GMs The Second Time Around

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With two big general managing jobs open—the Angels and the Cubs—let’s take a look at recognizable title-winning GMs and how they’ve fared in second and third jobs.

John Schuerholz

Schuerholz won the World Series with the 1985 Royals and moved on to the Braves after the 1990 season because Bobby Cox had gone down on the field and handled both jobs after firing Russ Nixon. It was Cox who drafted Chipper Jones (because Todd Van Poppel insisted he was going to college, then didn’t—he probably should’ve); Kent Mercker; Mike Stanton; Steve Avery; Mark Wohlers; and Ryan Klesko. He also traded Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz.

Schuerholz made the fill-in moves like acquiring Charlie Leibrandt, Rafael Belliard, Otis Nixon, Alejandro Pena and Juan Berenguer; in later years, he signed Greg Maddux and traded for Fred McGriff.

It was, in fact, the predecessor to Cox—John Mullen—who drafted Ron Gant, Mark Lemke, Dave Justice and Tom Glavine.

The idea that Schuerholz “built” the Braves of the 1990s isn’t true. It’s never been true.

Andy MacPhail

MacPhail was never comfortable with spending a load of money. When he was with the Twins, that was the way they did business and he excelled at it building teams on the cheap with a template of the way the Twins played and a manager, Tom Kelly, to implement that.

He put together the Twins 1987 and 1991 championship clubs. MacPhail became the Cubs CEO in 1994 and stayed until 2006. The Cubs made it to the playoffs twice in MacPhail’s tenure and came close to winning that elusive pennant in 2003.

MacPhail’s legacy running the Cubs—fairly or not—is that he was in charge while Kerry Wood and Mark Prior were pushed very, very hard as young pitchers trying to win that championship.

It was a vicious circle. If the Cubs didn’t let them pitch, they wouldn’t have made the playoffs; and since they let them endure heavy workloads at a young age, they flamed out.

MacPhail went to the Orioles in 2007 and the team didn’t improve despite MacPhail seeming to prevail on owner Peter Angelos that his spending on shot veterans wasn’t working; MacPhail’s power was usurped when Buck Showalter was hired to be the manager and his future is uncertain.

Sandy Alderson

Credited as the “father” of Moneyball, he was a run-of-the-mill GM who won when he had money to spend, a brilliant manager in Tony LaRussa, and an all-world pitching coach Dave Duncan. When the well dried up, the A’s stopped contending and he was relegated to signing veteran players who had nowhere else to go (sort of like Moneyball), but couldn’t play (unlike Moneyball).

Alderson drafted Jason Giambi and Tim Hudson among a couple of others who contributed to the Athletics renaissance and the Billy Beane “genius”.

Moving on to the Padres as CEO in 2005, Alderson created factions in the front office between the stat people and scouting people and appeared more interested in accumulating legitimate, on-the-record credit for himself as a cut of the Moneyball pie than in building a winning team by any means necessary within the budget.

He joined the Mets as GM a year ago. Grade pending.

Pat Gillick

Gillick is in the Hall of Fame. He built the Blue Jays from the ground up, culminating in back-to-back championships in 1992 and 1993.

He’s retired and un-retired multiple times, ran the Orioles under Angelos and spent a ton of money and came close, but continually lost out to the Yankees.

He took over the Mariners and built a powerhouse with Lou Piniella; they came close…but couldn’t get by the Yankees.

He went to the Phillies, built upon the foundation that had been laid by the disrespected former GM Ed Wade and scouting guru Mike Arbuckle and got credit for the 2008 championship.

He says he’s retired, but I’m not buying it even at age 74. The Mariners are the job I’d see him taking if it’s offered and with another bad year from Jack Zduriencik’s crew in 2012, it just might be.

Walt Jocketty

Jocketty won the 2006 World Series and, along with LaRussa, built the Cardinals into an annual contender. He was forced out in a power-struggle between those in the Cardinals from office that wanted to go the Moneyball route and Jocketty’s people that didn’t. One year after the World Series win, he was fired.

At mid-season 2008, he was hired by the Reds and was given credit for the 2010 NL Central championship, but that credit was a bit shaky.

Wayne Krivsky was the GM before Jocketty and traded for Brandon Phillips and Bronson Arroyo.

