Photo: mwlguide via Flickr
With the trade deadline set for 4 p.m. on July 31st, Major League Baseball teams have only 24 more hours to improve their roster.There’s no such deadline in the world of business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a thing or two from America’s past time.
Teams constantly have to evaluate where they stand. Franchises are always looking to improve themselves, but improvement can mean different things in different situations. Are they improving for the future, or swinging for the fences this year?
Struggling squads often use the trade deadline to unload their most expensive veterans, in exchange for young diamonds in the rough, to teams who believe this is their chance to make a run at a championship. Contenders scour the rosters of their inferior rivals looking for the final piece of a winning puzzle. Sure, that veteran player might lead his new team to the playoffs that year, but it’s the prospect that generally determines the success of a trade. He could leave his former team kicking itself for years to come.
Similarly, a good business is in constant reevaluation mode. If business is booming, should a company hire more and expand further, or aim for more steady growth? What happens if business is slumping? The window of opportunity only stays open for so long, and poor judgment can sink a great idea or a whole company.
There’s no deadline, but you have to make your decisions quickly.
Because while the saying “There’s always next year” is true for the Cubs, it probably isn’t for your business.
Wheelin' and Dealin': In 1988 Yankees manager Lou Piniella was certain the squad did not need any offensive help from the trade market. Yet Steinbrenner disagreed and traded for Ken Phelps who was largely ineffective. The Bombers lost big on that trade, because as Frank Costanza would remind 'The Boss,' he surrendered Jay Buhner in that trade, who would go on to play his best baseball against the Yankees throughout the 1990s.
Business Lesson: Make sure ownership and management see eye-to-eye in the decision-making process; bad decisions become exacerbated when it's clear that the whole business isn't on the same page.
Wheelin' and Dealin': 2006 marked the first time since 1990 that the Braves hadn't won their division, and in 2007 they desperately wanted to regain the throne despite a flawed roster. They packaged four of their best prospects to Texas for slugger Mark Teixeira, yet finished the season in third place. Two of the prospects are already major contributors on this year's Rangers squad, while the Braves sent Teixeira to Anaheim a year later for an underwhelming package of players.
Business Lesson: Stay disciplined. Evaluate your company before going on hiring sprees. When your business is slowing, stay the course and build for the future rather than sacrificing steady growth for quick fixes.
Wheelin' and Dealin': In 2007 the Colorado Rockies were barely clinging to their post-season hopes and had suffered some major injuries to their pitching staff. Rather than make a big splash in a difficult trade market, they brought up two pitching prospects (including present-day ace Ubaldo Jimenez) from their minor league system. The rookies helped the Rockies go on an unprecedented tear in September and ultimately the squad made it to the World Series.
Business Lesson: Hiring a big-time manager or executive from another company can be great, but it can also be risky and can negatively affect the workplace atmosphere. Look to promote from within the company when possible.
Wheelin' and Dealin': In July 2003 it finally seemed like the Marlins multitude of pieces were coming together to form a special squad. They just needed a closer. Florida dealt prospects for Ugueth Urbina who went on to help the Marlins to a championship. They paid a high price as one of those prospects was Adrian Gonzalez, a top slugger in the game today, but the World Series ring makes it all worth it.
Business Lesson: If you see an opportunity to expand or to grab the perfect manager, don't be afraid to meet the demands to get what you need. Sometimes you only get one shot at ultimate success.
Wheelin' and Dealin': During the 2008 trading season Yankees sought a pitcher to bolster their rotation, and CC Sabathia was on the market. But the Yankees balked at trading their prized young arms, including Phil Hughes, to acquire the All-Star left-hander. Six months later the Yankees signed Sabathia as a free agent and got to hold on to Hughes who was named an All-Star himself in 2010.
Business Lesson: Sometimes patience can pay off with your employees and business. Don't rush to grow your business when a patient approach can yield a more sustainable outcome. Younger employees may need time and experience to develop into their own.
Wheelin' and Dealin': In 2006 the Mets declined to ship celebrated but slow-developing prospect Lastings Milledge for Oakland ace Barry Zito. The Mets could have used Zito's help to reach the World Series, which they fell short of by one game that season. Sixteen months later the Amazins traded Milledge for spare parts.
Business Lesson: Know when to cut bait. Even your most beloved employees must show improvement lest you sink more costs into their development and fail to improve a part of your team crucial to financial success.
Wheelin' and Dealin': In one of the most infamous deadline deals of all-time, the Cubs traded an under-performing Lou Brock to the arch rival St. Louis Cardinals for Ernie Broglio. The Cardinals won the World Series that year and Brock went on to play 16 years for the club hitting .297 and stealing 888 bases.
Business Lesson: Great ideas or employees are worth little if they aren't cultivated properly, and sometimes your team doesn't have the proper perspective or tools to grow them. It happens. Don't be ashamed to let something valuable go if you can't unleash its potential. Just don't let that employee or idea go to a main competitor.
Wheelin' and Dealin': In 2008 when the Milwaukee Brewers bet the farm to add coveted pitcher CC Sabathia, their division rival, the Chicago Cubs, took notice. They countered by acquiring Rich Harden without giving up as much talent. Harden pitch exceptionally down the stretch and led the Cubs to a division crown.
Business Lesson: It's pretty obvious. Take note of what your main competition has been up to, and make sure you're prepared to stay relevant even when they go after big deals.
Wheelin' and Dealin': Last year the Phillies made it to a second consecutive World Series after acquiring one of the best pitchers in the game at the trade deadline: Cliff Lee. They let Lee go before this season, thinking they would get along just fine this season without him. This July, Philadelphia realised their folly and traded for Astros' pitcher Roy Oswalt on Thursday in hopes of returning to the championship.
Business Lesson: Make like Phillies general manager, Ruben Amaro Jr., and don't ignore bad moves and hope they work out for the better in the long term. For example, if you had to lay off key contributors to your business, only to find your business is in the decline as a result, don't hesitate to hire again. It might look bad at the time, but if business recovers the mistake will be forgotten.
Just about every deadline deal weighs the cost of trading young, inexpensive talent that could be crucial to future success against the benefit of acquiring a high-priced veteran for a chance to win that October.
Always consider the long-term sacrifice you make in business for the short-term gain.
After all, it's not worth sacrificing tomorrow unless you get to hoist the trophy today.
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