Tuesday, November 01, 2005

GMs down and out

Since my last post, there have been some pretty significant hirings and firings in the GM world. The hiring of note is that of Josh Byrnes, Asst. GM with the Red Sox, who will be taking over the vacant GM job in Arizona. This is good news for the Diamondbacks, who need something better at the head of their organization, one year after the Russ Ortiz horror show.
The firing of note is that of Paul DePodesta in Los Angeles. This is pretty obviously a case of owners looking for somebody to scapegoat. It wasn't enough to fire manager Jim Tracy, they had to jettison DePodesta. I can't say anything really good about the Dodgers in 2005; as much credit as DePodesta gets for taking the Dodgers to a division title in 2004, he deserves his share of the blame for the 2005 collapse. But he certainly doesn't deserve all of the blame, and the media is quick to blister him because of his Moneyball pedigree.
The simplest question to ask about DePodesta's firing is this: is there a better choice for the Dodgers? For me, it's hard to argue that the Dodgers are really better off without DePodesta. While I can't speak for his administrative skill, I think his brand of common sense is exactly what the far-flung Dodgers need. He was sitting on some very impressive prospects, with a good chance to form a really good team. I think he was pressured into making too many free agent signings in the pre-season while he should have stayed with the plan and kept on track for the arrival of the rookies. But no one is that patient, and it's hard to imagine anyone being able to stand up to that pressure.
This is not good news for the Dodgers. Their two most likely candidates for the post seem to be Pat Gillick and Orel Hershiser. Gillick is not a bad GM, but it would be a step in the wrong direction to abandon sabermetrics for Gillick's more traditional, scouting-based approach. Hershiser, on the other hand, just may not be qualified for the GM job. I think he's a fine candidate for the managing position, but it's hard for me to see him stepping from pitching coach to GM and seeing good success. It would be a headline-grabbing move that would just hurt the team in the long run.
But the biggest news on the GM front is the resignation of Theo Epstein from the position of Boston GM. Theo was one of the best GMs in baseball and had the track record of success to back it up. My previous entry blaming Larry Lucchino may have been a bit premature, but it's certainly someone's fault that the negotiations reached such an ugly stage. The Red Sox are not at all in good shape, with Epstein going as well as possibly Manny Ramirez and David Wells. Again, there's no one that would do a better job than Theo Epstein, and Boston will suffer because of it. It will be interesting to see if Boston's progressive front office, with the likes of Bill James and Voros McCracken, will survive Epstein's firing. My guess is that the Red Sox will go with a more traditional GM, and the progressive ideas will slowly die on the vine. While the Yankees managed to retain Brian Cashman, the Red Sox lost their wunderkind GM. And this will easily be the biggest victory the Yankees score over the Sox in the off-season.
Don't shed too many tears for Theo. He doesn't need baseball, but my guess is some baseball team will really pursue him. Probably not this off-season, but sometime in the near future a team will come calling. And Theo's willingness to join his brother in social work will make the team come to him with an attractive offer. DePodesta will not be quite so sought-after, but I think he'll be able to execute an effective strategy in a less media-intensive environmeny.

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