Rethinking the GM, Part I—American League East

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, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Maybe it’s time to rethink how GMs are hired instead of lauding owners for adhering to stats; for placating media demands; for listening to fans; for doing what they think will be well-received and garner them some good coverage while hoping that it’s going to work in lieu of hiring the best person for the job and all it entails. Some people may have sterling resumes, extensive experience, a great presentation and charisma and then fail miserably at one or another aspect of the job. Just because a GM was great at running another club’s draft, running the farm system or was a valuable jack-of-all-trades assistant doesn’t make them suited to do the big job.

With the struggles of GMs from both sides of the spectrum like the Mariners’ Jack Zduriencik, who built his club based on stats; and the Royals’ Dayton Moore, who rebuilt the entire Royals farm system into one of baseball’s best, after-the-fact and self-indulgent criticisms from the aforementioned factions of stat people, media and fans are essentially worthless. Zduriencik’s bandwagon has emptied since his first overachieving season as Mariners GM in 2009 when the team, which he had little to do with putting together, rose from 61-101 to 85-77 due to luck and performance correction rather than any brilliance on his part. Moore is a veritable punching bag for the Royals collapse from 17-10 after 27 games to 21-29 and sinking.

Instead of ripping the GMs for what they’ve done, perhaps it would be better to look at each GM and examine how he got the job without a retrospective on the moves they made and the teams they’ve built. This isn’t as flashy as dissecting his decisions as GM, but it’s probably more useful to those doing the hiring in the future. In short, was the hiring a good one in the first place and was the decision made based on factors other than putting a winning team together?

If you think it’s so easy to put your individual stamp on the job of being a Major League Baseball GM, then walk into your boss’s office today (if you have a job that is) and tell him or her some of the things you say on blogs and message boards and tweets to Keith Law: “This is how it’s gonna be, and I’m gonna do this my way and you better just give me full control…” On and on. Then, after you’re done, go get your resume ready to look for a new job. It doesn’t work in the way people seem to think it does and the audacity of someone who’s working the stockroom at Best Buy telling experienced baseball people how they should do their jobs needs to be tamped down a little. Actually, it needs to be tamped down a lot.

Let’s go division by division. First the American League East with subsequent postings to be published discussing all of the other divisions in baseball.

Boston Red Sox

Ben Cherington was the next-in-line successor to Theo Epstein when Epstein abandoned ship to take over as president of the Cubs. He’d worked in the Red Sox front office going back to the Dan Duquette days and was a highly regarded hire. His first season was pockmarked by the aftermath of the disastrous 2011 collapse, the interference of Larry Lucchino and John Henry and that he was overruled in his managerial preferences for someone understated like Gene Lamont in favor of Bobby Valentine. Now the team has been put together by Cherington and they’re trying to get back to what it was that built Epstein’s legacy in the first place.

New York Yankees

Brian Cashman walked into a ready-made situation when he took over for Bob Watson after the 1997 season. He’d been with the Yankees since 1986 working his way up from intern to assistant GM and barely anyone knew who he was when he got the job. His hiring inspired shrugs. He was known to George Steinbrenner and Cashman knew what his life would be like functioning as Steinbrenner’s GM. He was taking over a team that was a powerhouse. Little was needed to be done in 1998 and his main job during those years was to implement the edicts of the Boss or steer him away from stupid things he wanted to do like trading Andy Pettitte. If the Yankees had hired an outsider, it wouldn’t have worked because no one would’ve been as aware of the terrain of running the Yankees at that time as Cashman was. He’s a survivor.

