The Pros And Cons Of Tony La Russa, Team President

January 13, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 20 Comments 

Unofficially, Chuck Armstrong is finished with the Mariners. Officially, Chuck Armstrong is almost finished with the Mariners, and the team intends to have named a replacement by the time he’s packed his many boxes. Under ordinary circumstances this would be kind of interesting news, but now we have to pretend like it’s bigger news than that since nothing else is happening until Masahiro Tanaka makes a damned decision. And, you know, a lot of fans have wanted Armstrong gone for a while. Rightly or wrongly, he’s developed an impossibly negative reputation, and so people are counting down the days. And while the Mariners have been in the process of interviewing some internal successor candidates, there’s also Tony La Russa. La Russa is interested in the position, and if the Mariners end up looking outside their own estate, La Russa might end up the favorite. That would be a mighty big name. Below, I’ve listed the pros and cons of the Mariners naming Tony La Russa the next team president.


  • knows baseball a lot


  • doesn’t know Mariners

I think that about summarizes things. Tony La Russa is one of the most well-known and highly-respected managers in at least the recent history of Major League Baseball. Few people possess a more authoritative voice on the game. Since retiring from the Cardinals, La Russa has served as a special assistant to the commissioner. His track record as a team president, or as anything close to that, is identical to yours, and mine.

It’s easy to want the Mariners to hire him. When you dig into it, though, there aren’t actually any legitimate reasons, from the outside. The main reason is this: La Russa’s a baseball icon, a passionate and proven winner, and the Mariners don’t need more of the same. But La Russa’s proven shit-all in this kind of role, and not everybody who’s worked for the Mariners is alike. Just because a guy is an internal candidate doesn’t mean he sucks, and just as importantly, how in the hell are we supposed to evaluate a team president? We can’t even evaluate a simple on-field manager. Now we’re supposed to get into non-GM executives?

Basically everything La Russa’s proven, he’s proven fulfilling a responsibility he wouldn’t have as a president. Presidents don’t run bullpens. Presidents don’t pinch-hit. Presidents don’t lead clubhouses. Every so often, in the event of an interim GM, presidents might play some role in determining roster management, but why should we trust La Russa in that role more than someone else? In short: why, actually, support the Mariners hiring Tony La Russa? I’m not saying one should be opposed to it. I just can’t imagine having a favorite. I can’t imagine the circumstances that would lead me to believe I know anything about being the president of a baseball organization.

An obvious response would be that hiring La Russa would be great for PR. People have complained every year that the Mariners aren’t sufficiently passionate about winning, and La Russa loves winning like nothing else. But we’ve never had a true measure of passion, and we’ve never been able to link passion to success, and this isn’t an area where PR should matter for a hill of beans. A team president is a team executive, a guy who wears a suit, and he’s someone you want to stick around for a while. There’s no such thing as a sustained PR lift because of a suit. It would raise eyebrows for a week, maybe two, and then it would be about the players again. Because the only true cause of a sustained PR lift is on-field success. All people want is a winner. They care about other things, sometimes, but only in that they might help or hurt the winning effort. Mariners fans want to win, and we can’t say anything about Tony La Russa’s would-be effects on the record. Nor can we say anything about the in-house candidates. The in-house candidates are less exciting, but let’s step back and consider that we’re talking about excitement as it pertains to a franchise president. You know who’d be an exciting presidential hire? Shawn Kemp. Sure would suck, probably. But imagine the headlines.

Tony La Russa’s proven himself capable of things that aren’t running a lot of the business end of a baseball team. I guess there’s not really anything I can say that Mitch Hedberg didn’t. Root for whoever you want, but don’t pretend like you actually know anything. It’s all just a money-making mystery up there.

But when you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian everybody wants you to do other things besides comedy. They say “All right, you’re a standup comedian, can you act? Can you write? Write us a script.” They want me to do things that’s related to comedy but not comedy. That’s not fair. It’s as though I was a cook, and I worked my ass off to become a really good cook, and they said “All right, you’re a cook. Can you farm?”

Mariners Suddenly Possible Tanaka Favorite

January 2, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners · 35 Comments 

At first, it was all about other teams. At first, people wondered why the Mariners hadn’t even been connected yet. The Yankees were thought to be the initial frontrunner for Masahiro Tanaka. Then there was talk that the Cubs would be all-in, that they wouldn’t be out-bid. The Angels were thrown in the mix, the Dodgers were thrown in the mix, and the Diamondbacks made no secret of their interest. There was a pool of favorites, then there was everybody else, and the Mariners looked like a part of everybody else. That is, according to the reports that were floated.

