I won’t concede any of this. The M’s don’t have a plan, and Bavasi doesn’t have a plan. They didn’t sit down this winter and say “where are we as a team, and how can we best put together a team for next year?” They said “Man, let’s fix left field while we’re hiring a GM. Hey Bavasi, finish up this Ibanez signing. Um, let’s see… let’s dump Cirillo and… wait, that didn’t quite… no, let’s.. whoops (bang bang) ow, I hit my thumb with the hammer. Jeez that hurts. Uh, we need a backup shortstop now. Let’s… oof…”
Their *method* is to patch holes with the things you’ve identified: athletic players they know with good scouting pedigrees with certain characteristics.
But take Freddy. Bavasi’s argument on retaining Freddy is that if you threw him back into the market he’d be the best pitcher out there, so they resigned him. This is silly on several fronts:
First, if the team’s looking for a good pitcher, they could have gotten Miguel Batista, a free agent, 33, who quietly has been very effective for the last three years. His K totals aren’t quite as impressive as Garcia’s overall, but his rates are excellent, his walk rates are comperable, and he was pitching in Bank One Ballpark, which played as as a huge hitter’s park the last couple of years. Batista signed a 3-year deal with Toronto for $12m, far below what Garcia will come back as.
Bavasi’s reasoning only makes sense if they only considered the Freddy question as late as they possibly could, when it was arbitrate/resign or let go. Had they been in the market earlier for alternatives, Freddy would not ever have been the best pitcher on the market — and even then, we’ve seen that a pitcher of Freddy’s qualifications might not even get that kind of annual value as a free agent, so the team might have overspent (seriously: who out there would have been willing to sign Garcia to a long-term deal for 6+m/year?)
I’m not going to argue that being a good interviewer has much to do with being good at your job. I’ve felt for years that the modern crush of media on a manager has made that role more about glad-handing and post-game conferences than about who’s best-qualified to do a job, and has probably kept some good managers with bad press skills away from jobs.
I’ve read O’Dowd’s interviews and yeah, he comes off as smart, and no, he doesn’t act smart, but I know other smart people are stupid and what you can draw from reading O’Dowd for any length of time is not that he doesn’t have a plan but that he doesn’t do any follow-through. It’s like he’s a cook who only mixes the ingredients and then gets bored because he doesn’t have a delicious French onion soup, and moves on to making extreme fajitas, which he’ll abandon before the chicken’s done frying.
It’s possible to come off as dumb in an interview and be smart. Bobby Cox does this intentionally as a manager: I can’t remember hearing him criticize even his worst players in front of the press, even when everyone knows he’d love to, and so he falls back on the same worn phrases that cause insomniacs to lapse into comas from boredom. That’s not what’s going on here.
The scary thing about the Bavasi interview isn’t that he didn’t come off charmingly, it’s that it confirms my worst fears about the team: they don’t have much of an idea about what happens replacing Cameron with Winn, they’re just kind of guessing. They believe Ibanez is going to hit like he did in KC and not decline with age, but they don’t really have any reason why they think that.
I can’t express how frustrated I am with this. I shouldn’t be able to come up with a better answer about how good Winn’s going to be in center field compared to Cameron than the entire Mariners organization than the general manager.
A Hypothetical Conversation Between Derek and Bill Bavasi
Bavasi: We think Winn’s athletic and fast and will play better regularly out there than he did in spot duties.
Derek: I’ll grant you that players may improve defensively if they play a position regularly, though I think we don’t have a lot of evidence to back that up. Using BP’s defensive metrics, we see that Winn’s been about average at every defensive outfield position he’s ever played at the major league level, and his AAA translations look about the same. 2002 is particularly relevant. He played a whole season, almost all of it in center field, and we’ve got him pegged at two runs above average.
Bavasi: That’s good, right?
Derek: Mike Cameron was worth 21 runs above an average center fielder last season.
Bavasi: That’s a lot.
Derek: One of the best defensive seasons in all of baseball, yes. So you’re of the opinion that Winn, having shown in a couple of seasons that he’s an average center fielder, and having shown when backing up Cameron to be an average center fielder, will suddenly become one of the best defenders in baseball.
Bavasi: I didn’t say he was going to be that good.
Derek: Sure, that’s true. You’ve said that Winn is athletic and fast — do you see Ibanez as being a better defensive left-fielder than Winn?
Bavasi: We think he’ll be fine out there.
Derek: Overall, would you agree that the team’s defense in the outfield will be worse than it was last year, ignoring for a second whether the outfield is overall a better one?
Bavasi: It would seem obvious that that is true.
Derek: Which pitchers do you think would be most affected by a lesser outfield defense?
Bavasi: I had not given that much thought.
Derek: Would you say that pitchers who don’t get many strikeouts and put the ball into play are more dependent on their defense then a pitcher who gets more strikeouts?
Derek: Would you also say that pitchers who tend to be groundball pitchers would be more dependent on the infield….
and so on. I could do this for hours.
The point is that when insightful or interesting questions are asked of Bavasi, or really anyone in the organization, their answer isn’t up to the task. They’re frequently surprised by the question and don’t have a good answer not because they’re bad communicators but because it never occurred to them before.
I worked with someone in my IT days who reminds me of the Mariners. They never asked the second-level questions. Let’s buy a server based on my estimates for $125k. Is that the right server? Didn’t know. Is that expandable if our load estimates are off? Didn’t know. Is it particularly well-suited for the kind of super-high input/output work it would be doing? No idea.
The lack of depth in the Mariners bench and organization reflects the lack of depth in thinking and planning we’ve seen in the front office for years. They don’t know, and have never cared to know, the answer to the follow-up questions.
I don’t think we have nearly enough evidence to say that Bavasi has been unable to come up “with a coherent organizational view.” In fact, I’d argue that the offseason acquistions point to a pretty clear plan; acquire athletic players that we are personally familiar with and have good scouting reports on. Emphasis goes to contact ability and clutch hitting for offense, and character is a highly valuable commodity. Nearly everyone brought in this offseason fits the mold. We can certainly argue that its a lousy plan, but I’m pretty certain there is a plan.
Bavasi’s statements in the Q&A indicate that he’s not a very good communicator, and we already knew this. He’s not very eloquent and isn’t going to outsmart too many high school graduates. He leans on cliches and conventional wisdom passed down from his family, all the while attempting to kiss up to as many of his friends as humanly possible. But being an articulate public speaker has very little to do with being a quality talent evaluator.
If you get bored sometime, google Dan O’Dowd and read some of his quotes. He’s a member of SABR, has been praised for some terrific lectures on playing at altitude, was considered a bright young objective analyst with a grasp on the importance of statistics, and consistently praises things like on base percentage as the foundation of building an offense. Then, he does wacky, crazy stuff like filling a roster with both Tom Goodwin and Brian Hunter, signing Vinny Castilla, offering a huge contract to Neifi Perez, generally going against all normal principles. O’Dowd, in print, looks like a smart guy, but in practice, he’s been a failure as a GM.
Overall, I just don’t care what baseball men tell the media. They aren’t trying to enlighten anyone or educate the people listening. They’re trying to get home to their families without offending people, and the sooner the interview ends, the better. We have a multitude of reasons to be unhappy with the man in charge of the franchise, but I don’t feel like his comments made in the BP Q&A should be among them.