Rethinking the GM, Part II—American League Central

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats

You can read the basis of these postings and part I here.

Detroit Tigers

Mike Ilitch is the epitome of the “do the right thing” owner with all of his sports franchises. He hires people who are both perceived to know and do know what they’re doing and gives them the resources to be successful. With GM Dave Dombrowski, there’s none of the “look how smart I am” pretense in which he wants to win but more than winning, he wants credit for winning and being the architect of the franchise.

Dombrowski is the classic old-school baseball guy who worked his way up organically and didn’t trick anyone with an array of numbers and catchy business-themed buzzwords. Some owners want to hear that stuff and it’s usually either the ruthless corporate types who have no interest in anyone’s feelings and putting out a product that will be both practically successful and aesthetically likable; or a rich guy who didn’t work for his money and is interested in seeing his name in the papers, but doesn’t have the faintest concept into what running a sports franchise is all about and isn’t able to comprehend that you can’t run a baseball team like a corporation and expect it to work.

Ilitch knows and understands this and lets Dombrowski do his job. Dombrowski has built three different clubs to success with the Expos, Marlins and Tigers and had a hand in the early 1980s White Sox who rose to prominence under manager Tony LaRussa. For those who consider Dombrowski a product of Ilitch’s willingness to spend money and little else, it’s simply not true and is only presented as an excuse because he’s not a stat guy. He knows talent, spends money when necessary, but also has an old-school GM’s aggressiveness going after what he wants when others wouldn’t know what they’re getting as evidenced by his under-the-radar trade for Doug Fister. Most people in baseball barely knew who Fister was at the time the Tigers traded for him and the acquisition exemplified Dombrowski’s thinking and decisionmaking as he refused to take Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik saying “no” for an answer. The prospects Dombrowski gave up to get Fister haven’t done much for the Mariners and Fister is a solid mid-rotation starter at age 29.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians use the transfer of power approach when they name their GM. John Hart passed his job on to Mark Shapiro and Shapiro moved up to the team presidency and Chris Antonetti took over as GM. This is not a situation where the GM is actually running the whole show. Shapiro may have moved up to a more powerful position above the player personnel fray, but he still has significant input in the club’s construction.

In general when there’s a promotion of this kind, it’s done so that the team president doesn’t have to deal with the day-to-day minutiae that the GM has to deal with. I’m talking about press conferences, giving the final nod on the draft, listening to manager/player complaints and other redundant and tiresome exercises that make a GM want to get the promotion (or demotion) in the first place.

The Indians GM job and other front office positions are rarely if ever in jeopardy. It’s understood that there are payroll constraints and Shapiro and company have the freedom to teardown and rebuild as they see fit. This year is different because they hired a pricey name manager in Terry Francona and spent money on players Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds and make a bold trade in sending Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds. Much of this is rumored to be due to owner Larry Dolan wanting to boost the product and attendance to increase the franchise’s sale value and then sell it.

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are unique in that owner Jerry Reinsdorf trusts former GM and now Executive V.P. Ken Williams implicitly and lets him do what he wants even if that includes considering making Paul Konerko player/manager prior to hiring an unproven Robin Ventura who had no managerial experienced whatsoever.

Much like the Indians, Williams moved up to a higher executive perch and Rick Hahn took over as the day-to-day GM with Williams maintaining significant influence on the club’s construction. Outsiders rip Williams but he wants to win at the big league level every year and tends to ignore development. If contending is not in the cards, he reacts preemptively and blows it up. Another reason he’s so loathed by the stat person wing is because he scoffs at them with the reality that they haven’t the faintest idea as to what running a club entails, nor does he care about what they say.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins are insular and won’t bring in a new GM from the outside who’s going to want to clear out the house of former employees, marginalize longtime implementer of the “Twins way” Tom Kelly, and fire manager Ron Gardenhire. With that in mind, when they demoted Bill Smith from the GM position, they reached into the past for the GM of the club during their annual trips to the post-season, Terry Ryan.

The Twins have a packed farm system and should be back contending in the next couple of years. Ryan is decidedly old-school, has a background in scouting and worked his way up like Dombrowski. He’s willing to listen and discuss his philosophy with the stat people at their conventions, but will continue to be a scouting and “feel” GM as he looks for players that fit into what he, Kelly and Gardenhire prefer rather than someone whose OPS jumps off the page but might not behave in the manner the Twins want their players to.

The Twins ownership is one of the wealthiest in sports but there’s a tradeoff with their manner of ownership: they don’t interfere with the baseball people, but they don’t give them any more money than is within the budget. They treat it like a business. There are probably more benefits to that than negatives since they’re willing to have a $100+ million payroll and aren’t asking Ryan to complete the very difficult task of winning with $60 million or less.