Talk of the Mariners picked up toward the end of December. Now January has vaulted the Mariners to the front. Jayson Stark says executives believe the M’s are the team to watch. And Ben Badler has the Mariners as his favorite, and Badler’s a smart guy who knows what’s up and who knows who to talk to. No longer are we waiting for the Mariners to get linked. Now they’re very much at least in the discussion. So what’s changed?

Basically nothing. Basically nothing has changed. Hell, Tanaka’s agent is supposedly still on a family vacation. It’s not that the Mariners are suddenly a legitimate candidate. It’s that they’ve been a legitimate candidate the whole time.

People think of Tanaka as a free agent, but he’s a unique free agent in two ways. One, there’s the matter of the $20 million posting fee. Two, there’s the matter of the January 24 signing deadline. Draft picks have faced signing deadlines, but not free agents, so this is a different sort of position. Really, there’s no reason for Tanaka to sign before then, if he’s looking to maximize his US contract. There’s no way the league’s letting him go back to Japan, and Tanaka is so much more appealing than the domestic free agents that he has most of the leverage. Come January 24, teams will have to have made their absolute best offers, and while Tanaka could conceivably sign before then, the likelihood is that he waits until the home stretch. That’s the desperation hour, and it’s not like Tanaka cares about delaying the markets for Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, and Ervin Santana.

Because Tanaka probably won’t sign for a few weeks, and because it’s been the soft holiday shutdown in the States, there’s been little meaningful activity in the market. Not much reason for a team to start sprinting. Some teams have presumably checked in, but it’s not like there are real offers on the table. Teams are now analyzing Tanaka in earnest. Or building off the analysis they’ve already done to prepare a sales pitch. Teams know if they’re in and they know if they’re out. Beyond that, the race has hardly begun. Nothing about the Mariners’ particular position has changed.

It’s just that people are looking at them differently now. They’re seeing what’s been obvious all along. The Mariners want to add a front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. That’s no secret. They’ve had success in the past with Japanese players. That’s no secret. They have money to spend, and a certain sense of urgency, or desperation if you want to be less flattering about it. That’s no secret. Calm, patient teams don’t guarantee a decade to Robinson Cano. Ever since Cano was signed, it made perfect sense that the Mariners would be in hard on Tanaka. Hard enough to compete with the more major players. Their position hasn’t changed; people are just coming to understand it. The team wants to make another splash.

What we haven’t heard is talk out of Mariners camp, and we’re not going to, until after the Tanaka sweepstakes has completed. That’s not the way Jack Zduriencik operates. What we’re hearing is basically that the Mariners are a logical fit, and that other teams see them as a threat since they’re clearly willing to spend aggressively. Everybody has a point they won’t spend beyond. Teams like the Yankees and Cubs have more money than the Mariners do. But the Mariners might only need to end up kind of close. Who knows? Tanaka’s Japanese, and he’s been a teammate of Hisashi Iwakuma’s. That matters or it doesn’t and we don’t have a clue. We probably shouldn’t generalize about all Japanese baseball players, since every last person on this planet is a pretty little snowflake.

There was a point at which Tanaka looked like he could be a relative bargain. Now, I’m actually not really sure. The danger here is tunnel vision, that it’s Tanaka or bust. That’s never the case, with any player, and Tanaka does have real downside, especially as the potential contract terms escalate. There is some point at which it would be smarter to turn instead to the free agents. I don’t know where that point is, but it exists and the free agents are all pretty good. All these guys have their questions marks, and though Tanaka’s the youngest, how much does pitcher age matter, really, especially given Tanaka’s workload? Would you want Tanaka at seven years and $150 million, or Ubaldo Jimenez at something in the vicinity of half of that? What if Tanaka goes to eight years? Nine years? How much value do you put in his mysteriousness, when at the end of the day he’ll be worth one or two or three or four or five wins, more or less? What’s the real difference, now and down the road, between Tanaka and the alternatives?

I don’t have the answers, because I don’t even really know what Tanaka is. But these are the questions that every team faces, at least every team planning to make a run for it. I love the idea of Masahiro Tanaka on the Mariners, I love it very much, but it does get silly at some point. It does get too risky at some point. In so many ways, this is going to be fascinating, and this sweepstakes is entirely unprecedented. The Mariners will be deeply involved.

But that’s been clear for, what, a month? About time that people see it. I don’t know what they were thinking before. Pair money with urgency and anything’s possible.

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