Bavasi and Gillick
Reading through the multitude of comments in the Agents of Change post, it appears that I created more questions than I answered. The goal of the post was to clarify why I believe the Mariners will spend money, and a lot of it, this offseason. In backing up that belief, I made some things public that we’ve known, and hinted at, for quite some time, but hadn’t ever put into words. It appears that I didn’t clarify some things well enough, so hopefully this post can serve as an answer to most of the questions that were raised in response to that post. So, to the paraphrased questions:
Q. Doesn’t the fact that Pat Gillick was still orchastrating the team last offseason mean that you were completely off base in your criticisms of Bill Bavasi and owe him an apology?
This one came in varying forms, but was expressed by several people. Some even went so far as to claim that Bavasi deserves a clean slate, that none of the moves made from last October through April should be held against him, and that he’s the right man in charge of building the Mariners.
A: We were completely aware of the power structure of the organization last offseason when we were firing upon Bavasi and stand by what we said. Nothing I made public was a revelation to us, though I realize that many of you were not aware of just how the shift in power had affected the front office. After taking the title of general manager, Bill Bavasi became the defacto face of the front office. As such, he becomes the lightning rod for criticism of moves made under his watch. Was it a difficult situation? Absolutely. Do we give him a pass for moves like the Ibanez signing that were done essentially by the time of his hiring. Yes, we do. But as GM, Bavasi is responsible for talent acquisition, and during his first five months on the job, the organization syphoned talent like, well, a syphon. That was on his watch. Yes, you have to work with the people around you, and it was a team approach as he got acclimated to the organization, but the buck still stopped with Bavasi, and he signed off on every move the team made. You cannot give him a free pass for being the man in charge of the most disastrous offseason baseball has seen in the past ten years.
Bottom line: Bill Bavasi is using a different system of antiquated talent evaluation than Pat Gillick, but that doesn’t make it a good one. If he were removed from his position tomorrow and replaced with Chris Antonetti, it would be the best move the organization could make all offseason. It isn’t going to happen, obviously, and there is still reason to be concerned with the strategies of the current administration.
Q. When did Bavasi start to take over a majority of the decision making process from Gillick?
The beginning of December. After being hired on November 7th, he essentially spent the rest of the month carrying out the moves that were outlined by the Gillick regime at the postseason organizational meetings. The moves that were essentially out of Bavasi’s hands were the Ibanez signing, the non-tenders of Cameron and Rhodes, the re-signing of Hasegawa and Franklin, the contract extensions for Ichiro and Joel Pineiro, and the desire to trade Carlos Guillen and Greg Colbrunn. The majority of the influence in these instances belonged to Gillick, Looper, Jongewaard, and Pelekoudas.
The rest of the moves that we’ve seen are on Bavasi; the signings of Eddie Guardado, Scott Spiezio, Rich Aurilia, and Ron Villone (the reason Sherill and Madritsch didn’t have a chance from day one), along with the acquisitions of Ramon Santiago, Jolbert Cabrera, and Quinton McCracken. Regardless of how much you like Bavasi, there is no way to spin those seven moves in totality as anything but poor, both in design and result.
Q: You stated that the organizational philosophies have changed in the past year. Is this a good thing?
This is a tough one. I was one of Pat Gililck’s harshest critics during the 2002-2003 seasons, very vocal about the fact that I believe Gillick failed to evolve as a talent evaluator and was passed by those willing to adapt to new ways of thinking. However, I also agree with a lot of the basic philosophies of fiscal conservation that Gillick instilled in the organization. Long term contracts are a big risk, and Gillick’s belief that they are, more often than not, a poor value is absolutely correct. He kept the team from locking themselves into long term mistakes, allowing them to cut bait on their mistakes and minimize the effects. Flexibility is one of the great tools a team with a large budget can have, and Gillick did a fairly good job at allowing the Mariners to have some flexibility to add to the roster every offseason. I simply don’t agree with the way he spent the money, throwing a significant amount of the payroll at relievers and reserves, limiting the amount available for upper tier players. His desire to remain competitive every season is based in a lot of common sense, and I fear that this grounding left with him.
