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Thursday, March 06, 2014

Lindbergh: The Duracell GM Generation?

H/T Sam Bialosky

We’ve seen current general managers tied to tabloid scandals, lousy public predictions, the fallout from disastrous contracts, and on-the-record allegations of front-office incompetence. Yet the last time a GM lost his job, the Astros had just dropped 100 games for the first time, the Marlins were in the midst of a spending spree, and Mike Trout had a .672 career OPS. Homeland was locking up all the Emmys. It was a different world.

On Twitter and talk radio, it’s still easy to find fans who think someone else (namely themselves) could do a better job of running their team than the GM currently in charge. But not since the Astros fired Ed Wade on November 27, 2011, has an owner come to the same conclusion. It’s been close to two and a half years since an MLB GM lost his job, which is the longest lull of at least the last four decades, and is all the more remarkable considering there were fewer teams for most of that span, and thus fewer opportunities for firings. ...

According to information from Baseball America’s executive database (which lists each team’s general managers since 1950) and additional research by Baseball Prospectus staff, however, it’s typically rare for the GM community to go more than a year between casualties. The longest period without a firing in recent years had come between Royals GM Allard Baird’s ouster on May 30, 2006, and, depending on your definition of “fired,” either June 20, 2007, when the Orioles hired Andy MacPhail to replace Mike Flanagan (who stayed with the team for the rest of the season), or August 27, 2007, when the Astros dismissed Tim Purpura. Even the longer, Baird-to-Purpura span stretched only 453 days. Before the current drought, the longest definitively demotion- and firing-free period of the past 40 years was 560 days, between Frank Wren’s dismissal by Baltimore in October 1999 and Malone’s “resignation.” (If you want to be a stickler and count only official firings, 53 more days takes you to June 2001, when the Pirates fired Cam Bonifay.) We’re up to 830 since the Astros jettisoned Wade, with an end to the streak unlikely before midseason. ...

2. Parity Plus Wild Cards

By any measure, baseball has become a more balanced game than it used to be, as revenue sharing and the luxury tax, the expansion of the player pool, and small-market teams’ early adoption of analytics, among other factors, have at least temporarily leveled the playing field. Where once the odds seemed hopelessly stacked against lower-revenue teams, baseball now compares favorably to other major sports in terms of turnover among contenders and champions. As Sam Miller wrote last season, “The correlation between money and wins is now lower than at any point in the last 20 years.”

Just as a GM can entice fans to come to the park or tune in on TV by fielding a competitive team, he can earn a stay of termination from an impatient owner by staving off mathematical elimination in August or early September.

“The majority of teams have been to the playoffs relatively recently,” says Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, who gives parity partial credit for the longer leash today’s GMs are enjoying. “Of those that haven’t, a number of those are in the middle of planned rebuilds. So most current executives have either won recently or gotten sign-off from ownership to take an intentional step back.” That leaves few GMs in the job-threatening region where it’s equally hard to remember the last successful season and envision the next one.

It’s not just that the league is less stratified, of course; there are also more playoff spots available. From 1977 to 1992 (except for the 1981 strike season), there were only four playoff spots for 26 teams; when the Marlins and Rockies arrived in 1993, a postseason berth became even harder to come by.1 The playoff pool’s subsequent expansion to eight and then 10 teams, thanks to the six-division format and the addition of two wild cards to each league, has made October much more inclusive. Now that a third of the teams advance beyond the regular season, all but a handful have at least a faint hope of reaching the postseason. We can’t even count on the Pirates and Royals to roll over anymore.

As one former National League GM says, “The second wild card has given false hope to some organizations, making them appear to be a contender for the postseason when in fact they were only ‘in’ due to the math.” So far, the four winners of the second wild card have completed their 162-game schedules with an average of 90.5 wins, which means that it takes a losing record to finish with a demoralizing double-digit deficit in the games-back column. It’s easier to give a GM another chance after a near miss than it is after a season in which his team wasn’t in it at all.