Baltimore Orioles

Whether the Orioles would’ve experienced their rise in 2012 had Tony LaCava or Jerry Dipoto taken the job and been willing to work under the thumbs of both Peter Angelos and his manager Buck Showalter will never be known. Dan Duquette was hired as a last-ditch, name recognition choice whose preparedness in the interview was referenced as why he got the nod. Duquette has never received the credit for the intelligent, gutsy and occasionally brutal (see his dumping of Roger Clemens from the Red Sox) work he did in laying the foundation for the Red Sox championship teams or for the Expos club he built that was heading for a World Series in 1994 had the strike not hit. He’s a policy wonk and devoid of the charming personality that many owners look for in today’s 24/7 newscycle world in which a GM has to have pizzazz, but he’s a qualified baseball man who knows how to run an organization. Suffice it to say that if it was LaCava or Dipoto who was the GM in 2012, more credit would’ve gone to the GMs by the stat-loving bloggers than what Duquette has received. All he’s gotten from them is silence after they torched him and the Orioles when he was hired.

Tampa Bay Rays

For all the talk that Andrew Friedman is the “best” GM in baseball, it’s conveniently forgotten that he is in a uniquely advantageous situation that would not be present anywhere else. He has an owner Stuart Sternberg who is fully onboard with what Friedman wants to do; the team doesn’t have the money to spend on pricey free agents nor, in most cases to keep their own free agents unless they do what Evan Longoria has done and take far down-the-line salaries to help the club; and he’s not functioning in a media/fan hotbed where every move he makes is scrutinized for weeks on end.

If he were running the Yankees, would Friedman be able to tell Derek Jeter to take a hike at the end of this season if it benefited the club? No. But if it got to the point where any Rays player from Longoria to David Price to manager Joe Maddon wore out his welcome or grew too costly for what he provides, Friedman has the freedom to get rid of one or all. That wouldn’t happen anywhere else, therefore his success isn’t guaranteed as transferrable as a matter of course.

Toronto Blue Jays

After the rollercoaster ride on and off the field that was having J.P. Ricciardi as their GM, they tabbed his assistant Alex Anthopoulos as the new GM. There were no interviews and no interim label on Anthopoulos’s title. He was the GM. Period. Anthopoulos was a solid choice who had extensive experience in front offices with the Expos and Blue Jays. He’s also Canadian, which doesn’t hurt when running a Canadian team.

Should the Blue Jays have done other interviews? If the former GM is fired because his way wasn’t working, then that’s not just an indictment on the GM, but on his staff as well. No one in a big league front office is an island and if the prior regime didn’t succeed, then interviews of outside candidates—just to see what else is out there—would’ve been wise. It’s like getting divorced and then turning around marrying one of the bridesmaids. Anthopoulos still might’ve gotten the job, but it would not have been done with such tunnel vision.

//

Advertisements

Alderson And The Experts

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

You can watch the Sandy Alderson interview with Kevin Burkhardt on Mets Hot Stove above and make your own determination as to what he’s actually saying.

The body language/tone/behavior/baseball experts on Twitter and in the media took the “look” of Alderson as ranging from profoundly negative to depressed to near suicidal.

If you read the transcript of the juicy bits of what he said here on MetsBlog, you can make an entirely different judgment.

Those who are ripping the Mets as a matter of course for the relentless need to complain; because there’s an editorial mandate to do so or because it’s designed to drum up webhits in a trolling sort of manner; to push a book; or just because, here’s the truth: they either don’t want to understand reality or are utterly incapable of doing so, and they’re not accepting facts.

If you dissect the Mets 2012 situation financially and in talent, they’re not going to be anything more than a fringe contender for a Wild Card spot if they bring Jose Reyes back and have everything go exactly right.

Some are actively trying to tilt at windmills, aggrandize themselves as influential voices and catalyze a new ownership.

The Wilpons are not selling the team. This is the position they’re in at least until their part in the Madoff lawsuit is completed and they have a firmer grip on what the circumstances are. Anyone hoping for a Mark Cuban to walk in, buy the team and start spending, spending, spending the team back into relevance hasn’t the faintest idea of how an organization—sports or otherwise—is run; Cuban did all of those things the Mets are entreated to do; but what the ignorant outsiders are failing to grasp is that the Dallas Mavericks went through multiple incarnations of players, coaches and a lack of success before hitting the jackpot with an unexpected championship last season.

The Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies proved this very year that spending capriciously for star players doesn’t automatically guarantee a championship.