However, I still believe the Mariners are behind the curve in organizational philosophy. They were behind the curve under Gillick’s regime and they are behind under Bavasi’s. There is a better way to analyze talent and use the payroll than the Mariners currently believe, and their refusal to adapt to new ways of thinking have left them at a competitive disadvantage. I was glad to see Pat Gillick go, as it presented an opportunity for the front office to shift gears and go in a completely different direction, bringing in someone like Chris Antonetti who would change the way the organization evaluates talent. Hiring Bill Bavasi brought some changes, but not the sweeping reform that I believe the organization will eventually have to undergo. Bavasi has different opinions than Gillicks, but I don’t believe that in this case, different will be more effective. They are just differently flawed.
Q: Can we trust Bill Bavasi to identify the right players to sign with their new found aggressiveness?
Yes and no. The Mariners and the blogosphere are basically in agreement about the prime candidates in this free agent class. We support strong efforts for Beltre and Beltran; the Mariners would love to have either one. We think Matt Clement is the best bet among free agent pitchers; the organization is very high on Clement. In those instances, I’m excited that the team will be pursuing the same players that I would like to see on the team next year. However, Bavasi’s fondness for athleticism and tools that leads him to Beltre, Beltran, and Clement also leads the team into overvaluing underachievers.
One of Gillick’s strengths was focusing on performance at the major league level, regardless of the package it came in. The Bavasi era will be personified by a chase of a certain type of player; lean, fast, strong-armed, oozing with physical skills. However, there are a tremendous number of tools-fiends who absolutely suck at baseball, and I fully expect the Mariners to fill the roster with some truly awful athletes. Gillick, for the most part, avoided overpaying for potential. I expect the Mariners to get burned repeatedly in their chase of athletes with physical potential who simply do not have the performance to justify the expectations the M’s will place upon them.
Q: What side do you take in the roster building philosophy of Gilick’s spread-the-wealth versus Bavasi’s stars-and-scrubs?
A: Ideally, the so called stars-and-scrubs way of building a roster is the optimum approach, spending most of your budget on the upper tier regulars and filling in with cheap players who can perform above the cost expended upon them. The A’s have used this philosophy to build their mini-dynasty on a small scale. They have repeatedly paid for players they felt were irreplaceable (Chavez, the Big Three), and allowed to leave those whose production could be potentially replaced by young players at little cost (Giambi, Tejada, Damon, Foulke, etc…). Baseball talent is distributed as a pyramid, and the higher up the pyramid you go, the more rare it is to find a player of that ilk, and thus the more valuable they are. Spending money on people who fall into the base of the pyramid is essentially wasting money, and this was the glaring flaw of the Gillick regime as well as the past offseason.
However, teams win championships, not a collection of stars-and-scrubs. For the roster construction method to work, you have to able to convert the “scrub”, league minimum players into useful parts. The A’s aren’t winning 90 games because Eric Chavez is a great player. They are winning because they’re getting production from Eric Byrnes, Bobby Crosby, Scott Hatteberg, Rich Harden, and others who make next to nothing. You cannot win baseball games with a few great players surrounded by terrible ones. In order to successfully build a roster using stars-and-scrubs, you have to be able to find talent where others cannot. Bill Bavasi has never shown this ability, nor are the methods he endorses successful in other organizations that use similar strategies. The problem with Bill Bavasi being in charge of a roster that spends a majority of money on several upper tier players is that I do not believe that he will fill out the roster with players of even moderate productivity.
Good role players are a key part of championship rosters. Despite what the organization and the media will tell you, Jolbert Cabrera is not a good role player at $1.5 million dollars, and his value to the team was barely above what could be expected from a replacement level, league mimimum player. Jobert Cabrera was a waste of $1.2 million and two marginal prospects, but the Mariners will hold him up as an example of exactly the kind of player they need to acquire more of. As long as the team is enamored by players of his ilk and spend talent and money to acquire that kind of role player, the stars-and-scrubs philosophy will fail.
Q: When you said the names at the top of the list were Beltre, Beltran, and Clement, did you mean to infer that the Mariners might sign all three?
A: Rereading the post, I can see how that came across, but no, I don’t believe the team will sign all three. It would take some kind of minor miracle to get two of those three. I do believe that one of them will be a Mariner next spring, however.
Q: You’re making all this up, you no talent hack. Prove it or I won’t believe you.
A: Thanks for the kind words. I have no interest in trying to convince anyone that I’m telling the truth, so feel free to remove ussmariner.com from your bookmarks and cease reading. We won’t miss you.
Hope this clarifies most of the new questions I created.