Kansas City Royals

What’s funny about Dayton Moore becoming a punching bag for the Royals horrific backwards streak in which they went from 17-10 to 22-30 is that none of his more vicious critics was saying much of anything when the team was playing well and it looked like Moore’s decision to trade a package led by Wil Myers to the Rays for a package led by James Shields was going to yield the desired result.

Moore learned as an assistant to John Schuerholz and played a significant role in the Braves having a fertile farm system through the 1990s and early 2000s, but might not be cut out to be a fulltime GM. He’s good at building a farm system and has trouble sprinkling in necessary ingredients to supplement the youngsters on the big league roster.

When Moore was making the rounds as a GM candidate, he almost seemed to be reluctant to take the job. He interviewed with the Red Sox in 2002 and withdrew from consideration after the first interview. He then took the Royals job at mid-season 2006. Perhaps he knew something that those who touted him as a GM candidate didn’t; maybe he was happy as an assistant and didn’t want the scrutiny that comes from being a GM and took it because he was expected to move up to the next level as a GM.

Whatever it was, I think of other GMs and former GMs who had certain attributes to do the job but weren’t cut out to be the guy at the top of the food chain because of the missing—and important—other aspects. Omar Minaya was like that. Minaya is a great judge of talent, can charm the reporters and fans, has a fantastic rapport with the Latin players and can be a convincing salesman. When he was introducing his new free agent signing or acquisition in a big trade, he was great with a big smile and nice suit as a handsome representative for the team. But when there was dirty work to be done like firing his manager, firing an assistant, or answering reporters’ questions regarding a controversy, his shakiness with the English language and propensity to be too nice came to the forefront and he couldn’t do the job effectively.

There’s nothing wrong with being a great assistant when the alternative is being a mediocre-to-bad GM and winding up right back where he or she started from.

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How About LaRussa Back To The White Sox?

All Star Game, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Prospects, Trade Rumors

The White Sox have accomplished something rare in Chicago: they’re more embarrassing than the Cubs.

Sure, the White Sox have a better record than the Cubs, but they have a lot more talent; no one reasonable was expecting anything more than mediocrity from the Cubs this year and they’ve been terrible; but the White Sox are a train wreck and GM Kenny Williams is going to do something drastic.

The time has passed for him to trade half his roster and he was right to hold his fire at the deadline. They were only 3 games out of first place and had played better to reach .500. Since then, they look like they’ve started their off-season early.

Ozzie Guillen has been rumored to be on the hotseat so many other times and was never fired; he has a contract for next year so there is reason to believe he’ll be back.

But there’s also reason to believe he won’t.

The Marlins wanted Guillen this past winter and the White Sox players don’t seem to be responding to him anymore. The easiest thing to do is to bring in a new manager rather than a boatload of new players especially with the immovable contracts the White Sox have.

The obvious choice in a chain-of-command style scenario would be Joey Cora, but Williams thinks outside the box and does what he wants. Another name I’d expect to be floated is the man who came in second to Guillen when Guillen was hired: Cito Gaston. Gaston didn’t look like he wanted to retire from the Blue Jays after last year and with Jack McKeon and Davey Johnson back in the dugout, it’s not as much of an anomaly to have a much older manager. Gaston will be 68 starting next season.

But how about Tony LaRussa returning to finish his managerial career where he started it?

Owner Jerry Reinsdorf is still close with LaRussa and the Cardinals are in flux despite their flurry of moves to placate the manager and win now.

In fact, the series of trades—that could be referred to as desperate—could be framed as having been made to win immediately in a last ditch effort to close out the LaRussa-era as a winner.

Could the Cardinals be preparing for a future without Albert Pujols just in case he does leave after the season? And would LaRussa have any interest in managing the Cardinals without Pujols?

He’s going year-to-year with his Cardinals contracts and with the rampant dysfunction that’s coming to light with the fight between Yadier Molina and Gerald Laird and the multitude of issues between LaRussa and Tony Rasmus that expedited Colby Rasmus being traded, maybe he and the Cardinals would like to go their separate ways.

If Pujols leaves, the Cardinals are going to be severely compromised in 2012 and at his age (LaRussa will be 67), does he need the aggravation of a Cardinals clubhouse sans Pujols and little chance to win?

The White Sox will have a lot of talent on the roster in 2012 and are ready-made to contend—a perfect spot for LaRussa in both practice and aesthetics.

It’d take a lot for it to happen, but it’s a viable landing spot for a 2-3 year window to try and win another championship and go out in the venue where he came in.

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A Crafted Issue

Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

It goes on and on with Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox and has since he started the job.

His penchant for making wild statements and splashy headlines has earned him the reputation as the epitome of the loose cannon, but he’s still there.

He’s clashed with his boss, GM Kenny Williams, but he’s still there.

He’s gotten fined, had his job threatened and done things that would’ve gotten a large chunk of baseball managers fired.

But he’s still there.

Now Guillen said he went to speak to White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf about his long-term status with the club and “didn’t like what he heard”.