The Mets have gone down that road. They signed the big names—Johan Santana, Jason Bay, Billy Wagner, Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez; they filled all the holes; they did everything the fans wanted them to do including building a new ballpark.

They haven’t won.

In fact, they degenerated into a disaster.

It’s not because of the Madoff Ponzi scheme and the Wilpon’s entanglement in that nightmare, it’s because they were top-heavy and shoddily constructed—built to win immediately for a short window.

The window closed and they hadn’t won.

It’s not Omar Minaya’s fault; it’s the Jeff Wilpon’s fault; it’s not Bernie Madoff’s fault.

It happened. And it happens to the teams that are perceived as doing everything the “right” way.

Sandy Alderson was hired to fix the Mets and that’s what he’s doing whether you like it or not.

Do you believe that John Henry intended to spend $160 million on payroll when he bought the Red Sox? If he did, then what was the purpose of hiring Theo Epstein and his young, stat savvy crew of Ivy League educated, sabermetric wizards? Why did he hire Bill James? Why did he hire Billy Beane only to be spurned at the altar?

Henry wanted to create the Moneyball Red Sox patterned after the cheap and efficient method in which Beane (and, in part, Alderson) transformed the A’s into a dominant franchise without spending a ton of money.

Things morphed into the Red Sox competing with the Yankees for the same players and a championship or bust attitude. It’s part of the reason for the 2012 Red Sox catastrophe and departure of both Terry Francona and Theo Epstein.

People wanted the “Red Sox way” and that’s what they’re getting.

Alderson has the people—Paul DePodesta, J.P. Ricciardi—from that school of thought; a similar school of thought that has made the Rays into a team that wins with a non-existent payroll and an atrocious ballpark. When the Stuart Sternberg regime took over the Rays, they knew they could’ve won a few more games if they’d spent some money on mediocre big leaguers to look better than they were. But is there really that big of a difference between 68 wins? 76 wins? 82 wins?

No.

So why bother wasting cash to lure a negligible number of extra fans?

Reyes will either stay or he won’t;  barring a sudden leap from the pitching staff, some luck with bullpen signings/trades and the new Citi Field dimensions helping David Wright and Bay become what they were before entering baseball’s version of the Grand Canyon, Reyes’s presence isn’t going to help the team escape the morass in which they’re currently trapped. The club will save some face and make people who already have Reyes out the door look foolish, but that’s all.

It takes a brutal assessment and sheer courage to say to the fans that the team isn’t going to be able to contend with Reyes, so why overpay to keep him? The National League East is a nightmare. If the Mets had the cash of the Yankees and Red Sox, they’d be able to cobble a contender from the current market by signing Jonathan Papelbon; C.J. Wilson; Josh Willingham.

They don’t.

This is why Alderson was brought onboard. I saw no negativity in what he said concerning the rebuild—and that’s what it is; his body language indicated what those who are looking for “clues” wanted to see; his tone was matter-of-fact, realistic and intelligent; his content was comprehensive and honest.

Alderson asked Reyes’s representatives what it would cost to sign him; they received silence; the Mets told him to shop around and come back. What else are they supposed to do? What else can they do?

Nothing.

Reyes will be presented with offers from other clubs; the Mets might be able to match them; if they can, he’ll stay; if they can’t, he’ll go elsewhere (watch the Angels) and the Mets will move on in a rational, coherent and coldblooded manner to turn the team into a profitable and successful franchise that can spend money to fill holes, but also has players who were developed internally or are unappreciated foundlings that come through.

This is where they are. Stop complaining about it. If you don’t like the product, don’t go to the games and come back when the team is deemed worthwhile for you to spend your money to watch.

Perhaps the Mets would be better off is Alderson was that straightforward about the team. Maybe then the armchair analysts would shut up.

//

Draft Bored

Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

To punctuate the absurdity of the attention paid to the MLB Draft as if it’s on a level with the NBA/NFL versions in terms of relevance, I thought it’d be interesting—for context purposes only—to look at each team, their best player(s) and the circumstances under which they drafted, signed and acquired by their current clubs.

