Padres GM Kevin Towers pens bestseller: "How to Bungle a Trade Negotiation"

With the Cubs reportedly close to an agreement with Ryan Dempster to re-sign for 4 years and slightly more than $50 million, they appear to have removed themselves from the Jake Peavy sweepstakes. 

This has put the Padres in the awkward position of cycling back to a team that had essentially already removed itself - the Braves. 


Let's review these events, in analogy form:

  1. Kevin Towers asked his dream girl, Atlanta, to the dance over the loud speaker on the morning announcements.
  2. Atlanta publicly said no.
  3. Kevin asked three other girls, who came back with, "I have a hair appointment," "My cat is sick," and "I don't like to dance."
  4. Kevin returns to girl #1, beaming, and says, "Good news - I can still go with you!"

In spite of this post's Onion-y title, Towers has in fact been anything but a best seller in the past month, perhaps damaging his perception both within the game and among fans.

I doubt you'll see him on a list of the game's top 5 GM's again anytime soon.  This saga has been a blueprint in "How to Mis-manage a Trade Negotiation".

Step 1:
1. Inaccurately evaluate the market for your player. Towers, like many Padre fans, wanted a Dan Haren quality-package, while ignoring that Haren had a much more team-friendly contract and LACKED A NO-TRADE CLAUSE.  When all 29 teams aren't eligible to even acquire the player, that has to reduce the expected return.

2.  Openly, publicly pursue trade negotiations involving a player who has a no-trade clause.  Paradoxically, player became more powerful than management in this entire situation, and everyone ended up with egg on their face as the Padres and Towers were essentially subservient to Peavy. To some fans, it made Peavy look petulant and the Padres look arrogant.

3.  Alienate every team involved by publicly scoffing at the offers that are coming in, and announcing which teams are "lucky enough" to be in the bidding. 

This could have been handled discreetly and effectively, and it wasn't.

The blame lies mostly with Towers:

1)  He thought he could get a Dan Haren-quality package for Peavy, and 2)  he thought that he should open up the bidding to every team possible first and then try to get Peavy's blessing for that particular team afterward, rather than covertly getting Peavy's blessing and then quietly engaging 1-2 teams only to avoid media leaks.

How can we speculate as to those two things?  If you've followed the entire saga daily on mlbtraderumors, you know that several of the supposed offerings from various teams have slipped out, and you've already read a nauseating number of Jake Peavy quotes about which teams he'd like to play for, which teams he doesn't like, etc. 

None of that - none! - should have ever happened.  It implies that the team had to go back and forth to Peavy more than once, seeking approval for this team or that team, after fielding offers.  At one point Peavy and his agent even expressed displeasure about the possibility of the Braves losing Yunel Escobar, because Peavy would be joining a team weakened by Escobar's departure. 

The Padres and Towers' motive - extracting maximum value - is entirely logical.  But it looks like they've overplayed their hand and suffered the consequences of seeking as many bids as possible - multiple media leaks, embarrassment, and alienation from their best trade partners in terms of logical fit...and they still haven't consummated a deal.

How could, or perhaps should, this have gone?

  1. "Jake, let's be honest: we aren't going to be a championship team for a while, and you deserve to play for a champion.  We don't even need to ask you about Houston, since we already know they aren't a good match in terms of prospects*, but which other two teams would you most like to play for if you weren't a Padre?"  (The team should already know this answer - it's asked for Peavy's benefit).
  2. "Uh...the Cubs and Braves, contenders closer to home."
  3. "And would you accept a trade to those two teams, Jake?"
  4. "Only if they make the option year at the end of my contract guaranteed."
  5. "Ok, Jake. We promise to only engage those two teams, to keep our discussions private to avoid an embarrassing Brian Giles incident,  and we promise that, IF we can reach a deal with those two teams, your option year will be guaranteed.  We also promise to have the entire situation wrapped up in two weeks, max.  In exchange, though, can we ask that you keep this between us and out of the press?"
  6. "Sure."
  7. "Ok. So, we will be negotiating with those two teams privately over the next two weeks.  You won't be reading about it in the press, the other players involved will be confidential, and we might not have updates for a while.  But the whole thing will be handled in the next two weeks, and by then you'll know if you're be wearing a Padres, Cubs, or Braves uniform next spring."


*(The Astros' public involvement is, to me, the part that shows the least foresight.  It was illogical to ever start dialogue with any team lacking prospects).

If these trade talks had played out in the manner of the hypothetical conversation above, it would've allowed Towers to negotiate freely, quietly and productively between two legitimate and serious suitors, rather than play a big game of  "Telephone" for three weeks with reporters, Peavy, and a few AL teams Peavy didn't want to play for anyway.


As an A's fan, there are two things that stick out in my mind as I reflect upon the Peavy saga and how it has unfolded:

1.  I have a greater appreciation of Billy Beane.  He has been in the middle of two of the highest-profile trades made in the last three years, and the media has barely heard a whisper of either one of them before them before they happened.  Both trades shocked even the most hardcore A's fans - which is probably good sign - it means info wasn't leaked, and that negotiations were smooth, quick, and respectful.  That reflects the very high level of preparation in the A's front office. I also didn't hear even one player complaint in the aftermath of either trade from anyone involved.

2.  When a player has a full no-trade clause, it can potentially wreak havoc on a long-term reloading/rebuilding plan.  It clouds the logical baseball power structure between management and player, and hinders the GM's ability to effectively do his job.  The Peavy situation represents perfectly why I would rather give a player millions of dollars beyond the typical offer, rather than a full no-trade clause.  (hence my proposal for a Furcal offer that's perceived as being significantly above-market). 

Jason Kendall and Mark Kotsay have proved that you can almost always extract some future value from a player who is underperforming his contract, so long as he doesn't have a full NTC, if you're willing to eat some or all of the player's contract.

To me, overpaying by a few million dollars far outweighs the risk of a situation that resembles Peavy/Padres unfolding a few years from now.  It's clearly affecting the team's off-season and even long-term plans, and perhaps also hurting goodwill with their fanbase, which will cost San Diego at the ticket gates.