July 13, 2008
A Sports Economics* Lesson for Peter Gammons

Earlier this evening on ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" program, Peter Gammons was asked to comment on the possibility of the Braves trading first baseman Mark Teixeira. Gammons stated (this quote may not be exact; I'm typing from memory) "that the Braves have to decide if they can get back as much as they gave up for Teixeira last year" when they acquired him and pitcher Ron Mahay for five prospects.

This is decidedly not the problem the Braves face. The five prospects sent to Texas are a sunk cost since, unfortunately for Braves fans, there's no indication that the Rangers would reverse the trade and send the prospects back to the Braves.

Instead, the decision now is based on comparing the costs and benefits of keeping Teixeira vs. trading him. Some of the costs and benefits can be thought of in terms of financial gains or losses and while other come in the form of talent gains and losses (which, of course, have financial implications since they affect winning and fan attendance).

For example, if the Braves keep Teixeira the benefits include having him on the roster for the rest of the year thereby giving them larger (though still remote) odds of making the playoffs and larger attendance (both from winning more games with Teixeira's formidable bat in the lineup and from not appearing to concede the race to other teams). The benefits also include getting two compensatory draft picks for him when he leaves at the end of the year as a free agent.

By contrast, the costs of keeping Teixeira include his salary for the remainder of the season (perhaps $4-5m) and the cost of signing two high draft choices (approx. $1m each).

The Braves choice is to compare the net gain from keeping Teixeira to the value of the talent they can acquire for him. If trade rumors are to be believed, there are no teams offering substantial talent for Teixeira (this can, of course, change between now and the July 31 trade deadline). There would be two advantages to trading him for prospects rather than waiting for draft choices. One, as noted above, is that draft choices require signing bonuses. The other is acquiring prospects who have already played, say, 2-3 seasons of minor league baseball gives (for both the Braves and the trading team) a better read on whether they will turn out to be bona fide major league talent. That is, prospects with minor league experience are less risky than newly drafted players who have not yet begun the transition from high school or college to pro baseball.

BTW, my prediction is the Braves will keep Teixeira because, as noted above, there doesn't seem to be strong market for him. I think there's also a behavioral reason--the Braves management would take a lot of heat for trading Teixeira for much less than they traded away to get him.

*See JC Bradbury and Dennis Coates for interesting discussions of "what is sports economics?".

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:19 PM in Economics ~ in Sports

The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it. -Adam Smith

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