Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Five general managers on the hot seat
By Jim Bowden
Signing Chone Figgins wasn't one of Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik's better moves.
For the most part, major league general managers have enjoyed relative stability and continuity over the last few seasons. However, with so much turnover in managerial positions the last couple of years, there’s the likelihood that some general managers will lose their jobs soon, especially those who already have gone through multiple managers during their tenure.
Sure, the following general managers could prosper in 2013 and earn contract extensions, but each knows that his job could be in jeopardy if his club doesn't prosper. Here are the five general managers who will feel the heat the most, according to multiple industry sources:
While owner Bob Nutting has acknowledged that there have been improvements within the entire Pirates organization the last couple of years, those close to Nutting have suggested if the Pirates don’t significantly improve the won-loss record in 2013, there will be changes.
Nutting first fueled speculation that Huntington is under pressure after publicly stating that the club might have made a mistake by making so many deadline moves and calling the results after the trade deadline (20-39 record after Aug. 1) unacceptable.
Ultimately, besides the wins and losses, Huntington might be judged upon his draft record. His 2008 and 2009 drafts have been relatively unsuccessful, with Pedro Alvarez the only big leaguer of note (and even he has been a bit of a disappointment). From the 2010 and 2011 drafts, Cole and Taillon must have strong seasons this year to show Nutting that the Pirates have a strong foundation in their rotation.
The Pirates have had 20 consecutive years of losing seasons, five years under Huntington's leadership. He’s a hardworking, solid family man and class act. But if early signs point to another losing season, there will probably be a new GM in Pittsburgh a year from now.
Moore came to the Royals after years of working under John Schuerholz in Atlanta, and people in the industry viewed him as Schuerholz’s heir apparent. Moore was brought up in the game with the understanding that you win championships with starting pitching. However, while Moore has been able to put together a championship-caliber team in the field, he has been unable to put together a competitive starting rotation.
He used first-round picks for position players in four of his first five years as GM. And to his credit, Moore and his scouting staff have done an incredible job of drafting and trading for position players, and they have put a team together in the field that’s good enough to get to the World Series this year. Perez could end up being one of the best young all-around catchers in baseball.
However, starting pitcher Gil Meche and his five-year, $55 million contract back in 2007 was a disaster. The Royals’ 2006 No. 1 pick, Luke Hochevar, wasn’t even Moore’s selection, but Hochevar nevertheless has been a bust. Likewise, several of Moore’s much-ballyhooed pitching prospects haven’t developed or have sustained injuries that retarded their progress significantly. Six years after Moore became GM, the rotation simply isn’t much better.
After trading for Shields and Davis, Moore said it himself: “It's important that we start winning games.” Indeed, in Moore's six-and-a-half years of leadership, not once have the Royals won more than 75 games. With his contract expiring after 2014, Moore is fully aware that Royals fans -- and ownership -- are restless.
Zduriencik came to Seattle wearing laurels for his scouting and player development work with the Milwaukee Brewers, which included drafting Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, among others. But his first managerial hiring and free-agent signing backfired as Don Wakamatsu was fired after less than two seasons, and Chone Figgins’ four-year, $36 million deal has been an albatross.
What has buoyed Zduriencik is his development of starting pitching. Trading Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees for Montero stands as Zduriencik’s best trade. In 2010, Zduriencik drafted the high-ceiling Walker, and in 2011 he shrewdly drafted Hultzen.
The pitching excellence has been tempered, however, by the Mariners’ feeble offense. Zduriencik has tried to address it several times, bringing in everyone from top-shelf prospects (Justin Smoak) to veteran retreads (Jason Bay and Morales).
In the end, this is a team whose overall talent is a lot closer to that of the expansion-like Houston Astros than the rest of the AL West’s best. Like Moore, Zduriencik’s strength at his previous job -- in his case, drafting and developing hitters -- has escaped him. However, he has smartly refused to trade 2010 Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez to fill that need. With Hernandez’s five-year, $78 million contract expiring after 2014, Zduriencik's first order of business besides finding some offense is either signing Hernandez or trading him prior to the trade deadline to maximize value.
O’Dowd is on the hot seat only because he’s the one who’s put himself there. Rockies owner Dick Monfort has always supported O’Dowd and is expected to continue that loyalty. However, the wear and tear of the job has worn down O’Dowd, who on Oct. 1, 2012, promoted longtime assistant Bill Geivett to senior vice president to oversee the day-to-day operations of the major league club.
Like all GMs, O’Dowd has had his share of failures, including the ill-advised free-agent signings of Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle more than a decade ago. The Rockies' 14 first-round selections during his tenure never produced an All-Star or even an every-day player outside of Tulowitzki.
But perhaps O’Dowd’s biggest problem remains Coors Field and building a rotation that works in Denver's high altitude. He’s tried signing free agents, trading for them and developing them. He’s tried strikeout pitchers and sinkerball pitchers (the latter with some success). It just might be baseball’s hardest situation in which to win. One can see why O’Dowd is worn out and could soon hand the reins to someone else.
Antonetti has had a very difficult first two seasons. Armed with just $10 million to spend after his initial hiring, Antonetti traded for Derek Lowe and re-signed outfielder Grady Sizemore. Lowe was released in August and Sizemore didn’t even record one at-bat.
However, Antonetti rebounded to have one of the best offseasons a GM could possibly have, given the Indians’ financial restrictions. Hiring Francona as manager was as good as acquiring a top free-agent player. He then traded impending free agent Shin-Soo Choo and netted right-hander Trevor Bauer, who the Indians will control for the next six years (and he still has a chance to be an ace). Antonetti also addressed the team’s weakness against left-handed pitching, adding Stubbs and Swisher. The GM capped the offseason by signing Brett Myers to a reasonable one-year deal.
The Indians still have too many strikeouts in the lineup and not enough starting pitching to contend. While Antonetti has the complete support of team president Mark Shapiro, don’t be surprised if owner Larry Dolan asks Shapiro to return to the GM role if there’s another 94-loss season.