I can say this stuff because I’m not attached to a corporate entity with advertising dollars as a circular end like ESPN; not beholden to anyone but myself; do not pledge fealty to anything but the truth as I see it.

Let’s take a look. First the teams, then the “best” player(s) as I see them, then a brief background.

Tampa Bay Rays—Evan Longoria

Longoria was the 3rd pick in the 2006 draft after the Stuart Sternberg operation took full control of running the then-Devil Rays. The Royals took Luke Hochevar with the first overall pick; the Rockies took Greg Reynolds next.

Of the top ten that year, the notable names are Brandon Morrow and Tim Lincecum—forever linked because the Mariners bypassed the local product Lincecum in favor of the more aesthetically pleasing Morrow (and I’d have done the same thing). Brad Lincoln went 4th to the Pirates; Clayton Kershaw was taken at 7 by the Dodgers.

New York Yankees—CC Sabathia/Robinson Cano

You can make an argument for either being the Yankees “best” player.

Sabathia was taken with the 20th pick the 1st round by the Indians in 1998. Pat Burrell went 1st overall; Mark Mulder 2nd; J.D. Drew 5th.

The Yankees paid Sabathia a lot of money to sign with them.

Cano was signed as an amateur free agent in 2001; the Yankees had no clue what he was in the minors because if they did, they wouldn’t have offered him as part of the package for Alex Rodriguez; apparently the Rangers didn’t know either.

No one knew.

In fact, none other than that noted baseball expert Mike Francesa, along with then-partner Chris Russo, took joy in ridiculing the Yankees decision to bench Tony Womack in favor of Cano in 2005 when the move was initially made.

Boston Red Sox—Adrian Gonzalez

A couple of other Red Sox players like Kevin Youkilis could be considered the “best”; Youkilis was drafted in the 8th round of the 2001 draft by Dan Duquette’s unfairly criticized regime.

In an under-reported and swept-under-the-rug fact from Moneyball, Youkilis was going to be the compensation for the Athletics letting Billy Beane out of his contract to take over the Red Sox after 2002.

That wouldn’t have gone well.

As for Gonzalez, he was the 1st overall pick of the Marlins in 2000; Chase Utley was taken 15th; Adam Wainwright 29th.

Gonzalez was traded by the Marlins to the Rangers in 2003 for Ugueth Urbina and won a World Series they probably wouldn’t have won without Urbina.

The Rangers made one of the worst trades in major league history dealing Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka; Rangers GM Jon Daniels has since said that the Rangers had a first baseman in Mark Teixeira and didn’t know how good Gonzalez was.

The Red Sox traded a package of prospects to the Padres for Gonzalez and signed him to a long-term contract for $154 million.

Toronto Blue Jays—Jose Bautista

Bautista is a case study of the ridiculousness of the draft.

He was a 20th round pick of the Pirates in 2000. He went to the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft in 2003; was selected off waivers by the Devil Rays in 2004; was purchased by the Royals three weeks later; was then traded to the Mets for Justin Huber; was spun off immediately back to the Pirates for Kris Benson. This all happened within a few weeks.

He was traded to the Blue Jays for a player to be named later in 2008.

Now he’s a wrecking machine and he didn’t establish himself until he was 29-years-old.

Baltimore Orioles—Adam Jones

Jones was the 37th pick in the 1st round by the Mariners in 2003. He was traded by then-Mariners GM Bill Bavasi to the Orioles in a package for Erik Bedard in what’s turned out to be a horrific trade for the Mariners.

Cleveland Indians—Shin-Soo Choo

If he was 100%, Grady Sizemore might be the Indians “best” player, but he’s not. The Indians took advantage of the fact that Expos GM Omar Minaya was under the impression that there would no longer be an Expos franchise after the 2002 season and got Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Lee Stevens for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew.

As for Choo, he was an undrafted free agent signee by the Mariners in 2000 and was traded to the Indians for Ben Broussard in 2006.

Detroit Tigers—Miguel Cabrera

Cabrera was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Marlins in 1999 out of Venezuela. The Marlins won a World Series with him as a blossoming and fearless young star in 2003, then traded him and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers in a salary dump for a package of youngsters after 2007.

