Wayside Mandate

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What happened to the rule in baseball that minority candidates had to receive interviews for high profile jobs as managers and general managers?

Is it no longer in effect?

Does it receive a waiver when a club decides to hire a “star” executive or field boss or promotes from within using the “next in line” approach?

Why is it that Theo Epstein was essentially rubber-stamped to go to the Cubs with the Cubs not fulfilling the requirement of interviewing a minority?

Or that Ben Cherington was promoted as Red Sox GM without so much as a peep from MLB that they had to talk to other candidates to satisfy the rule?

Initially I felt that the rule was a half-hearted attempt to appear progressive in name only; I didn’t think it would do much good; if a club has a specific person in mind for a job—and that may have race as a part of the subconscious exclusionary process—there’s not much that can be done to change their minds.

But what if a candidate walks in and wows the prospective employer? And what if that candidate’s reputation is boosted by the fact that teams were forced to interview them when, short of the mandate, they might not have done so?

Executives chat regularly; it’s a relatively closed society. They complain about players’ behaviors; their bosses; the media; and other mundane aspects of doing a job that many think is the pinnacle in baseball.

Doesn’t it make sense that if a Demarlo Hale or Bo Porter go in for an interview as manager and doesn’t get it for whatever reason that doing well will boost them for another opportunity?

But baseball has given a pass to clubs like the Cubs who hired Epstein away from the Red Sox; watched silently as Epstein hired Jed Hoyer from the Padres; and may look the other way when he hires his next manager whether it’s Ryne Sandberg (the “Cubs institution” excuse—which can be altered to make light of the Cubs being something of an institution) or Terry Francona (Epstein and Hoyer know and have worked with him before) to replace the fired Mike Quade.

The Padres promoted Josh Byrnes to take over for Hoyer.

No interviews?

Why?

Of course in some situations there is a “token” aspect to interviewing a candidate because of his or her racial profile, but it’s a means to an end.

Ten short years ago, there was one minority GM—Kenny Williams of the White Sox, who is black.

The minority managers from 2001 were Dusty Baker, Don Baylor, Jerry Manuel, Tony Perez, Davey Lopes, Felipe Alou, Hal McRae and Lloyd McClendon.

Failed retreads Buddy Bell, Bob Boone and Jeff Torborg were also managing that year.

Today, we have Manny Acta, Ron Washington, Ozzie Guillen, Fredi Gonzalez and Baker on the job with three openings with the Cardinals, Red Sox and Cubs.

Journeyman manager Jim Riggleman has been mentioned as a possibility for the Cardinals.

Jim Riggleman? The same Riggleman who quit on the Nationals in a self-immolating snit because they didn’t want to exercise his option for 2012? That guy? Teams want to hire him to manage?

I wouldn’t even consider him after what he pulled with the Nationals.

The Athletics hired Bob Melvin as interim manager after firing Bob Geren and gave him the full-time job. No minority interviews.

The Nationals hired Davey Johnson—their interim manager and a supremely qualified candidate with a terrific resume of managerial success, but someone who appeared tired at times in 2011 and may have lost his managerial fastball—no minority interviews.

What about Willie Randolph? Is he toxic? His strategic skills weren’t great when managing the Mets, but he had control of the clubhouse and deserves another chance.

Today Ruben Amaro Jr. and Michael Hill are working GMs; Tony Reagins was just fired by the Angels; and Kim Ng is an Asian-American woman who’s interviewed to be a GM and is currently an executive with Major League Baseball—the same MLB that is tacitly allowing clubs to selectively bypass the the mandatory minority interview rule to hire “names”.

Progress has been limited, but it’s progress nonetheless.

A rule that has helped make positive improvements in this realm is being dispatched out of convenience due to the recognition of those that are currently getting those jobs.

Epstein was going to be the Cubs boss one way or the other, but that doesn’t render the requirement meaningless.

At least it shouldn’t.