JE (Jason) Posted: March 06, 2014 at 05:23 PM | 23 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: general managers

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: March 06, 2014 at 08:25 PM (#4667515)
Isn't this primarily tenure-driven? We have a lot of GMs who were only recently hired (per Cots):

CWS - Hahn 2013
(Indians - Shapiro up to pres, Antonetti as exec VP/GM 2013)
Twins - Ryan redux 2012
O's - Duquette 2012 (already extended to 2018 though)
Red Sox - Cherington 2012
Astros - Luhnow 2012
LAA - DiPoto 2012
Cubs - Epstein 2012
Marlins - whatever the hell is going on down there
Padres - Byrnes 2012

So that's up to 10 teams with a GM with less than three years -- I'm not sure what's going on in Cleveland. Beinfest in Miami should probably count as a firing but I'm not quite sure when that was -- also they had that arrangement where he was pres and the guy nobody had heard of or ever heard about was "GM". Now the guy nobody's ever heard of is "president" and another guy nobody's ever heard of is "GM." You can also add Towers with just three years under his belt.

There are some surprisingly long-tenured disappointments out there -- Moore, Amaro (recently), Colletti, Jack Z, AA, Alderson, Melvin, O'Dowd. The issue, that there is one, may be best exemplified by Duquette. Duquette somehow got a 3-year contract out of the box (was anybody else bidding for his services) and has already been extended. Seems kinda silly. Both the guys in Miami are apparently signed through 2015.

Also there's been a lot of title upgrading lately, like in Cleveland -- not clear what that means about the job itself but it's usually not a major change in FO philosophy. This is happening all over the place (don't get me started on universities).

Anyway, point is that GMs generally have to be on a Hawk Harrelson/Larry Himes level of disaster to get pushed aside after just 1-2 years. There was an unusually large turnover in the 2011-12 offseason.
   2. cardsfanboy Posted: March 06, 2014 at 08:29 PM (#4667518)

Duquette somehow got a 3-year contract out of the box (was anybody else bidding for his services) and has already been extended. Seems kinda silly. Both the guys in Miami are apparently signed through 2015.


If I'm a legitimate GM candidate, a 3 year contract would be the minimum that I would accept/expect.
   3. JJ1986 Posted: March 06, 2014 at 08:53 PM (#4667524)
The Marlins simply promoted one of their relief pitchers to GM. Saves money that way.
   4. cardsfanboy Posted: March 06, 2014 at 08:59 PM (#4667526)
Just curious...what is the duracell gm generation supposed to reference? I was thinking they keep going and going, but that would be Energizer...
   5. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: March 06, 2014 at 09:09 PM (#4667528)
It’s been close to two and a half years since an MLB GM lost his job, which is the longest lull of at least the last four decades, and is all the more remarkable considering there were fewer teams for most of that span, and thus fewer opportunities for firings. ...


True, though it's not like there's been a massive growth in the league in that time frame. The league added two teams three years after the start of those four decades, then just four more a generation later.

Just curious...what is the duracell gm generation supposed to reference?


They're all copper-topped?

   6. Russlan is fond of Dillon Gee Posted: March 06, 2014 at 09:12 PM (#4667530)
If you are not willing to give a guy you just hired to be your GM a three year contract, you need to seriously reconsider the hiring. Seriously, that isn't enough time for him to draft and develop players.
   7. Select Storage Device Posted: March 06, 2014 at 09:15 PM (#4667531)
Just curious...what is the duracell gm generation supposed to reference?


Was curious too, since I didn't want to RTFA. It means nothing. "GMs last a little bit longer now and the copy editor liked the line."

There's a lot of words here to describe something that seems obvious, and boy am I lazy.

CWS - Hahn 2013
(Indians - Shapiro up to pres, Antonetti as exec VP/GM 2013)
Twins - Ryan redux 2012
O's - Duquette 2012 (already extended to 2018 though)
Red Sox - Cherington 2012
Astros - Luhnow 2012
LAA - DiPoto 2012
Cubs - Epstein 2012
Marlins - whatever the hell is going on down there
Padres - Byrnes 2012


How many of these guys seem like they will be cast off in 2 years or less? Hahn, no. Antonetti, no. Ryan? That's up to him. Duquette? Only because the O's are still a bit dysfunctional?