What that means is anyone’s guess.

Does he want an extension past 2012? Does he want to go to Florida to manage the Marlins or pursue another job? Does he want to broadcast and share his fractured and relentlessly entertaining brand of English with the viewing public?

Or perhaps he’d like to run his website full-time.

And if you check his website, read the blog postings and compare them to his unintelligible (and hilarious) tweets on Twitter, Ozzie ain’t writin’ the English version of the blog postings. In fairness, he says “here it is in English” when he tweets a new one is up, so he’s not claiming to write the English version.

But it’s still funny.

I don’t understand the saber-rattling about his job with the White Sox.

If they don’t want him, they’ll fire him or let him leave. He’s not operating on the final year of his deal. Apart from the media and Guillen continually bringing it up, why is it even an issue?

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Extrapolating The Marlins

Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

Nobody, but nobody had speculated that Edwin Rodriguez would resign of his own accord before getting fired. We continually saw “insiders” and “experts” making statements as to the safety or precariousness of Rodriguez’s position.

Logically, he was going to get fired—soon—had he not resigned.

This is something to look at as to the machinations of the decision.

Here’s my guess: Rodriguez resigned because he was about to be fired and the Marlins front office didn’t want to deal with the fallout of firing another manager and be perceived as a chaotic, Steinbrenneresque outfit that overestimates a flawed roster and reacts by sacrificing the easiest and most disposable member of management—the field manager.

In exchange for his resignation and silence on the inner workings of the club, Rodriguez will have a “place” within the organization either as a coach, minor league manager, roving instructor or something.

He’ll be the good soldier because he is a good soldier. Rodriguez is a workmanlike baseball man who got to the big leagues as a manager the hard way and won’t want to sabotage all that work and riding buses in the minors to tell the truth about how he “chose” to resign.

He left before they could fire him in exchange for a different job.

I’m making it a point to ignore all the continued speculation from the mainstream reporters as to what the Marlins are going to do, but here it is in brief.

First it was Bo Porter, a former Marlins coach and the current 3rd base coach of the Nationals. It’s almost unheard of in this day and age for a team to hire a coach from another team’s staff to take over as their manager.

Then Jack McKeon‘s name was mentioned.

I have the utmost respect for McKeon as an old school baseball man with the bushy mustache and unlit cigar sticking out of his mouth—he looks like he was intentionally cast in the role of a baseball professor.

But he’s 80-years-old.

It’s not age discrimination to say that he’s too old to handle the day-to-day aspects of the job and the scrutiny that will center around his age, the youth of the majority of his roster and that the team has collapsed and is in turmoil.

Some have suggested that the Marlins will name an interim manager for the rest of the season and wait for the potential availability of White sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

Guillen’s job has been in “jeopardy” about 15 other times, but he’s still the White Sox manager. His 2012 option was exercised earlier this season. He’s going to remain the White Sox manager. Not only is he still popular in Chicago, but I get the feeling that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf likes having the antagonistic relationship between Guillen and GM Kenny Williams. That Williams wanted Mike Stanton as compensation from the Marlins when they made a brief overture to speak to Guillen last winter pretty much tells you how motivated he was to let Guillen go.

The thought that longtime bench coach Joey Cora can slide in neatly as Guillen’s replacement is questionable. Cora is a good, feisty baseball man; he deserves and will eventually get a chance to manage, but as has been proven before, the bench coach doesn’t always walk in and replicate the success of his predecessor. John McLaren is an example of this.

Two things tell me the Marlins are going to go for a “name” manager right now.

One, they aren’t giving up on 2011. Nor should they. The parity-laden National League has left the Wild Card wide open and if they get hot they can still climb back to within striking distance of the Phillies. The Marlins don’t do sell-offs in season—they wait until the winter to clear out the house of veterans or players who are becoming too expensive.

Two, they’re heading into the new ballpark next season and want someone who has cachet and name recognition for the casual fan to drum up some excitement.

Bo Porter ain’t it.

Owner Jeffrey Loria let his baseball people talk him out of Bobby Valentine last year. I don’t think he’s going to let that happen again. Valentine will be managing the Marlins at some point be it immediately or after the season.

They have two choices: Valentine or Tony Perez. Perez would take the job on an interim basis, his son Eduardo was recently hired as the hitting coach and Tony has always said he’d like to give managing another try.

With Valentine, the Marlins are going to have to make it worth his while to walk away from his lucrative, cushy and ego-boosting forum on the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast. They’ll have to pay him and give him some say-so over the club construction. Whether the braintrust—Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill, Dan Jennings along with club president David Samson will be on board with this is a question.

Some might, some might not.

But Loria is going to do what he’s going to do.

The Marlins should hire Valentine and they should do it immediately. He’s a great manager, he’d spark enthusiasm and he’d run the team correctly.

He’s the best choice.

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