Kansas City Royals—Billy Butler

Butler was taken by the Royals with the 14th pick of the 1st round in 2004. Stephen Drew was taken by the Diamondbacks next; Phil Hughes by the Yankees later.

Chicago White Sox—Paul Konerko

Konerko was a 1st round pick of the Dodgers in 1994. He was a catcher who was traded to the Reds for Jeff Shaw; then to the White Sox for Mike Cameron.

Minnesota Twins—Joe Mauer

In 2001, the Twins were ridiculed for taking the hometown, high school hero Mauer when Mark Prior was poised, polished and nearly big league ready.

It was a pick based on sentiment; it was a mistake.

Or so it was said.

Um. No. It wasn’t a mistake.

Oakland Athletics—Trevor Cahill

Cahill was plucked in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft and he was a dreaded….high school pitcher; the exact type of prospect the Athletics and Billy Beane (according to the twisted fantasies of Michael Lewis) were supposed to avoid.

Yah.

Texas Rangers—Josh Hamilton

I think we all know the story of Josh Hamilton by now as a cautionary tale. The first pick in the 1999 draft by the Devil Rays, addiction nearly destroyed his entire life. Now he’s the reigning AL MVP.

Los Angeles Angels—Jered Weaver

Weaver was taken with the 12th pick of the 1st round in the 2004 draft.

Seattle Mariners—Felix Hernandez

The Venezuelan Hernandez was signed as an amateur free agent in 2002 at the age of 16.

Philadelphia Phillies—Roy Halladay

Those who try to manipulate you by not disclosing full details can use Halladay’s status as a 1st round pick in 1995 of the Blue Jays as an example of the value of 1st round picks.

But Halladay was a failure mentally and physically until coach Mel Queen lit into him, broke down his entire being and rebuilt him into the monster he’s become. The pitcher he is now is not the pitcher whom the Blue Jays drafted, 1st round or no 1st round.

Florida Marlins—Josh Johnson

Johnson was a 4th round pick in 2002 and is now one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.

Atlanta Braves—Jason Heyward

Heyward was drafted in the 1st round by the Braves in 2007 with the 14th pick; he’s an MVP candidate if he can stay healthy.

Washington Nationals—Ryan Zimmerman

Zimmerman was taken in the 1st round of the 2005 draft with the 4th pick.

You can’t quibble with Zimmerman, but that was a very strong draft with Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Clay Buchholz and Andrew McCutchen all taken after Zimmerman.

New York Mets—Jose Reyes

Reyes was signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1999 at age 16.

Cincinnati Reds—Joey Votto

Votto was a 2nd round pick of the Reds in the 2002 draft. Brian McCann was taken later in the 2nd round by the Braves.

St. Louis Cardinals—Albert Pujols

Pretty much the only issue I had with Jonah Keri’s book, The Extra 2% detailing the rise of the Rays, was the chapter that discussed how they missed on Pujols as an example of the Chuck LaMar regime’s cluelessness concerning the draft.

Everyone missed on Pujols.

Nobody thinks a 13th round pick is even going to make it, let alone become this era’s version of Joe DiMaggio, but that’s what Pujols is.

Would Keith Law or Jonathan Mayo even have known who Pujols was had they been focusing on the draft to the degree that they do today?

No chance.

Milwaukee Brewers—Ryan Braun

Braun’s selection was discussed in the bit about Zimmerman.

You could make the argument that Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke or Yovani Gallardo are the Brewers “best” players. Fielder was said in Moneyball to be “too fat” for the A’s to draft in a draft in which they were intent on drafting players who weren’t would-be jeans models.

Fielder turned out pretty well I’d say.

Pittsburgh Pirates—Andrew McCutchen

I’m biased because I think McCutchen is going to be a MEGA-star. He too was in the Braun/Zimmerman draft.

Chicago Cubs—Starlin Castro

The Dominican Castro was signed as an amateur free agent at the age of 16 in 2006.

