A couple days ago I mentioned Roy Eisenhardt, who was the President of the Oakland Athletics baseball team from 1981 - 1987. He was the subject of a 1983 Roger Angell Profile in The New Yorker.
When asked if he would make an expensive late-season trade for a star player if he thought it was
necessary to win a pennant that season he replied:
We want to be respectable and competitive, and we want to win our share of everything, including championships. But the way to do that is by being patient and foresighted. You can't just buy it or grab for it---we've already seen too much of that in the game, and its results. (see New York Yankees, 2005---CSS)
If the deal includes the transfer of good young players, it means you're just mortgaging your future for your present. Qualitatively, what's the worth of winning the whole thing versus the worth of being competitive each year? No one wants to accept second place, but unless you actually win the World Series you'll see yourself as having lost in the end.
The article was published in 1983 and shows remarkable foresight on the part of Eisenhardt. Recent research at Baseball Prospectus has attempted to quantify the value of a player to a team based on how many wins they'll add, and what effect that will have on the team's standings.
For example, if paying $27 million dollars for three years of Matt Morris yields an additional five wins over the course of the 2006 season, are those five wins enough to bump you into the playoffs, which is worth a lot of money to a team? For a rebuilding team, this probably isn't worth it, and as Eisenhardt recognized, you'd be selling out your future for the possibility of winning it all. Was it worth it for the Giants, who picked up Morris for 2006 and beyond? Only time will tell, but for the Giants, they are banking on needing only a few more wins in order to make it into post-season. And with Bonds in the last year of his contract, they feel they need to win now. And now, regardless of whether they do win it all or not, it's going to be a long and painful rebuilding process in San Francisco.