Tuesday, May 18, 2010

General Managers Are Too Safe

As several teams have started the season in deep holes and have miserably failed expectations, a recent spate of "manager watches" have hit the Internet sports writing world. The teams usually mentioned are the Mets, the Cubs, the Marlins, the Brewers, the White Sox and the Orioles. There are more to be sure, but these teams seem to come up the most. While a couple of the teams above may be in need of a managerial change, why are the general managers of those teams never held responsible? How many times do you see a general manager fired?

First, a general manager is a member of the "front office." It's always more difficult to fire a suit than it is a guy in uniform. There is a downhill effect where the owner or president gets on the general manager and the general manager is forced to make changes. This no doubt occurred in Kansas City where Trey Hillman was fired a day after a major league vote of confidence. While Dayton Moore seems safe enough and Hillman probably needed to go, why isn't the general manager less safe after terrible personnel changes on the field?

The two teams listed above that probably could use new managers are the Cubs and the Brewers. Both teams seem listless. Both teams have more talent that they are displaying. Both teams have fairly high payrolls and super high expectations. Piniella just doesn't seem right for this gig. The Fan has said it before and will say it again: Piniella is part of the problem. But just as much of a problem is Jim Hendry. His handling of the Milton Bradley thing before, during and after was simply a major misfire. Aramis Ramirez was probably counted on far too highly when he basically had a dead shoulder last year. Not everything Hendry has done has been bad. The Carlos Silva thing is pretty darn remarkable, for example. But the Cubs are simply an odd team like a puzzle that can't be solved.

The Brewers have core talent that is pretty darn strong. Braun and Fielder are exceptional as a duo and they have some other fine players. But it shouldn't be as hard as it is to figure out how to score runs consistently and get some decent pitching. This was a team expected to contend and it isn't happening. The Brewers seem lost and Macha just may not be the guy needed there to get the job done. The Fan likes the idea of Willie Randolph there. He will have learned a ton of lessons in his New York experience and he's a solid guy. Plus, MLB needs another minority leader on the field. But again, this isn't Macha's fault entirely. Like the Rangers of old, the Brewers simply do not know how to build a pitching staff (other than buying Sabathia for half a year). And yet we only hear Macha's name and never the general manager's.

There is no secret here that the Fan isn't in love with Ozzie Guillen. He is abrasive and at times, vile. His method of putting his players down in the media is not good managing. But all things considered, he's a strong presence and seem to get his teams to fight for him (when they aren't fighting each other). The Fan's problem has to do with Kenny Williams, the GM. Williams' track record is hard to argue. He's won a World Series. He's built a couple of division winners. But he seems to have this willy nilly approach to personnel decisions. He dumped a legend in Jim Thome and a still effective hitter in Jermaine Dye with no real options for this year's DH. Sure, Andruw Jones has been a surprise, but he's had to play center more than he has been at DH. Why? Because Williams gambled on Jaun Pierre and Pierre is wallowing around with a 53 OPS+ (zoiks!). So Jones went to center moving Rios somewhere else.

Granted, Rios and Jones were working out very well. But Pierre, Teahan, Vizguel (is he about 65 now?) and Mark Kotsay were terrible gambles. Plus, Williams has constructed an infield that outside of Konerko at first, is a disaster. Between Teahan, Ramirez and Beckham, the trio is averaging a 62 OPS+. Ramirez is fielding just fine, but the other two are in negative replacement territory adding up to a real problem.

So yeah, the White Sox are underwhelming. But Williams is more to blame than the manager. Sure, it was nice to get Peavy, but ask the Padres if they minded getting those great pitching prospects in return...

The Orioles, despite their shattering and staggering number of losses should be left alone. For the first time in more than a decade, McPhail at least has a plan and a direction. Angelos has finally found a GM he'll listen to and leave alone. Do you want to mess with that? The jury is still out on Dave Trembley, but geez, the guy doesn't have a bullpen and he has two starters that are learning on the job and a trio of journeymen. What else could the guy do when they play 18 games a year against each of the Red Sox, Yankees, Bay Rays and Blue Jays? You are talking about four of the better teams in the American League. The Fan would give these guys a pass.

The Marlins are a tough case to call. With their young pitching, they could still make a run and finish in second again and considering their payroll, that isn't half bad. But it seems they should be better. One of the problems here is their defense. The Fan has long screamed in the wilderness about the efficacy of Uggla at second base. And the Fan is right. Uggla hurts them on defense and if your team counts on young pitching, shouldn't you put defense first? The Fan has said it before and will say it again, the Marlins wouldn't be insane to flip Uggla and Coghlan since second base is Coghlan's natural position. But since Coghlan isn't hitting, perhaps some help in the minors could be plugged in. Uggla is still valuable with the bat and should be athletic enough for left field.

Fredi Gonzalez seems solid enough. And it's hard to fault a GM who has no money to spend. But man, when you look at the Marlins' talent, it's hard to figure out why they can't consistently win.

That leaves us with the Mets and the Fan has saved a special place for them for good reason. You can't pin their problems on Jerry Manuel. Not in the least. The team stood pat in the off season on pitching when Maine and Oliver Perez were completely unreliable. Manuel has two solid starters in Pelfrey and Santana. After that, nothing. Zip. Add to Mr. Minaya's list of mistakes the acquisition of Gary Matthews Jr., Alex Cora and Mike Jacobs and the continued reliance on faded players like Castillo and Tatis. The Mets' general manager has been given a complete pass despite fiascoes on the field and off and it's hard to fathom.

Every year managers get fired. Wouldn't it be different if for one year, more general managers would get fired than managers? They shouldn't be as untouchable as they seem to be. Baseball is a high-powered and lucrative business. If your leadership is not getting the job done, then the results should be like what happens in other businesses.

Programming Note: The Game Picks on Tuesday will be a tad late and should arrive around 10:30.

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