Houston Astros—Brett Wallace

It’s hard to pinpoint a “best” player on a team like the Astros, but Wallace qualifies I suppose.

Wallace was taken in the 1st round of the 2008 draft by the Cardinals and Ike Davis was taken a few picks later. Wallace was traded by the Cardinals to the A’s for Matt Holliday; traded by the A’s to the Blue Jays for Michael Taylor in the complicated series of deals involving Halladay and Lee; then was traded by the Blue Jays to the Astros for Anthony Gose.

Colorado Rockies—Troy Tulowitzki

Tulowitzki was taken in the 2005 draft detailed earlier.

San Francisco Giants—Tim Lincecum

The 10th pick in the 2006 draft, teams were scared off by his diminutive size (listed at 5’11”—YAH!! RIGHT!!!); his unique motion and training regimen that his stage father demanded not be altered in any way.

Back then, I would’ve drafted Kershaw and Morrow before Lincecum myself.

Los Angeles Dodgers—Matt Kemp

Kemp was taken in the 6th round of the 2003 draft. His attitude has long been a question, but his talent hasn’t.

Arizona Diamondbacks—Justin Upton

Upton was the first pick in the oft-mentioned 2005 draft. You can make a lukewarm argument against him, but he’s an excellent player.

San Diego Padres—Heath Bell

You can argue that Mat Latos is their best player, but right now it’s Bell.

Bell was picked by the Devil Rays in the 69th round of the 1997 draft but didn’t sign; he signed with the Mets as an amateur free agent in 1998. Much has been made of the Mets “failure” to give Bell a real opportunity and his clashes with then-pitching coach Rick Peterson.

Despite his frequent travel time on the Norfolk shuttle between the big leagues and Triple A, Bell did get a chance for the Mets and pitched poorly. The trade the Mets made of Bell and Royce Ring for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson was awful, but I’m sick of Bell complaining about how he was treated by the Mets.

If he’d pitched the way he is now, the Mets wouldn’t have traded him.

Are you starting to get my point?

Watching the draft to the degree that MLB and ESPN are trying to sell it is a waste of time, energy and sometimes money for the observers.

You never know which players are going to make it and from where they’re going to come.

Accept it or not, it’s the truth.

****

I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide. This type of analysis is what you can expect if you can handle it.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

//

Book Review—The Extra 2% By Jonah Keri

Books, Management, Players

There are easy and convenient explanations from both side of the spectrum in baseball analysis as to how the Tampa Bay Rays were able to craft one of the best and most efficient organizations in baseball.

Were they the product of stat-based theories with some outside-the-box application of strategies from other industries?

Were they beneficiaries of the ample number of high draft picks accumulated as a “benefit” of being so awful for so long?

Are there ancillary aspects to the surge from baseball purgatory to a case study of how to run a team properly?

Is it all of the above?

Jonah Keri answers all of these questions and more in The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First.

Stuck in a small market with an atrocious and difficult to access stadium; a history of heinous on-field results and rotten off-field behavior; awful front office decisionmaking; and an owner who micromanaged and alienated civic leaders and local businesses, the heretofore named Devil Rays were a laughingstock like no other.

There was no hope; no future; no reason to pay attention to them…until they were taken over by a young, fearless and energetic group led by Stuart Sternberg.

Foregoing what had failed in the past for the Devil Rays and other clubs, sifting through what worked and didn’t work by cutting to the heart of what makes a successful player, team and organization, the newly named Rays have become the blueprint on how to run a baseball team whether in large or small market.

What was the secret?

Those who are invested deeply in stats see the Rays as a validation of their way of doing things with cold, objective reasoning; old-school thinkers point to the high draft picks, speed, pitching and defense that would’ve made John McGraw proud; others (myself included before reading the book) feel that the Rays turnaround began in earnest once they stopped tolerating players like Elijah Dukes, Josh Hamilton and Delmon Young whose behaviors on and off the field led to the perception that the Rays were like the lawless deserts of Yemen—anything goes with no one willing to put a stop to it. They also stopped bowing to the Yankees and Red Sox as evidenced by the willingness to get into on-field scraps with both.