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Don’t Expect Miracles From Theo Epstein

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The Cubs paid a lot of money and are going to send undetermined compensation—a prospect or prospects—for the right to hire Theo Epstein while he still had a year remaining on his contract with the Red Sox—Boston.com Story.

Only hindsight will tell whether or not this is a wise move.

In similar fashion, the Red Sox were set to hire Billy Beane from the Oakland A’s after the 2002 season and send a young infielder named Kevin Youkilis to the A’s for the right to do so.

Beane backed out on the deal that was worth over $12 million and had some insane perks such as letting Beane spend a chunk of his time on the West Coast and run the Red Sox from there.

Retrospectively, it’s hard to see Beane having replicated the success enjoyed by Epstein and his staff with the Red Sox. Two championships; an annual contender with homegrown talent; and daily sellouts speak for themselves.

Now Epstein’s the man with the reputation.

But 5-years at $18.5 million? For a team president?

I’m dubious.

What’s Epstein going to do with the Cubs?

First he’s hiring trusted acolytes from the Padres and his days with the Red Sox including current Padres GM Jed Hoyer.

I wondered yesterday why the Padres were letting Hoyer go without compensation since he’s under contract through 2014, but they’re going to receive prospects from the Cubs as well.

I wouldn’t give up players for an executive, but this is the way business is being done today. Don’t automatically dismiss how good the prospects might be because few knew what Youkilis was before Moneyball.

If anyone’s thinking the Cubs are going to be a lean machine of inexpensive “finds” that the “genius” Epstein discovered using some arcane formula that he and only he knows, you haven’t been paying attention.

Back when Beane was set to take over the Red Sox, an important factor in his potential for success or failure is that the details of Moneyball and Beane’s strategies weren’t widely known because the book had yet to be published. He was operating from a personal strategy borne out of desperation that not all were privy to; now, everyone has the same stats and are, again, reliant on old-school scouting techniques; an intelligent manager; superior coaching; smart trades; good free agent signings; and luck.

Those who point to other clubs who’ve been successful on a budget aren’t delving into the requisite factors of a team like the Rays maintaining excellence without any money and a decrepit, uninviting ballpark—they’ve got a load of starting pitching from being so consistently terrible for years; locked up key components like Evan Longoria; and have been masterful at finding bullpen arms and putting them in a position to succeed with an altered approach and a superlative defense.

There’s a baseline of talent with the Cubs—just as there was one with the Red Sox when Epstein was placed in charge there. It’s not as deep nor as good, but they have some starting pitching with Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano (who’s a lunatic, but might be salvageable); they have Starlin Castro; and relievers Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol.

It’s not a barren wasteland and there’s no mandate to cut costs due to monetary constraints.

This whole series of events is a bit incestuous and reminiscent of the decried “old boys club” of yesteryear when former players or loyal executives were placed in the perch of GM rather than finding someone qualified to do the job with a breadth of experience in every aspect of running an organization.

Epstein, who wanted to leap from the Red Sox Hindenburg, got his out—and a lot of money and power—with the Cubs.

Hoyer is leaving a situation where he couldn’t spend big and is grabbing the Epstein ladder to be his top lieutenant and run the club on a day-to-day basis while Epstein acts presidential.

Another former Epstein assistant, Josh Byrnes, is taking over in San Diego.

This is a similar dynamic to that which was rebelled against with Moneyball—that “old boys club”. Outsiders have become insiders, except that now, it’s not a litany of former players and longtime employees, but young college graduates who cut their teeth as interns, crunched numbers and worked their way up; it’s reaching its logical conclusion with the failures of such names as Paul DePodesta, whose tenure with the Dodgers was a nightmare that cannot be conveniently laid at the feet of Frank McCourt as many set out to do in his weak defense.

Beane himself has become a punchline.

And that’s a far cry from what was essentially a blank check and contract that Red Sox owner John Henry used to lure Beane to the Red Sox.

In today’s world, a GM has to be savvy to finances, scouting, development and stats; he has to delegate; and he (or she—Kim Ng is going to interview for the Angels job) has to be able to express himself to the media, saying things without saying anything to get into trouble.

