Agents of Change
I wasn’t planning on writing this post until Gillick’s official exit had been announced, but you guys have asked enough and I’m tired of hinting. There’s a few things I’m not going to reveal that would hurt the team if they became public (remember, I’m a fan, not a journalist, and I feel no moral obligation to make the M’s less likely to accomplish some of their goals), but beyond a few specific details, here’s the gist of the evolution of the M’s organization in the past year. We’ll do it in timeline fashion.
July 31, 2003. Trading deadline last year. Pat Gillick was not in Seattle, and the fans were told he was in Toronto “moving”. The consensus in the organization begins to form that this is his last season.
September 30, 2003. Pat Gillick “steps down as general manager” and moves into a consulting role. The executives decide the best course of action is to continue the status quo as much as possible, and ask Gillick to stay with the club as a consultant. He is given the majority of the power in selecting his own replacement.
October 20, 2003. It becomes apparent that Gillick’s retirement is a near-total sham. The structure of the organization has changed little in the twenty days since he stepped down and he’s been given enough control after selecting his successor that he’s essentially going to be the new GM’s boss. USSM gets pretty negative for a few weeks.
November 7, 2003. Bill Bavasi is named General Manager. He’s basically told that the offseason plan is already in place and the team is prepared to make several moves almost immediately.
November 19, 2003. The Mariners sign Raul Ibanez to a contract. Bill Bavasi had about as much to do with this signing as I did.
December 6, 2003. The organization reshuffles positions, with Bavasi bringing in his friend Bob Fontaine as scouting director, and moving several Gillick hires into less prominant roles.
Decemeber 7, 2003. The Mariners non-tender Mike Cameron, Arthur Rhodes, and re-sign Shigetoshi Hasegawa to a 2 year, $6.3 million contract. These moves were all “heavily suggested” by Gillick and his loyalists. Bavasi appears in public with strings attached to his mouth and Pat Gillick’s hand inserted in his back.
December 11, 2003. The first appearance of “Gillvasi” on the blog, as the new term describing the Mariners front office is coined.
January 8, 2004. The Mariners wrap up the offseason of doom with the Carlos Guillen-Ramon Santiago swap. Bavasi describes Santiago as a player who “can pick it up and throw it”. The old regime contributes to the debacle by essentially demanding that Guillen be moved, and Bavasi “contributes” by deciding on the “talent” to acquire.
April 4, 2004. Bavasi makes his first trade without heavy consultation from Gillick and company, acquiring Jolbert Cabrera.
April through September, 2004. Team sucks.
Sometime in October, 2004. Pat Gillick leaves organization.
Over the past year, the club has transitioned in stages. First we had run by Gillick, followed by Gillick telling Bavasi what to do, then Bavasi begins to make bad moves of his own accord, and finally Gillick and loyal subjects leave organization. As the transition has occurred, there has been a noticable change in my conversations with organizational folks. The company line is towed far less often. Dissension was pretty clear starting in about April. By June, you could call the organization a house divided, and it didn’t stand long.
So, we’re almost to a Gillick-free era. What organizational philosophies are leaving with him?
1. The lack of importance of “star players”. This one gets thrown on Lincoln quite a bit, but Gillick was one of the main proponants of the no-barcaloungers-in-the-clubhouse philosophy that avoided anyone who didn’t buy into a 25-as-1 philosophy. Instead of spending large amounts on one individual, Gillick believed in spreading the wealth and acquiring a balanced team, spending less on the top tier and more on the reserves.
2. First round picks are paid out of line with their actual value and should be actively avoided. The organization viewed the loss of their first round pick as compensation for signing Raul Ibanez early a bonus, not a deterrant. Gillick preferred a strategy that leaned on overdrafting in later rounds for hard-sign guys who fell to compensate for not having an early pick. Despite some logical basis, this theory has been hammered by every actual study done on draft performance.
3. Veteran leadership is the most undervalued aspect in the game, and a team full of players with experience will beat a team full of similarly talented players lacking experience.
These were three tenets of the Gillick regime that Bavasi simply does not agree with. He covets a star player, a “face of the organization” type. He believes strongly in the draft and brought Bob Fontaine in to ressucitate the Mariners performance in the amateur draft. Rather than valuing veterans nearly every time, Bavasi values athleticism higher than almost anyone outside of Tampa Bay, which few older players possess.
Many of the theories that we have seen the organization stick to under Gillick will not exist under Bavasi. The M’s are going to be the major player in the upcoming offseason. When discussing parts of the plan headed towards free agency, the names at the top of the wish list are Beltre, Beltran, and Clement. Bavasi is hoping to change over nearly 40 percent of the roster by January. Is it going to work? We’ll see. I have some reservations about how successful the club will be if Plan A fails. Plan B and C aren’t especially inviting, to me, even though they involve spending a lot of money.
Fans should understand, however, that Gillick’s departure from power means the removal of most of the negative stereotypes about the organization. I’m not endorsing Bill Bavasi as a better talent evaluator or GM than Gillick, but there’s absolutely no question that he’s different. The M’s may screw this offseason up, but they won’t screw it up the same way they have the past several years. They aren’t going to get burned by Rich Aurilia types this fall. If they screw up, it’s going to be on a grand scale.
The M’s are going to spend a lot of money this winter. I can’t guarantee they are going to spend it all well, but I can tell you that several of the players we would like to see in Seattle will be forced into deciding to take less money from another organization to turn down the Mariners offer. And, with very few exceptions, the high bidder almost always gets the player in free agency.
The Mariners are no longer Pat Gillick’s team. For better or worse, the 25 man roster that reports to camp next spring will be Bill Bavasi’s team. The old regime believed in a conservative, risk-free, no commitment approach to player acquisition, allowing them to get out from under any errors quickly and relatively cheap. The 2005 Mariners are going to be nearly the opposite; lots of potential, even more risk. If the M’s hit a home run during free agency, they’ll be contending for the division next year. If they swing and miss, the Bavasi regime is going to be a very short-lived one that will leave a humungous mess to clean up. I’m both excited by the potential and scared of the risk. I’m not convinced that the new way is better than the old way, or that we have the right people in charge. I am, however, glad that November won’t be a boring month to be a Mariner fan for the first time in years.