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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Matt Harvey, Negotiating And Leverage

Matt Harvey? Or Machiavelli Matt Harvey?

The emerging controversy over the star New York Mets baseball pitcher Matt Harvey demonstrates lessons valuable for those of us who negotiate, investigate or resolve disputes for a living. 

The controversy involves (for those of you who do not follow baseball), on the surface level, the health of a star pitcher continuing to perform, some 23 months after the "Tommy John" ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow, as he approaches a rather arbitrary number of 180 innings pitched.  The number of innings pitched, over a six-month period, is assumed to be a proxy for the point beyond which Harvey's risk of injury is unacceptable to Harvey. (The reason for why that is unacceptable, the risk versus future-financial-reward for Harvey, is quite relevant for different issues which I detail later.)

The real controversy involves stuff below the surface.

What is that, you ask?

Here's one. The team, the New York Mets -- and for what it's worth, all of their fans -- want to be able to have certainty about the availability of their pitcher, Harvey, for the season's "stretch run" and the playoffs for however long the Mets compete in them should they qualify. The frustration is not borne by fear, fear of not having a star pitcher available for the playoffs, for example, but rather out of an exasperation that after nearly two years of constant monitoring and coddling precisely to ensure Harvey's optimal performance at precisely this time, the pitcher himself is about to pull the plug on his season.

The player's attitude stands in stark contrast to that of some of his teammates, of whom one cried during a game after learning he was about to be traded. 

At this writing, it is highly uncertain that Harvey will choose to pitch in the 2015 playoffs unless he is held out of the rest of the regular season.

Going back to certainty, because its presence or absence is the element needed for the baseball team to be able to plan using its other resources (players) for the rest of the baseball season: Harvey's statements, both directly to the media and earlier, through his agent Scott Boras, have diminished that certainty in the immediate future -- the rest of the 2015 season. But they have also reduced that certainty for the future, perhaps for the rest of Harvey's career.

Why? Because raising this issue now, after the planning and caution I referenced earlier, is a strong indication that the pitcher's "story" has changed, or his priorities are now surfacing. 

Those of us who resolve disputes for a living welcome this development, because it is an information breakthrough. It may frustrate clients, but it is always helpful to know your adversary's real intentions. That is how you come to an agreement, that is where you find the middle ground.


This is where the pitcher, Matt Harvey, gets a clear E-1. Error on the pitcher.

It's the second point to take away from this story was alluded to earlier. The inability to plan, and especially after the monitoring and attempts at cooperation, leads to two theories (not conclusions). First, the Mets now know there is no ability to plan with or around Harvey...not this year, not for the future...and secondly, that is so because his honesty, his forthrightness, is now and must now (plus the future) be suspect. 

It is painfully obvious and the conclusion is inescapable that Harvey could have expressed this concern earlier, his concern about approaching the arbitrary 180 innings limit, just so the Mets could have reduced his workload, and accommodated Harvey.

Matt Harvey is not a young man anymore. He is 26, not 18. He could and should have been more forthright about his concerns much earlier, because that would have allowed his team to plan accordingly.

Matt Harvey denied his team, his employer, that opportunity to plan, and by doing so, he has comprised -- if not willingly damaged -- his team's ability to win. Read that again: that is a serious charge, but the behavior and implicit messages from Harvey (or his agent Scott Boras) warrant it.

Why he did it is actually irrelevant. Here's why. The cover story is health. But that is the front put up, the position concocted to knock down criticism -- how can you make me pitch when I'm concerned about injury? Just know it's a rhetorical trick. Many skilled judges and lawyers see through it (almost no jurors do, however). 

If Matt Harvey were a witness in court, he would now be considered damaged goods, someone whose credibility would be suspect. He might make a bad witness, might not even make it to the witness stand. 

So what is this really all about?

This is a negotiating ploy by Harvey's agent Scott Boras. Harvey wants a contract, wants more money, and feels he has proven his value. His recent performance indicates he is a top-level pitcher, so it is possible or arguable that he has nothing more to prove and hence has maximized his value and leverage right now, by throwing out the 180-inning bar as the excuse to take no more risk of injury if he is not compensated. And all this is within their rights. Boras also wants to maximize value for Matt Harvey. The Mets franchise, the fans, are irrelevant. 

Now, value maximization means the most dollars. 

Here's how this is going to unfold.

Any controversy which weakens the bond implicit between player and team -- and especially when the player is a once-in-a-generation star like Harvey -- is assumed to be an opportunity to be exploited. That means that it is assumed it can be patched up, and that means patched up with a lot of money. 

If my theory is correct, this controversy becomes very intentional, very much by design.

It also tells the New York Mets franchise and their fan base that Matt Harvey does not care about the team winning. That is the conclusion supported by the fact of Harvey not expressing his current "concern" earlier, much earlier, or at any point in the season, when the concern could have been accommodated in a way mutually beneficial to the team and player.

Instead, the Matt Harvey strategy is to deliberately weaken his employer, the team, in order to exploit a crisis. And to be sure, the attack from within would not only involve his playing or not playing. These actions require a response from the team, against which every other player will measure how they are treated. This is how corporate morale, team morale, can be affected and even destroyed by special treatment, by special privileges and by the allowance of double standards.

Matt Harvey has a contract. Yet the suggestion by his agent Boras -- as to whom observers are entitled to assume speaks with the authority and permission of Harvey -- is that Harvey will withhold his services, not directly refusing but rather by using a hard-to-argue-with fear of injury excuse. But his prior history, his own prior statements, raise serious credibility questions that are value-damaging, credibility-damaging, relationship-damaging and constitute breaches of duty.

In business, in corporate America, a star employee often has an employment contract requiring duties such as the duties of care, of candor and of loyalty.  Harvey would be considered to be jeopardizing himself, at least his reputation, by giving support to claims that his words and actions are breaching them. And he is not a free agent, he is not without a contract in spring training or training camp, for example.

Others would use stronger terms, stronger words and stronger consequences. Diplomats and prosecutors have words to describe this: Sabotage. And treason. And...felony.

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