It’s A Good Start
Whenever the M’s get around to announcing who their new GM is, I’m pretty sure I know what my reaction will be.
“Nice, good hire, now let’s get started with the house cleaning.”
Whether it ends up being LaCava, DiPoto, Zduriencik, or Ng, I think we will have ample reason to be somewhat optimistic about what lays ahead. All have some really strong points in their favor, and they all differ significantly from the crop of people the M’s interviewed the last time around. While none of them fit the Epstein/Friedman/Byrnes mold that perhaps we would have preferred, they all come well spoken of and appear to be qualified to bring about the changes this organization badly needs.
But that last sentence is the key point. If the M’s just see this as a single job opening for a new guy to make decisions on trades and free agent signings, it won’t be enough. None of those four will be able to build a perennial contender with the organization that’s in place right now, because the underlying philosophies of the team have just been completely wrong for the last, oh, 30 years or so. The new GM has to be able to bring about significant change in the way this team runs its baseball operations.
The team needs a new player development plan. The scouts generally do a good job of bringing talent into the organization, but too often, that talent simply doesn’t mature into useful major league players. There’s a lack of cohesion in coaching from one minor league team to the next, and outdated philosophies about how to help kids improve being put into practice far too often. The club’s uber-aggressive promotion of prospects needs to be toned down, because it doesn’t help the club to push raw kids to Triple-A and have them stagnate in Tacoma for several years trying to learn things they should have picked up in A-ball.
The organizational also needs a real analytical department. No, having Mat Olkin on retainer as a consultant doesn’t count. The team needs to find a few of the hundreds of ridiculously smart college graduates who would literally work for free, give them some office space, and tell them to bring the team’s data analysis up to modern times. Create an internship program that brings the best and brightest of the game’s future executives into the organization, creating an in house future GM farm. Mine the newest forms of data, from Pitch F/x to advanced fielding metrics, to catch up with the rest of the American League’s elite in terms of understanding what to value and where advantages can be found.
And, the GM needs the power to say goodbye to the longtime organizational soldiers who simply aren’t going to be part of a transformation of this club. Lee Pelekoudas and Benny Looper (among others) have certainly earned their seniority over the years, and while loyalty is something to be valued, they should be thanked for their years of service and offered a nice retirement package. It’s simply time for a new direction, and the voices of the past don’t need to be continually pushing their antiquated beliefs on the upper management. The new GM needs to be able to build a support staff that will work together to foster new, better ideas about how baseball teams are run without worrying about offending one of the people who screwed up the organization in the first place. Those people don’t need to be in the room anymore. They’ve had their chance to run a baseball team, and they failed at it. It’s time for them to move on.
If the Mariners are really committed to seeing change come to the baseball operations department, this won’t be the last hiring announced before the 2009 season begins. No matter who the new GM is, they should be able to bring fresh voices at all levels of the organization, grabbing the brightest minds from around the game to help rebuild this team into something that actually resembles a forward thinking club. If they stop at just hiring one of LaCava, Ng, Zduriencik, or DiPoto, however, and ask them to fit into the structure already in place, then it really doesn’t matter which one they hire, because it won’t be enough.
A new general manager is a good start in the right direction, but it’s not enough. This needs to be the beginning of real change throughout the way this team runs on a day to day basis, or we’re going to be chasing the Angels, Rangers, and A’s for a long, long time.