The 2011 GM Shuffle: MacPhail and Reagins Remind That Dayton Must, Eventually, Win

Lost (or almost lost, in the case of Theo Epstein) amidst the postseason news has been the letting go/moving on of three General Managers. These moves are interesting to think about in the context of our own Dayton Moore, who is unassailable and unimpeachable, having assembled the Best Farm System Ever.

 

  • Theo Epstein: Assuming he leaves the Red Sox for the Cubs, I'd wager that the Red Sox slowly morph into the Mets. That was, after all, their role prior to this decade. Not that the Mets, or the old Red Sox weren't without successes, mind you. Neither was a 10-year near-lock for the postseason and regularly one of the best teams in baseball, either. Epstein is human, and his tenure hasn't been perfect. Nevertheless, the criticism directed towards him in the wake of the Red Sox collapse is well... odd and stunningly without context. Epstein might not win with the Cubs right away, but he will inherit a situation little different from the one he found in Boston. I fully expect baseball stadiums across the Midwest to be dominated by annoying Cubs fans over the next decade. Oh wait, that's kinda already the case.
  • Andy MacPhail: An ultimate insider. MacPhail had a father and a grandfather in the Hall of Fame, and he's one of these guys who had a GM-esque job on and off for 25 years. Like Dayton Moore, he walked into a golden situation in Baltimore from a PR perspective. He wasn't a hot shot young genius like our earnest Dayton, but he was a respected "baseball man" who was tasked with cleaning up what was viewed as a dysfunctional and substandard front office. Not to be indelicate about it, but the guy he succeeded killed himself this year, allegedly because of the years of abuse he took. And like Dayton, MacPhail has, or rather had, much maligned ownership to deal with, that, supposedly, his professionalism was reining in. There was a moment, maybe a year or so sometime around 2009, when it looked like the Orioles were heading in the right direction. They had a number of interesting prospects and some famous young players. MacPhail had this weird (secretly smart?) phrase of "build the arms, buy the bats" that he used like a campaign slogan. Well, the arms mostly turned out to suck and the bats he bought in the last two years include: Derrek Lee, Vlad Guerrero, Garret Atkins, and Corey Patterson. In August, I advocated blowing up the Orioles, trading anyone of value (anyone, including Wieters and Jones) and settling in for the long haul. The funny thing is, I've yet to see the Buster Olney's of the world use MacPhail as an example of how old-school, experienced guys are often flops as GMs. Buck Showalter is rumored to be moving into a position of greater power in Baltimore.
  •  Tony Reagins: Reagins replaced Bill Stoneman in 2007 in what was seen as a seamless transition into the next phase of the Angels being the Angels. Even with the initial splash of the Toriiiiiiii Hunter signing (5 years, $90 million) Reagins was one of the more under-the-radar GMs in the game. Hunter hasn't really panned out for the Angels (though he did have a very good 2009) but compared to Vernon Wells he's been a delight. There's really not much else that can be said about the Vernon Wells trade, which was hated by 98% of the baseball world the second it happened. It appears likely to enter history as one of the absolute worst trades ever, and nearly single-handedly kept the Angels out of the playoffs. For $26 million, he was one of the worst players in the American League. Suddenly, the Angels are very expensive ($141 million dollar payroll in 2011) and old. Hunter and Wells will make well over $40 million next season. Reagins was, like Stoneman, great at beating out A's teams he was outspending by three times. Against a smart Texas team with money? Forget it. But hey, Mike Trout. As in Baltimore, the manager may be moving into a stronger position.
  • Epstein is obviously a different case, but there's certainly a sense in which he's trying to beat the posse out of town by heading to Chicago. Two years ago, each of these three GMs looked secure in their jobs, and Reagins and Epstein would have been considered among the best GMs in the game. As with all other aspects of the game, there's just more coverage out there now. And, on the whole, the understanding of the game is getting deeper and more nuanced. We see this with minor league prospects, and the now massive industry of prospect talk. This has permeated to the mainstream, and just as a GM like MacPhail bought time by supposedly improving the farm system, that hype carried with it increased expectations that he could not meet. Like MacPhail, Moore can hide behind rebuilding and the spectre of a meddling owner, but only for so long. Being old-school or new-school, alas, is rightly irrelevant. Reagins was a home-grown GM with old-school bonafides who was ultimately undone by a truly audacious grasp at glory that resulted on one of the worst trades ever.

    You might not have to win now, but eventually, you do have to win.

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