The markets have been wild these days. The Dow has snapped violently back and forth. The share prices of first European banks, then U.S. banks, then just about everything else lurched around — so much for traders' summer vacations. CNBC's programming has at times resembled ESPN's, with talking heads crowding the screen. Replace the words "Ochocinco’s catches this season" with "the price of gold" and the analysis and speculation sounded pretty much exactly the same.
So it's really no surprise that in an environment in which it's getting harder to distinguish between stocks and sports, New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese is starting to sound like an embattled hedge fund manager.
"Just a quick update on where we are, because it seems like people are in a little bit of panic about where we are," Reese said in a media appearance shortly after the news broke that the Giants let yet another free agent (this time it was wide receiver Steve Smith) slip away. "The perception is that we are not doing a lot. We had a game plan and we are sticking to our game plan."
Reese's quote — particularly coming as it did while the markets swirled into a tailspin — gave me flashbacks to my time working in wealth management during the dark days of 2008. As you might imagine, “working in wealth management” at the time essentially just meant watching wealth disappear.
The phrase "game plan" and the casual dismissal of "little bits of panic" sounded so familiar. As Reese continued, it became increasingly clear — they were the tried-and-true idioms of the investor letter, those documents hedge funds and private equity firms ship out periodically to their investors to either brag about or obscure their recent performance.
In flush times, these letters can be documents of whimsy and wit, the equivalent of Rex Ryan showing off his new tat. But most correspondence turns cryptic, defensive, even accusatory when the shit hits the fan. Take, for example, a dispatch the Tosca Fund sent investors, which huffily defended the company’s strategy (a strategy that led to the fund's plummeting to a mere third of its value from the start of 2008) and practically threatened investors not to pull any funds. Here's how it began:
"Dysfunctional, illiquid, erratic, incorrect, redemptions, panic; all descriptive facts of last month and explanations that wholly reflect the trouble of claiming any form of correct equity valuation. [ ] The disappointment of 2008 could tempt many fund managers to just throw in the towel."
For comparison, here’s Jerry Reese again:
"Every year is different. There’s no template on how every year pans out. Every year is different. Again, we feel good about where we are. We’ll continue to look for players to make our roster stronger, but we’re not going to throw in the towel right now."
Giants fans might remark that it seems like they already have. It admittedly seems silly to get overly riled up over any one personnel decision, especially because none have been the end of the world. (And the Giants, to their credit, did move quickly on re-signing Ahmad Bradshaw and nabbing free agent David Baas.) But the cumulative effect of the Giants' offseason moves — or lack thereof — has been decidedly grim.
Shaun O'Hara and Rich Seubert were painful but totally understandable losses, though losing them did smack of the end of an era. While I let myself fantasize, I wasn't shocked when Plaxico Burress didn't return. (Did he really have to go to the Jets, though?) Kevin Boss' move to the Oakland Raiders was the saddest, though the pain was mitigated when I remembered that I now live in the Bay Area — admit it, a “Boss” Raiders jersey is pretty rad. And then there’s the Osi Umenyiora saga, which regardless of the ultimate outcome has been a painful and prolonged negotiation that has doubtless sprouted many a grudge.
On top of all those things, the Smith move hurt more. He was once one of the Giants' most important threats, most notably on third down. And while he’s older now, and recovering from microfracture surgery, it was still a tough moment for Giants fans, who had to watch yet another quality player roost with the evil Eagles.
Ah, the Eagles, the hot fund manager of the moment. During his remarks Jerry Reese noted that “fans really don’t understand the process” of the offseason. (If I had a dollar for every time I heard a portfolio manager say those last five words in 2008, I probably would have lost a fortune in the crash.) The Eagles, in contrast, have been all too happy to explain exactly what their process was. A recent New York Times article about the Eagles’ methodical “game plan” was as illuminating as it was, for a Giants fan, completely depressing.
I know deep down that it’s too early to panic. A season never turns out the way it seems like it’s going to at the start, in much the same way that at year-end all of the careful predictions of stock market experts seem pathetically dated.
And after all, even Tosca did end up battling back for those who chose to remain invested, just as the letter predicted. Teams always battle back, too, at some point — you just don't quite have the same mobility with your loyalties as you do with your dollars. The crash of 2008 and the free-agent market of 2011 were both unpredictable, but only the first was unexpected. While the Eagles knew the free-agent market was coming and positioned accordingly, the Giants almost seemed caught off guard.
New York — while handicapped substantially by the salary cap — could have held on to Smith or signed Plax or kept Boss, and it didn't. The Giants claim to be sticking to their game plan, the way fund managers love to trumpet "continued conviction” in their models, but did the game plan really involve losing (and not replacing) a reliable receiver and tight end in an already marginal offense? You can look at all the bright sides you want — and believe me, I've tried — and it just doesn't add up. This offseason, the Giants have taken the stock market mantra of "sell in May and go away" a little too seriously. For my money, anyway.
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