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Stark: Pirates GM Won't be a "Usual Suspect"

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Jayson Stark:

The Astros might have more stars in place than the Pirates. But given the McLane factor, we're hearing that the pool of GM candidates is almost universally viewing the Pirates' job as a better situation. One baseball man who spoke with incoming president Frank Coonelly this week says that Coonelly isn't as close to zeroing in on someone like Amaro or Blue Jays player-personnel director Tony LaCava for that GM job as has been rumored. But they both fit the profile of the kind of GM Coonelly wants to hire -- a candidate with a strong baseball and/or scouting background who hasn't been one of the previous usual suspects.

Well, that's promising news - it appears we're not going to see somebody like former Phillies GM Ed Wade or former Dodgers GM Dan Evans or some of the other dubious candidates the Astros have been interviewing.

I'm a lot less confident in Wade or someone like that than I am in... really, almost any younger candidate. I think the reason why - and I haven't followed baseball long enough to say this with a ton of confidence, but what the heck - is that major league baseball execs are just a lot smarter now than they were ten or so years ago, when people like Wade and Cam Bonifay were in charge.

It's not a stats-versus-scouts thing, but my perception is that it has something to do with that. Ten or even five years ago, good GMs were able to get good players like David Ortiz or prime Matt Stairs for next to nothing; six years ago, a major-league GM traded Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez.

There are front offices out there who will do really dumb things - the Reds and Orioles come to mind - but my perception is that the Chuck LaMars and Joe Garagiolas and Dave Littlefields and Ed Wades of the world are a dying breed, and they're being replaced by (mostly young) guys who know what they're doing, like Andrew Friedman of the Rays and Josh Byrnes of the Diamondbacks.

In 2002, Billy Beane got decent contributions from a number of players who cost him almost nothing. Scrap-heap pickup Scott Hatteberg hit .280/.374/.433 and played good defense at first; Ray Durham hit well for the team down the stretch, and then the A's collected draft picks for him when he left as a free agent, and all he cost was marginal reliever Jon Adkins; bench hitter Olmedo Saenz was a minor league free agent; starting pitcher Cory Lidle and starting second baseman Mark Ellis - along with Johnny Damon, who'd already left via free agency - were acquired for fading Ben Grieve, one-year wonder Angel Berroa and nonentity A.J. Hinch. (The A's also got the draft pick they used to acquire Nick Swisher when Damon left via free agency.)

With these players and a very good core of youngsters, Beane's 2002 A's won 103 games. This year, the A's are struggling to crack .500. Most of those core players are gone, but another part of Beane's problem is that he has a harder time getting the Ray Durhams and Scott Hattebergs and Mark Ellises and Jermaine Dyes for nothing. Chad Gaudin has been a terrific free talent pickup for the 2007 A's, and Lenny DiNardo has survived despite a horrible K/BB ratio. Marco Scutaro, who arrived a few years ago from a waiver claim, has been decent. And Jack Cust has been great, but that's less a case of Beane exploiting an inefficiency in the market and more a case of him getting lucky - Cust was in the A's system in 2005, and Beane let him go via free agency after the year was over. Most of the other guys on the 2007 A's are either young players or players the A's basically paid fair market value for.

It's not that Beane has gotten any dumber since 2002. It's that the rest of baseball has caught up to him, as bad GMs have been replaced by better ones. You can't just take the Royals' best players anymore, because Dayton Moore is a much better G.M. than Allard Baird was.

So I'm happy to see the Pirates are going to try to hire someone who's relatively new. The rest of the league has evolved; it's time for the Pirates to evolve too. And hiring someone who's already had a shot and didn't prove to be one of the game's better GMs is not the way to do that.