Epstein has all these attributes.

But so did Beane.

Could another GM candidate like Jerry DiPoto or Tony LaCava go to the Cubs and do essentially what Epstein’s going to do? What he did with the Red Sox? Spend money, draft well, make some trades that might or might not work out and cover up any free agent mistakes with more money?

Yes.

And could they do it at a cheaper rate than $18.5 million for Epstein; presumably another $5 million for Hoyer; and the prospects that are going to the  Padres and Red Sox?

Again, I say yes.

Time will tell if this was a smart move. Just as the Red Sox were fortunate that Beane backed out on them and they hired Epstein, the Cubs could see one of the people they had a chance to hire go elsewhere and become the man they think they’re hiring now, except another club will benefit from that unknown.

The Cubs got the man they wanted.

We’ll see if it works out or if they would’ve been better off to have had the negotiations come apart, leaving them to hire someone younger and with the same attributes that got Epstein the Red Sox job in the first place.

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MLB GM/Manager Merry Go ‘Round

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Let’s have a look at the GMs and managers who might be looking for work after the season ends and who might replace them.

First things first, Brian Cashman is not leaving the Yankees; Theo Epstein is not leaving the Red Sox. So forget it.

Baltimore Orioles

Andy MacPhail won’t be back as GM and Buck Showalter has pretty much taken control of the whole operation. Clearly things aren’t going to go as swimmingly as they were when Showalter took over a year ago and the Orioles went 34-23 and then got off to a 6-1 start this season.

Everyone started going crazy based on Buck and Buck alone; apparently they didn’t look at the Orioles’ roster and the division beforehand.

The Orioles are a long-term rebuilding project, especially in the pitching department.

They have to find a GM who’s agreeable to Showalter without said GM appearing to be a puppet for the manager.

John Hart has been mentioned. He hired Showalter with the Rangers and is a veteran baseball man who’ll stand his ground in a disagreement. He’d be a good choice.

Chicago White Sox

There’s speculation that both GM Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen could both be gone.

Williams isn’t going anywhere.

Guillen’s going to the Marlins.

I discussed this earlier and don’t think it’s a guarantee that Guillen bench coach Joey Cora takes over as the new manager. Cito Gaston and Tony Pena are two possibilities.

Los Angeles Angels

Tony Reagins was said to be in trouble after the disastrous Vernon Wells trade, but how can you fire a man whose team might win the division and, at the very least, will win around 90 games?

You can’t.

Oakland Athletics

I’m saying it now: Billy Beane is going to the Cubs (if they want him); David Forst will take over as A’s GM.

Here’s what’s going to happen: the A’s are going to have a good year in 2012; the Cubs are going to have a good year in 2012; all of a sudden, Billy will be a “genius” again after the fallout of the ridiculousness of Moneyball the film and Moneyball the book.

I’ll be a major facilitator of said fallout.

I can hear it now and almost go on a tangent before it even happens: “It turns out that Billy was a genius!!”

Um…no. He wasn’t. And isn’t.

Seattle Mariners

Jack Zduriencik signed what was referred to as a “multi-year extension”. I suppose a 2-year extension counts as “multi-year”, but it’s not brimming with confidence.

The extension is through 2013 and if the Mariners have a bad year in 2012, he’s going to get fired.

Just out of curiosity, for what purpose are the Mariners writing Willy Mo Pena‘s name in the lineup? They don’t have anyone else to look at instead of the journeyman Pena?

Florida Marlins

Ozzie Guillen is going to be the next manager of the Marlins…unless he gets into an immediate argument with team president David Samson at the introductory press conference. A legitimate possibility.

Buster Olney tweeted that owner Jeffrey Loria and Samson are going to take a more active role in player procurement this winter. Sounds like Jerry Jones with the Cowboys. Which is to say it doesn’t sound good.

St. Louis Cardinals

Tony LaRussa has a 2012 mutual option with the Cardinals. The White Sox would be a place for LaRussa to finish his career in a full circle move to go back where he started; if Albert Pujols leaves the Cardinals, it’s hard to imagine LaRussa wanting to deal with the Cardinals without Pujols, but I think Pujols stays and so does LaRussa.