The truth is that it’s a combination of everything.

Sternberg, team president Matthew Silverman and de facto GM Andrew Friedman took advantage of the foundation that was left by the prior regime; they were lucky with players like Gabe Gross, Grant Balfour, Dan Johnson and Carlos Pena; they jettisoned the likes of Dukes and Hamilton and were unperturbed by Hamilton’s blossoming into a star with the Reds and Rangers; they got rid of Young, but made sure they acquired the pieces—Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett—that were a tremendous boon to their leap into a pennant winner.

The Rays took bits and pieces from everyone and everything.

They utilized former Indians and Rangers GM John Hart’s innovation of locking up players long-term before they reached arbitration years; it was that which allowed them to sign Evan Longoria to what’s being called the most value-laden contract in baseball history.

Dumping contracts before they became prohibitive—like their trading of Scott Kazmir—provided freedom to do other things they would otherwise not have been able to do like trade for an established closer in Rafael Soriano.

They’ve opened baseball academies in countries where baseball isn’t a known entity; I’ve long thought there were ripe areas to explore in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and South America. The Rays are doing that and finding players whose athletic skills would’ve been on a soccer field rather than a diamond; they’re bound to find players in this manner and other clubs will by copying them.

Of course, sports is reliant on people and their performance; you can’t look at the numbers, calculate a formula and automatically expect the desired result—it doesn’t work that way. In any endeavor of dealing with human beings, there are bound to be times for a necessary and conscious decision to deviate from established praxis.

The front office and manager Joe Maddon are aware of this; Maddon is allowed the freedom within structure to defer to his baseball wisdom—accrued through years and years of doing anything and everything within the game—and run his team as a man with a brain and not as some faceless, middle-managing automaton.

Maddon isn’t under threat of job security if one of his off-beat maneuvers doesn’t work. I’m on record as saying that I don’t like the way Maddon game-manages; nor am I a fan of his quirky “theme trips” like players wearing hockey jerseys on the road. I’m the “you’re wearing a coat and tie and shut up” guy; but Maddon’s style is suited to the Rays from the front office through the players.

Sections in the book—such as the discussion of how the Rays missed out on Albert Pujols (it’s specious and mentioned that every team except the Cardinals missed on Pujols); and the battle for viability with no money and a terrible ballpark—drag a bit; but this is no love letter to the Rays way of doing business at the expense of dissenting thought.

All voices are heard without ridicule or dismissal.

The Extra 2% and the Rays turnaround under a strict budget is compared to the Moneyball model, but Moneyball and The Extra 2% are sparsely compatible. You can almost see Keri’s subtle and lightly expressed eye-rolling at the cut-and-dried nature in which Moneyball was presented as a biblical text; that the implication in Moneyball of “if you don’t do it this way, you’re a moron; Billy Beane is Midas, period” is viewed with disdain.

The Extra 2% is not Moneyball and like other strategies, the narrative therein cannot be copied by mirroring what the Rays have done. Each circumstance is different. One question postulated and answered is whether the Rays would be able to run their club the way they do if they were in a more scrutinizing market with a fan base that reacted angrily if something like trading a Kazmir was done while the team was still in a moderate form of contention.

The easy answer is no.

But given the fearlessness with which the front office has squeezed every ounce of use they could from the players they’ve had and dispatched them without remorse, I believe they would run the team in the best way based on the bottom line of winning and doing it within their financial parameters; it’s a testament to the strategy. It’s not about taking Wall Street to baseball; it’s about doing what is necessary to maximize the investment and that, more than anything else, is the overriding theme of the book.

The Rays way is done without smugness, condescension or abuse; it’s systematic and it works. You’ll see that in Keri’s book.

Speaking of books, my book got a nice shoutout on Twitter from WCBS in New York sportscaster Otis Livingston.

olivingstonnyc

You can’t start your baseball season off right before checking out http://amzn.to/hSJEEO and get my buddy @PRINCE_OF_NY book.. I did!

I published a full excerpt on Wednesday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


//