I love the creativity. A really good negotiator is disciplined, confident and prepared, but above all they're creative. The whole goal is to get someone to buy into a reality that you want to exist, because in that particular reality you have leverage. And so the successful negotiator can think on their feet and create a myriad of scenarios to advance their reality. Like making sure a Yankees assistant overhears a phone conversation with the Red Sox. Or leaking that an "inside source" says that a team's offer isn't genuine. Or creating an artificial deadline.
Last night, Hank Steinbrenner tried that last one. He made sure that tomorrow's NY dailies are reporting that a deal must be done by Monday or the Yankees will pull their offer of Phillip Hughes, Melky Cabrera and some unknown "other" guy off the table.
Steinbrenner, who was not planning to attend the meetings, said of his time frame: "The Twins are aware of it, that I'm not going to wait much longer. And the truth of the matter is, they don't want to be stuck with only one team to deal with. If they're stuck with just Boston, they're going to get a lot less. I'm not going to be played. This is not a game. This is serious business. I'm not going to be played, us against the Red Sox. That's not going to happen."
That's quite a threat there, Hank. So if the Twins don't accept the Yankees offer by tomorrow, Hank will punish the Twins by:
1) forcing the Twins to trade Johan Santana to the Red Sox, who will get Santana while
2) keeping their best prospects for future trades. Instead, the Yankees will
3) ask Oakland GM Billy Beane whether they can trade for a lesser pitcher, like Dan Haren.
So the Yankees would've have driven the best pitcher in baseball to their chief division rivals, at a reduced price, and would need to negotiate a do-or-die deal with one of the shrewdest GMs in baseball while no longer having a backup plan.
Yeah. Strong bluff there, Hank. Savvy.
The Leverage of Time
Especially because by simply setting a deadline, he's admitted to a key concession about leverage: you have it - I don't.
Usually, the person who tries to set a deadline is the seller. You see this all the time. I expect an offer from another couple by the end of the day. We may be out of this model. We're having a 3-day sale.
When these tactics are in play, you need to ask yourself exactly what the rush is. If they have the best deal, you'll certainly come back. So just what is the salesperson worried about?
Obviously, he's worried you're going to find a better deal.
The Fallback Option
Turns out, Hank probably is too, because ultimately the Yankees can't provide the best deal. They may have the most blue chip pitching prospects in the game, but the Yankees aren't offering all of them. And more importantly, the Twins don't need pitching prospects.
The Twins need offense, and that's where the Yankees are sorely lacking.
The Yankees best offer would likely be second baseman Robinson Cano, but they say he's untouchable. Also, he'll be eligible for arbitration this year anyway, so he's about to get expensive fast. That's not exactly what the Twins were looking for.
The name that's in every rumor is Melky Cabrera, who is a center fielder(+) and just 22 years old(+). But he's also never been a highly rated prospect(-) and while he's decent defensively(+), he's never put up above average offensive number in either the majors or the minors(--). His upside is that of a cheap(+) average center fielder, but he might also be a slightly gifted fourth outfielder whose inadequacies are hidden in that Yankee lineup.
And there's been a lot of discussion about a third prospect. The top two hitting prospects in the Yankees system are Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata. Tabata is impressive because he's just 19 years old, but he also hasn't dominated any of the levels he's played at. Worse, he hasn't faced pitching higher than High-A ball. Neither has Jackson.
But here's where it gets good - the Yankees reportedly won't offer these two. Both guys, neither of whom is particularly attractive to the Twins, are strictly off limits. And even better, they are the only two offensive prospects worth a damn in their organization right now. The next guy on Baseball Prospectus list of top Yankees prospects is a catcher who just finished up rookie ball.
The bottom line is that the Yankees, even if they really, really wanted to, probably can't beat the Red Sox existing offer. They're stuck being a fallback option, and in a negotiation, you NEVER want to be the fallback option. It's a powerless position. The buyer just keeps negotiating with their first choice until your offer isn't the attractive one.
The Twins Dilemma
Which isn't to say that everything's perfect for the Twins either. In a perfect world, they'd have a suitor that is both desperate for Santana and had the players they need. The Yankees are desperate, but don't have the players. The Red Sox have the players, but aren't nearly as desperate.
So there are some real risks here. The primary one is that the Red Sox are simply trying to see if they can drive the Yankee's price up, but when push comes to shove, their offer isn't genuine. That would be disastrous for the Twins.
Another is that both suitors would be nearly as happy if Santana wasn't traded at all. The best leverage that Smith has is that the stakes couldn't be higher for the Red Sox and Yankees. Either their team gets the most dominant pitcher of the decade, or their arch-rivals do. Hell, both would probably be relieved if a third team did enter the bidding, especially if that third team was in the National League.
Which is why Smith's vow to "not compromise" rings so hollow. Odds are that both eastern franchises would like nothing more than for this whole Santana thing to go away so they didn't need to worry about their rival getting him. It'll be interesting to see if Smith's creativity stretches as far as bringing a third team into the Yankees deal that might be able to provide some offense.
But regardless, it looks like there's almost no compelling reason for this standoff to be settled soon, let alone today. Which is just fine for this negotiation-loving fool.