Chicago Cubs

Beane’s going to the Cubs; given how little he thinks of his managers, it wouldn’t do any harm (in his eyes) for him to hire Ryne Sandberg to manage the team and it would automatically get him in the good graces of Cubs fans.

Houston Astros

The ownership change from Drayton McLane to Jim Crane is going slowly; either way, I believe both GM Ed Wade and manager Brad Mills are going to get fired as soon as it’s done.

Who knows who Crane’s going to bring in as GM? But re-hiring former Astros GM and now Rays executive Gerry Hunsicker is a good plan if Rays GM Andrew Friedman turns them down. If they hire Friedman or Hunsicker, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez is a managerial prospect.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The McCourt ownership situation is what it is. There was talk that Ned Colletti might be a choice for the Cubs, but I doubt he’s leaving the Dodgers; if he does, Kim Ng would be perfect.

Don Mattingly not only deserves to keep his job, he deserves some Manager of the Year votes for keeping the team playing hard and respectably.

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Billy Beane And The Cubs Are A Match Made In _________

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It’s a match made in blank because we don’t know.

How will a Billy Beane with money at his disposal function differently than the Billy Beane with creative non-fiction bolstering everything he does as the touch of a deity?

We’ll see.

Everyone is on the same playing field now and with clubs like the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets using some semblance of the stat-based techniques in building their franchises, Beane’s not doing something different with obscure numbers that few are even aware of anymore.

What he was doing with the Athletics wasn’t the work of a genius, but the filling of a gap and utilization of weapons that hadn’t been widely discovered or implemented yet.

It’s opportunistic and smart, but hardly the work of a “genius”.

We’ll never know what would’ve happened had Beane followed through on his agreement to take over as the GM of the Red Sox after the 2002 season. What we do know is that the moves he had planned would’ve been retrospectively disastrous.

Under Beane’s Red Sox regime, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Jason Varitek were all part of an alternate universe in Red Sox history—a universe that Red Sox fans are undoubtedly pleased is embedded in a reality that can’t be found in Moneyball—in print or on screen.

Could it have worked with the blueprint Beane had in mind for the Red Sox?

Possibly.

But given the notorious impatience of Red Sox fans and the expectations accompanying Beane’s arrival, griping from the media and fans would’ve started immediately. Add in that the team had yet to break the “curse” and it was a recipe for disaster.

Even in a storybook sense, it’s difficult to imagine that Beane’s Red Sox could’ve been more successful than that which has been built under John Henry with Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein calling the shots.

Much of what happens is determined by luck and timing. Had Epstein not resigned in his gorilla-suit encased snit after the 2005 season, the Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell acquisitions wouldn’t have taken place. Would they have been better with Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez? Again, possibly. But no Lowell and Beckett make a repeat plot of the 2007 championship impossible. And the only reason they took Lowell was because the Marlins forced them to take his contract to get Beckett. Lowell was a key player in 2007.

The groundwork for Billy Beane’s departure from the Athletics is being laid as we speak.

The combination of next months’s release of the movie version of Moneyball; the way the Athletics have crumbled to an embarrassing irrelevance as anything other than a running gag verifying the absurdity of Beane’s supposed “genius”; the gridlocked stadium situation; that owner Lew Wolff has said he wouldn’t stop Beane from leaving; and the old “those close to Beane saying he’s frustrated” sham being planted in the media, all adds up to an exit strategy and golden parachute for a stagnated boss.

There was a suggestion that the Dodgers might be a viable situation for Beane. I don’t see that happening. They’ve been there, done that with Paul DePodesta and it didn’t work. Why do it again? If Ned Colletti leaves and MLB and the McCourts are still wrestling for control of the club, Kim Ng is a perfect choice. Her hiring gives positive public relations to all involved; she seems to know what she’s doing; she’s working for MLB now; was in Los Angeles before as Colletti’s assistant; and she’s agreeable to both sides.

