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Another type of free agent: Sig Mejdal of the Astros

Front office free agents can be worth as much to a team as an expensive player.

Sig Mejdal, Free Agent
Photo by Claire Greenway/Getty Images

I’m rather amused by the offseason so far. I’ve seen a few different ranges of fans or bloggers threatening to “go nuclear” if the Cubs stay under guidelines, thereby avoiding Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. It’s an interesting, if unexpected dynamic. The way I figure it, the Cubs affiliates will be in the same place the next four seasons. When those seasons conclude, I’ll shift to the parent club, again. However, a few people have been announced as free agents that captivate me.

These two, for example:

It didn’t take long for Mike Fast to find another job:

Most baseball statistics are “trailing” indicators. The assumption sometimes is that, through spin rates or exit velocity, these numbers will continue into the future. Perhaps so, and perhaps not. We’ve both been fooled, many times. Likely, in both directions. If you’re convinced a trend line will continue to satisfy you, you’re probably going to be surprised again soon.

If last season’s stalwarts are going to be relied on for that reason, injuries and reversals will get you scratching your ahead, and looking for a scapegoat. The way to long-term success is to keep your quality players producing, and locate replacements before they’re needed.

Innovation, analytics, or whatever you prefer, is finding new and better ways to make decisions. Throwing away what works isn’t necessary. Being able to adjust on the fly, should be. As confident as you are in what is working now, baseball runs in cycles. An organization that is chasing after what worked two years ago, will be running forever. Leading through innovation keeps your side steps ahead.

As to what Sig Mejdal specifically does, I’m not entirely sure. His official title was “Director of Decision Sciences.” The term “privileged information” applies. I doubt Houston posted their job specifics online. If they did, I’m guessing they changed the password recently. The thing about innovation is that there aren’t necessarily words for those terms yet. At least, not in standard shop-talk language.

Baseball fans can like to think they have a few things figured out. Stat-trackers and the like give us enough information with which we think, if we group the right categories and markers, we can accurately assess the future. However, nobody was lining up behind the Dodgers, offering more, for Max Muncy this spring. As much as we represent we know, more exists that we don’t. The big payout goes to those who find the break-out types before they do.

A reality seems to be, teams are hesitant to violate specified financial markers. Is that wise? Is that negligence? We’ll find out. However, league mandates don’t punish teams for “coaching well”, “scouting excellence”, or “developing above the average”. What roles would Mejdal want in an organization? How much should that be worth?

Mejdal served as an assistant coach recently. Needless to say, everyone on those teams knew what Astros tech types were looking for. My hunch falls into one of two categories with both men. Either their desired job is already filled with the Cubs, or the position hasn’t yet been accounted for. If two executives are walking away from very respected positions, it’s very likely they have a few ideas that will be common knowledge in a decade that are baseball heresy now.

If they go to lower-rung teams, which might seem likely, don’t look for them to stay lower-rung. While statistics are lagging indicators, front office efficiency and forethought are leading indicators. That the Cubs made some brilliant hires in 2011-2013 off-the-field should serve as verification.

Baseball teams succeed when that pitcher in A-Ball that could go either way, chooses a path that leads to success. This can happen through coaching, fitness, or commitment. From there, as an entirely changed player, they start to succeed more than expected. Having “the right people” in “the right places” is a really useful way to have extended runs of success. MLB isn’t the only level that matters.

If you’re honest with yourself, MLB and its run-up affiliation systems hold many mysteries. What is the best way to develop a pitching arm, while limiting injuries? How does one parse together a regularly solid bullpen? Similarly, what is currently popular isn’t necessarily a guidepost to success. Teams that ignore innovation because the “have it figured out” will be hopelessly behind in less than a decade.

This offseason, a number of teams (including the Cubs) have lost executives and/or coaches to other sides. As such, internally developing your own coaching talent would seem a wise idea. Then, quality can be added from within.

A coach or executive who can fix a problem is invaluable. Similarly, ones who create a new way of assessing talent accurately are beyond measure. I hope the Cubs contact Mejdal to see if any matches exist. While it’s likely he heads elsewhere, he sounds well worth interviewing.

A degree of the baseball discontent ongoing is because many fans want the game “how it was”. How it was doesn’t necessarily win, anymore. Innovations have created minor league pipelines with players being clocked at 104, and turning around 103. Some things about the game crave improvement. Others don’t appear to need fixing, but will be different in a decade, regardless.

As fascinating as the courtships between the players and teams is, I’m more intrigued by the mysteries still locked in the game. How will things be different in 15 years? I can’t wait to see, and hope the Cubs are among the teams pushing to the new horizons, with innovators like Mejdal and Fast.