No. No. Probably. No. Whatever. Only because the Padres are weird and appear to have no actual competitive goals.
   8. GregD Posted: March 06, 2014 at 09:30 PM (#4667536)
Wasn't Duracell's ad tagline in the 90s something catchy like "Lasts Longer"?
   9. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: March 06, 2014 at 10:07 PM (#4667541)
Wasn't Duracell's ad tagline in the 90s something catchy like "Lasts Longer"?

That's what she said.
   10. JJ1986 Posted: March 06, 2014 at 10:15 PM (#4667544)
We’ve seen current general managers tied to tabloid scandals, lousy public predictions, the fallout from disastrous contracts, and on-the-record allegations of front-office incompetence.


Are these all Cashman?
   11. Walt Davis Posted: March 06, 2014 at 11:18 PM (#4667562)
Antonetti, no.

I don't see any reason to think he's particularly safe. Shapiro started in 2002 and in that time they've made the playoffs twice and just one other winning season. Antonetti is Shapiro's guy. They did make the playoffs last year which could easily keep them there through 2015 at least but it's not an impressive performance.

I'm not sure how patient the Angels will be with DiPoto. According to Cots, his contract is up at the end of this year with the Angels holding two option years. He gave out the Pujols, Wilson and Hamilton contracts, he put together a scary bad rotation last year and this year's doesn't look great. Another losing season and I'm not so sure.

But, yes, we expect these guys to stick around for a few years because they're just starting out with their teams. Did my point get lost? We had massive turnover a couple of years ago so we should have expected little turnover the last couple of years because new guys don't get canned. Turnover will likely pick up over the next couple of years because some of the long-serving disappointments will get canned and maybe 1 or 2 of the new guys. Amaro and Jack Z have to be on their last legs (but could buy time with promising seasons), Moore will be gone if the Royals fall back, AA is in his fifth season with no obvious progress and he's already changed managers a couple of times (the standard dodge of the GM). Amaro could be a test of the influence of long-term contracts on GM firing decisions as he's signed through 2015 but if the Phils tank this year and are just a year older with an empty farm system, he should clearly be canned.

However, if the article is correct, then turnover was heavier in the past. That either means that GMs weren't getting long-term contracts or possibly that they were being paid so little teams didn't really care if they fired them mid-deal. And yes, a guy like Duquette who "failed" in his last job which ended in 2001 and hasn't been a GM since was the non-roster invitee of GM candidates. No, the O's did not need to offer that guy a 3-year contract and no he did not have the luxury of declining a GM job offer to wait for a better one. Hell, they should have seen if he'd do it as an internship. :-)
   12. Joe Kehoskie Posted: March 06, 2014 at 11:44 PM (#4667574)
AA is in his fifth season with no obvious progress

Hey, he was the BBTF executive of the year in 2011. That has to count for something.

However, if the article is correct, then turnover was heavier in the past. That either means that GMs weren't getting long-term contracts or possibly that they were being paid so little teams didn't really care if they fired them mid-deal.

Unless I missed it, the article missed one key consideration: MLB front offices are far, far more expansive now than they were even 20 years ago. In the "old days," firing a GM meant a small number of other positions would probably need to be filled, but now, titles like Costanza's "assistant to the assistant ..." are much closer to reality than a punchline. A GM who's been on the job for even two or three years probably has hired and installed dozens of "his guys" throughout the organization, from the ML bb ops dept. to scouting, player development, international, etc. It probably takes a new GM a couple of years just to clear out the last GM's guys, unless the owner allows him to eat a lot of contracts.
   13. Select Storage Device Posted: March 06, 2014 at 11:46 PM (#4667577)
Shapiro started in 2002 and in that time they've made the playoffs twice and just one other winning season. Antonetti is Shapiro's guy.


They have also fielded at times some competitive teams with interesting ideas despite what continues to be one of the worst attended teams in baseball. Antonetti has been there since 1999. They have no problem with him, or the decisions Shapiro makes, IMO. He'll be there in 2 years unless something disastrous happens.