Forget Beane in LA. We’re about to see his Hollywood foray and it’s about as realistic as the cooking school in Tuscany attended by all chefs at Olive Garden. In other words, it doesn’t exist. Beane’s movie fantasy has him being played by Brad Pitt and there will not be a sequel unless the real Beane turns a bigger trick than making everyone think he’s a genius in a setting vastly different than the one in the first story.

If Beane jumps ship, he’s landing on the North Side of Chicago to take over the Cubs.

And it’s going to happen.

Remember you read it here that Beane is going to be the next Cubs GM.

Maybe it’ll have a better ending than spin-doctoring and excuses to justify a farce.

But it is the Cubs after all. They’re sort of the Tropic Thunder of the baseball world.

Keep that in mind before thinking Beane’s walking in to save the day.

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The Cubs’ GM Search

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Speculation as to whom the Cubs are going to hire isn’t enough; it’s already turned into the media and fans trying to dictate whom they should hire, and that’s the last thing Cubs fans and front office people should want.

The poorly disguised agendas pop up immediately.

We saw it last Fall when the Mets fired Omar Minaya and conducted an intensive and judicious search by interviewing Al Avila, Allard Baird, Rick Hahn, Josh Byrnes and Sandy Alderson. They wanted to interview Dan Jennings of the Marlins and were rejected; they even had the audacity to ask for permission to talk to current Marlins president Larry Beinfest—they were rejected there too.

Now the names linked to the Cubs are similar and depend on factional allegiances:

Pat Gillick—the Hall of Fame old-schooler who’s rebuilt teams all across baseball.

Andrew Friedman—one of the architects of the Rays who may want to have the opportunity to work with a big payroll and baseball-mad fanbase.

Brian Cashman—his contract is up at the end of the season and despite his protestations that he wants to stay with the Yankees, winning with the Cubs would be a ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Theo Epstein’s name has come up.

Some of the people the Mets spoke to are bound to be in the mix as will Logan White of the Dodgers; Kim Ng of MLB; Royals and former Phillies scouting guru Mike Arbuckle; and others who haven’t been mentioned.

Would Billy Beane be a possibility?

The Moneyball silliness is reaching its inevitable conclusion and Beane’s reputation is in tatters with another on-field nightmare for the Athletics, who have again failed to meet preseason hype. He’d be a big name for the Cubs to pursue; he’s familiar with the stat-based theory they’re said to be looking for; and both he and the Athletics have to move on from one another.

Regardless of who’s hired, it should be the decision of the Cubs ownership and no one else.

Back when the Mets were in the middle of their interviews, the wave of sentiment was twisted ham-handedly in the direction of Alderson by the likes of Joel Sherman of the NY Post.

Sherman may as well have written, “Me want Sandy” and it wouldn’t have been any more skillfully navigated than the stuff he did write; at least it would’ve been honest.

Everyone had their preferred choice for one reason or another be it a convenient story; continuity of beliefs; or name status.

But I wouldn’t want Joel Sherman hiring my GM. (Or my groundskeeper for that matter.)

And the Cubs shouldn’t want any outsiders drumming up sentiment and inviting calls to all-sports radio as to what they ought to do based on nothing other than self-indulgent propaganda.

There are many decisions that will have to be made once the new Cubs GM is in place, most notably with Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and manager Mike Quade.

A younger, more insecure GM will want a manager who’s going to “be on the same page” as in “do what he’s told”; someone more experienced could deal with a cult-of-personality type like Bobby Valentine (who’d be a great fit with the Cubs).

Owner Tom Ricketts has to account for what would be best for the current configuration of the roster; who’d handle the Cubs checkered history; how much money there is to spend; and how quickly they’re planning to have a contender in place.

Hiring Gillick is a short-term call to win fast; hiring Friedman or Beane wouldn’t be.

Independent of what the media thinks, it’s a decision that has to be made by the ownership. The stuff coming out now amounts to little more than noise; noise that would be best ignored for the greater good.

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