of a previous program. The two levels that don’t have a chef, the Rookie-level Arizona League affiliate and Triple-A Oklahoma City, will receive catered meals from high-end providers such as Whole Foods.

"It’s good eating," said Matt Beaty, a corner infielder/outfielder who spent parts of five seasons in the Dodgers' system before making his big league debut last year. "A lot of guys in other organizations, they just get leftover concession stand food or peanut butter and jellies. We definitely have it lucky here in this organization."

The result, in time, becomes clear for all to see.

"You go in and watch the Dodgers play and it’s noticeable how good of shape their guys are in," an opposing scout said. "I just think they're a little ahead."

The staff, the facilities, the high-quality food—it's not cheap. What the Dodgers do would not be possible without the money. At the same time, other teams that have the money don't do what the Dodgers do.

"We get players who are really young, and a lot of times the lowest-hanging fruit is simply helping guys mature physically," [Dodgers farm director Will] Rhymes said. "Our performance and medical staffs are excellent. We feel like we have the best strength and conditioning out there. Combine that with the nutrition (and) a lot of the jumps you see in players from year to year simply comes from being in fantastic shape."

I'm going to guess, based on what we know about the pre-Cohen Mets, that they weren't taking as good care of their guys as the Dodgers were. And sure, this kind of stuff costs money, but if you could develop just a couple of more guys into major leaguers, maybe help some guys to go from fringe players to real solid contributors, you can probably save enough from purchasing players via free agency or trades to make it a wash, but for it all to work correctly there has to be a bunch of very good people doing very good jobs that you'll never see or hear about.

Beyond making good, nutritious food for your minor leaguers, you'll want to have food that appeals to young players from other countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia rather than just throwing American cuisine at them and forcing them to adjust. And while you're at it, you'll need to have other resources to help players from around the world learn the language and cope with a culture that's different from their own.

Even with players born in this country, a smart organization probably would want to help them learn some life skills, as many are likely away from home for the first time in their lives. I know when I first moved out I had an awful lot to learn, and would have benefitted from someone imparting at least some basics to me.

Some minor leaguers have wives and young families. None of these players are making a great living, and most of them didn't sign for big bonuses. Helping them with a decent place to live and some support with things like child care could really take a lot of the burden off of these players and make it easier for them to devote their full energy to developing as ballplayers. You'll need to have some good, smart folks in place in all of your minor league locations to handle stuff like this.

If you do it well, you could develop a strong organizational culture and identity. If you're trying to sign a minor league free agent or help a draft choice choose being a pro in your organization rather than taking a college scholarship, having a reputation for really taking good care of your minor leaguers would be a huge selling point. The small stuff matters, especially when you add it all up.

I hope the Mets bring in more great scouts, more great coaches and highly qualified trainers. I want them to do far better in scouting and developing international talent in particular. But I want them to be better at all of it. A few years down the road, I want to read something about the great job the Mets do with their prospects. I want other clubs trying to copy them. For that all to happen, it will take the combined efforts of a bunch of good people. Some you'll come to hear a lot about, some you won't ever know. If the Mets become the top-notch organization we all hope for them to be, it will be thanks to every one of them.

Thanks for stopping by today. Please stay safe, be well and take care.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

4 comments:

  1. You aced it again.

    This is the exact stuff that any business, large to small, manufacturing to services to entertainment to retail, does to really succeed. These are the LL Bean's and Wegmans of the world. I am very convinced this is the major, if not only reason that Sears is no longer.

    I, as you, sincerely hope that the Mets do everything to become the best at every level and pay attention to the details (and hope that this essay gets onto the eyes of Steven Cohen sometime soon).

    Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm flattered, but I'm pretty sure that the stuff I've written about here is already in the plans of the team without any help from me

    ReplyDelete
  3. Suspect that is true, but don't want to leave any stone unturned :-)

    ReplyDelete

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