Did my point get lost?


Nah. I just wanted to think about executives getting fired for a bit.
   14. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: March 07, 2014 at 01:02 AM (#4667597)
Unless I missed it, the article missed one key consideration: MLB front offices are far, far more expansive now than they were even 20 years ago. In the "old days," firing a GM meant a small number of other positions would probably need to be filled, but now, titles like Costanza's "assistant to the assistant ..." are much closer to reality than a punchline. A GM who's been on the job for even two or three years probably has hired and installed dozens of "his guys" throughout the organization, from the ML bb ops dept. to scouting, player development, international, etc. It probably takes a new GM a couple of years just to clear out the last GM's guys, unless the owner allows him to eat a lot of contracts.

I don't think that is the biggest issue it missed. Teams are rolling in cash now. It is a lot easier to tolerate a team under-performing on the field, if the money is still rolling in. I think that is a far bigger reason than nebulous effects of the 2nd WC generating an illusion of competitiveness.
   15. Joe Kehoskie Posted: March 07, 2014 at 01:06 AM (#4667598)
I don't think that is the biggest issue it missed. Teams are rolling in cash now. It is a lot easier to tolerate a team under-performing on the field, if the money is still rolling in. I think that is a far bigger reason than nebulous effects of the 2nd WC generating an illusion of competitiveness.

He covered the profit issue around the midpoint of the article:

Rising profits may have indirectly ensured that the average GM can expect to remain employed longer. [...]

“Teams, more and more, are being run like companies,” says one high-level executive who’s widely considered a GM-in-waiting (and waiting, and waiting). “That means two things: (1) The bottom line is important; if clubs are making money (and most all of them are), you don’t make a change, [...].”
   16. Joe Kehoskie Posted: March 07, 2014 at 01:32 AM (#4667600)

... I agree, though, that the money issue was undersold in the article. It's probably the No. 1 factor keeping GMs employed.
   17. Bhaakon Posted: March 07, 2014 at 02:25 AM (#4667604)

If you are not willing to give a guy you just hired to be your GM a three year contract, you need to seriously reconsider the hiring. Seriously, that isn't enough time for him to draft and develop players.


I agree that anyone you're hiring to turn a team around should be getting at least 3 year, but I do think 3 years is enough time to start evaluating what a GM has accomplished. Most prospects who are going to turn into something more than bench players show signs by year 3. Most future stars by year 2 (except, perhaps, international amateurs). If 3 seasons or rebuilding have passed and the the GM doesn't have anything in the farm system to hang his hat on, then it's time to make some decisions.
   18. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: March 07, 2014 at 04:54 AM (#4667609)
Best signing ever by a Duracell GM: Al Kaline
   19. villageidiom Posted: March 07, 2014 at 06:37 AM (#4667615)
Cubs - Epstein 2012
Hoyer 2012. Epstein is not the GM.
   20. Paul D(uda) Posted: March 07, 2014 at 07:19 AM (#4667619)
I don't think AA has fired a manager yet. Gaston retired and Farrell asked out so he could go to the Red Sox.
   21. AROM Posted: March 07, 2014 at 10:07 AM (#4667698)
The Marlins simply promoted one of their relief pitchers to GM. Saves money that way.


Then to save even more money, that relief pitcher traded himself for a prospect.
   22. villageidiom Posted: March 07, 2014 at 01:24 PM (#4667888)
Best signing ever by a Duracell GM: Al Kaline
This is about as perfect a one-line post as has ever been made on this site. Well done.
   23. LionoftheSenate (Brewers v A's World Series) Posted: March 08, 2014 at 12:19 AM (#4668183)
Reasons number at least three, increased pairity, thus more teams seem contending and the distance, or time, to contending is shorter. Planned rebuilds are undertaken by nearly all teams at the correct stage, thus buying most GMs extended time. Then money. Yes there is a ton of money pouring into the game now, soon MLB will pass the NFL in revenue and shock people that aren't paying attention to what is happening with local TV deals in MLB.

Walt then makes a good observation, just before this firing drought, close to 10 GMs were hired. Most get 3 years anyway.

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