Dan O’Brien Jr. preceded Krivsky and drafted Jay Bruce and signed Johnny Cueto.

And it was Jim Bowden who drafted Joey Votto.

The common denominator with the names above and the levels of success or failure they achieved had to do with the groundwork that had been placed and, in part, what they did after their arrival.

The Cubs and Angels are both well-stocked for their choices to look very smart, very quickly; but the hiring of a “name” GM doesn’t automatically imply that the success from the prior stop is going to be repeated and that has to be considered with whomever the two teams decide to hire.

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Ryne Sandberg, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano And The Cubs GM Search

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The Cubs are looking for a new general manager and will presumably be looking for a new manager as well. It would best serve Tom Ricketts and his ownership to hire the new GM and let him select his own manager rather than bow to pockets of public pressure to bring Ryne Sandberg back to the organization. It’s been written that Sandberg would be willing to come back now that Hendry is gone.

Would Sandberg have done much better with this Cubs group than the man Hendry selected, Mike Quade? Maybe he’d have had the cachet as a Hall of Fame player to reach Carlos Zambrano, but apart from that the team is what it is and wasn’t going to be much better than this.

I completely understand what Hendry was thinking in both the realistic and Machiavellian senses when he decided against Sandberg. As I’ve said repeatedly when the “perfect” or popular choice is passed over for one reason or another, the manager can’t be seen as more powerful than the GM. Steve Phillips and Brian Cashman of the Mets and Yankees respectively shunned the focus group choice for new manager—Lou Piniella—and it wasn’t a pure baseball decision. No GM in his right mind if going to willingly hire a manager he can’t fire; a manager who won’t listen to his titular “boss” because he doesn’t have to listen to him. Piniella was quite effective at leveraging his popularity with fans and the media to force his will on the organization. With the Cubs, it worked briefly, but that success petered out and left the club with onerous contracts like that of Alfonso Soriano.

So why would Hendry, whose job was clearly and accurately on the line, hire Sandberg and marginalize himself? He didn’t and lost his job anyway, but the same thing probably would’ve happened had he hired Sandberg, so at least he went down with the manager he preferred rather than what would’ve been palatable to Cubs’ fans.

As for the team itself, despite the perception of disarray, they’re in good shape to get better quickly regardless of the new GM.

Starter Ryan Dempster is noncommittal about his 2012 player option with the club, but the Cubs should absolutely be hoping that Dempster returns. For $14 million, you’re getting 200 innings and consistency; if his services were to be purchased on the open market, he’d receive 3-4 years and around $16 million per season—ore more. It helps that he doesn’t sound as if he wants to leave the Cubs, but the question becomes whether he’d like to use his player option as a hammer to extract an extension from the new GM. If he does, I’d consider it…within reason.

The 2012 projected starting rotation for the Cubs is already in good shape with Dempster, Matt Garza, Casey Coleman and….Carlos Zambrano.

As the smoke has cleared from Zambrano’s latest explosion in which he “retired” then “unretired” and was suspended without pay for 30 days, cooler heads have to prevail.

Everyone—myself included—said that Zambrano had to be released because no one was going to take his contract and baggage. But throwing $18 million into the trash is not the way to do business; short of releasing him, what are the Cubs going to do with Zambrano? Depending on who’s hired as the GM, there’s always a chance that the new manager and pitching coach will be able to get sledgehammer Zambrano’s thick head to get something of use from him in the final year of his contract. This suggestion will and should generate eye-rolls and sighs of resignation, but unless the Cubs take a Barry Zito-type contract, they’re paying Zambrano; if they’re going to do that, they might as well try to rehabilitate him and release him if he acts up again.

Either way, it should be up to the new GM.

Aramis Ramirez‘s club option is a no-brainer and should be picked up.

The only things the Cubs can do is look at their current situation and accept that this is what they have for now and they have to make the best of it. Soriano’s going nowhere, but with Dempster and Ramirez both coming back and a tweak here and there with the fresh air of a new baseball regime, they could jump back into contention by next season.

All of this implies continue bad news for Sandberg in his quest to be Cubs manager: if the GM is from outside the organization and is going to be allowed to do what he wants, he’s not hiring a legend in the city to manage the team either because of the aforementioned power issue; so Sandberg have to continue his huff with the Phillies Triple A team and wait. Again.

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