Zduriencik hire can be good and still depressing
I’ve been really pretty nasty about the whole hiring process lately, as I’m sure you’ve all noticed, in particular calling out the people doing the hiring as bumbling fools unfit to decide what to order for lunch, much less pick who to be in charge of the operations of the franchise (Power structures and the GM hunt, Essential problems with the interview process, Target-rich environment, on and on).
There’s been some great discussion on the hire, particularly in the comments to Dave’s last post, Thoughts From Milwaukee which I highly recommend. I feel like many of the people there.
I come to this feeling, unfortunately, a lot like I did about the Bavasi hire — that hiring Zdurincik is about as good as we’re going to get out of the Mariners. It’s actually better than I’d feared, that they’d retreat into the safety of a name former GM retread. Zduriencik might work out great (and we don’t know, any or all of the others would have been awesome, too).
But I want to talk about why this pick is bad for us, in a larger sense than what the GM’s going to do soon.
The M’s organization has viewed advances in baseball knowledge with at best antipathy and often a heaping amount of scorn. This is evident in many of the moves we’ve seen in the last few years, but even removing the Bavasi years and focusing just on the views of the people who were going to make the hiring decision, it’s true. We don’t need to look any further than their comments on the A’s — they’ve continually refused to give the A’s any credit for anything, and gone out of their way to denigrate what Beane’s done even as year after year the A’s have handed the M’s their ass, sometimes on a nice silver tray as the protein course in a eighteen-game season meal of whooping.
At the same time, they’ve looked to the Twins as an example of an organization they admire. There’s nothing wrong with admiring the Twins. They’ve been successful running a team on a shoestring while pretty much discarding baseball research.
But the disdain for the A’s and other smart teams has always been one of the larger and more prominent symptoms of the team’s at time galling arrogance about how smart they are. Chuck Armstrong thinks, more or less, that because he has engineering training that he knows stats, and because they have a stathead on a consulting contract and once in a while ask him questions like “how many more games would we win if we brought Carlos Silva instead of playing Baek?”
It’s crazy. There are, as I think every serious fan of baseball would agree, many ways to put together a championship team. You can look down recent league winners and see some amazing contrasts both in how the teams play but how they were constructed.
The Mariners front office essentially decided that they preferred one way, and therefore that was the only correct path to follow in building a team. And teams that didn’t follow it and were successful were lucky, or cheating, or… I’m not sure what their argument was here.
This drove me nuts.
This off-season presented a chance for the team, and particularly the front office, to take a serious look at itself, where things had gone wrong, and change. Ownership did not change the people responsible for running the team. The people running the team made some noises about opening themselves to new ideas, new approaches, and there was hope.
The hope was that they would finally consider that perhaps they had something to learn from the teams that were getting more from much less payroll, much more from the same payroll, from teams that were using wholly different approaches.
The hope was that they’d hire one of the crazy-competent hybrid GM candidates, the people who are building organizations based on getting all the information they can out of the stats and the scouts, and weigh it appropriately. Someone who can look at a free agent pitcher and say “sure, he’s got a 3.50 ERA, but he got amazingly lucky stranding runners, and he wants $15m a year. Why don’t we take the guy with a 4.50 ERA who got unlucky for $8m and get something shiny for left field?”
This would have been the reason to double the celebration if the team had hired an Antonetti, for example:
– great hire
– clear demonstration that the team at a level higher than GM recognizes where the franchise has gone wrong
Zduriencik to me may check off the first box. But he doesn’t at all mark that second one.
In many ways, he’s what they wanted but did not get out of Bavasi. He’s a scouting and player development guy, well-respected within baseball. I joked at one point that if Bavasi had put on a wig, shaved the facial hair, and dummied up a resume to get onto the long list, he’d have made it all the way through the interview process again.
Moreover, the finalist list reinforces that worry:
– LaCava was fine, but he’s not a known hybrid-y guy
– DiPoto was fine, but he’s not a known hybrid-y guy
– Ng is a cipher
– Zduriencik is a scouting-side guy
I freely acknowledge that the team had a terrible time getting permission to talk to candidates and getting the candidates interested (which is another stunning indictment of them, but that’s a seperate argument). And that we have to throw up our hands on Ng a little. But there was no finalist who could have for certain turned the organization somewhere new, or someone who would have taken the M’s organizational strengths and helped meld it with an improved analysis side.
There’s the letdown — whoever the new GM is, we know that the people above them didn’t take this opportunity to do some serious thinking about what they’ve wrought. You could go ask Armstrong right now if he’d reconsidered his opinion on the A’s success, and I’d bet you pennies to dollars that he’d say the same thing he’s been saying for years.
As Dave’s said, they’ve decided to stick to their guns and shoot for becoming a well-funded Twins franchise, and if we’re lucky, the M’s look like the 90s Braves, or the good version of the Mets. And that’s okay by me. I have a ton of respect for what the Braves did.
Maybe Zduriencik is going to survey the franchise in the next week and decide to spend some money putting some serious technology people together to build some tools, get some quality stathead analysts hired and figure out how to make them a part of an organization that could badly use them. I don’t know.
But I worry that that’s not going to happen. I worry that even if he thought of that and decided that that was how he was going to run the organization, he’d have an impossible sell to Armstrong (why does the team need to beef up anything on that side of the house when they’ve received so little value from it in the past?). And I know that’s not rational, that the GM’s going to have the freedom to build their own staff and their own organization.
Again we’re back to that worry: that the Lincoln/Armstrong Return to Community means exactly that, and that Zduriencik’s brilliance may well be limited by the team’s unwillingness to back him financially in drafting players. Or that they won’t sign off on contracts that make sense, or will mandate extensions for their favorite players, and on and on. Because, and I hesitate to bring this up again, there’s years of evidence that they’re no good at evaluating deals. Sure, Armstrong was there to veto a Washburn dump, but where was he when we signed Washburn? Or any of the horrible deals up to the supposed hands-off 2007 off-season?
Certainly almost every GM operates with some degree of managerial control, but one of the greatest lessons of the Twins and A’s success is that the ownership gave good baseball people the freedom to operate as they should. Reading Moneyball, you’re probably struck as much by how unfettered Beane was allowed to operate within the financial bounds given him. He wasn’t told “You can increase payroll by $250k to improve the team but you have to get at least one good prospect back if you trade a current starter…” And the Twins have much the same latitude in baseball decisions.
Will ours? The evidence of this off-season points to them wanting to be more involved, and that’s bad.
And it points to the HoChuck brain trust as not having learned much from these last few years, and that’s bad too.
I wish Zduriencik all the success possible — I am, above all, a great fan of the franchise. And I’m wary of finding the downside to every decision, and in being too critical from being beat down these last few years. But what this season and the hiring process have shown us about the organization as a whole is worrisome. What if Zduriencik fails? Will they hire the super-super-Bavasi, the guy they thought they were getting when they got the guy they thought they were getting in Bavasi?
And if he succeeds, will they feel vindicated? Even more confident their renewed involvement was the key to success? What does that look like?