The GM's Office: Bobby Valentine

GMs with the toughest jobs this winter

October, 30, 2012
Brian CashmanJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesYankees GM Brian Cashman has an exhausting task ahead of him this offseason.

Even though the offseason has only just commenced for the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers, general managers of 28 other teams already have been pondering their futures for some time.

For five GMs in particular, their jobs for the next three months are uniquely difficult, perhaps the most difficult in baseball. A variety of obstacles stand in their way of effectively making over their teams. They will have to hurdle those obstacles in order to improve their teams, and that’s easier said than done.

Here are the five general managers who have the toughest jobs this winter. For the Giants and Tigers, it’s finally time to rest. For these guys, their work has already started.

1. Brian Cashman, New York Yankees
Hands down, Cashman has the most difficult path facing him of any general manager of baseball. Perhaps it just comes with the territory of being the GM of baseball’s uber-team, but this offseason is especially difficult. With the Yankees’ mandate of “anything less than a World Series is failure” hovering over him, the fixes Cashman faces are not easy. Additionally, the Yankees are trying to get under the luxury tax threshold by 2014, and their best prospects are not close to contributing.

The Yankees have never had the luxury of going with a full-scale youth movement -- they are expected to contend every year, so Cashman must resolve the situation with Alex Rodriguez, whose declining skills, massive contract and no-trade clause make him nearly impossible to move. Picking up the contract options for Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson was a good first step, but Mariano Rivera might retire and Rafael Soriano might opt out of his deal. And then you have Derek Jeter returning from injury, and who knows what to expect from Michael Pineda?

In other words, Cashman must retool a World Series contender with limited money, a fallow farm system and an aging roster rife with no-trade clauses. Toughest job, indeed.

2. Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals
Moore can position the Royals as 2013’s version of the Baltimore Orioles or Oakland A’s. Position players Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are all ready to lead a playoff team. But Moore must completely rebuild his starting rotation, and to do that, he will have to make some uncomfortable decisions, including trading one of the aforementioned players.

Moore has talked about 2014 as the Royals' year to compete. But he has the talent to win now, and he should start by acknowledging the failure of Luke Hochevar. Dumping him would serve as a philosophical change for a club that has become enamored with “stuff” rather than results. While Danny Duffy and Jake Odorizzi are good pitching prospects, the majority of them have been way overhyped. Their only way to improve the rotation so quickly is to bring back Zack Greinke or sign Kyle Lohse or Anibal Sanchez and trade one of those young hitters. I know Moore has gone down this free-agent pitching path before, with the disastrous Gil Meche signing, but he can’t keep waiting for 2014. It’s time to win now.

3. Ben Cherington, Boston Red Sox
The fact is, nearly every move Cherington made last season did not work. From hiring Bobby Valentine, to trading Jed Lowrie to Houston and Kevin Youkilis to Chicago and Josh Reddick to Oakland, to the failed conversion of Daniel Bard to the starting rotation, it was a rough rookie year for Cherington.

However, what did work was the massive trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers that shed the Red Sox of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto. That move shaved approximately $58 million in 2013 payroll alone. And with the acquisition of manager John Farrell, Cherington is effectively starting from scratch. And he’s on the clock now, too.

Cherington’s a bright guy and he will have ample opportunity to show what he can do with what almost amounts to a clean slate. He will have some cornerstones such as Dustin Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks, but he has to also hope Jon Lester and Bard return to form in their respective roles. His priority will be to figure out what to do with Jacoby Ellsbury, who is a free agent in 2013 and is represented by Scott Boras, so it won't be an easy negotiation. Cherington’s team has plenty of holes, and he will have some financial freedom, so there will be opportunities to show last season’s disaster was an aberration.

4. GM Mike Hill, president Larry Beinfest, Miami Marlins
It is a difficult situation when you’re the general manager of a ballclub, but not really the general manager, or when you're the president of a ballclub, but not really the president. Essentially, owner Jeffrey Loria calls the shots on all personnel decisions and managers, and Ozzie Guillen was the latest casualty. Don’t be surprised if outspoken outfielder Logan Morrison is next.

Of course, Guillen wasn’t without fault here, alienating the Cuban section of the Marlins’ fan base early last season. But after signing Heath Bell last winter and then trading him to Arizona, free agents will pause before going to Miami. So will managers who see no job security in South Beach -- in a span of six years, three managers (Joe Girardi, Fredi Gonzalez and Guillen) have held the job.

The Marlins will be competing with a resurgent Philadelphia Phillies team that still boasts the best rotation in the National League. The New York Mets will have lots of money coming off the books in time for the 2014 offseason and the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals are both built to compete for the next five years. But the Fish have some core pieces to work with, namely Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Giancarlo Stanton, as well as some good youngsters in Rob Brantly, Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi, as well as prospects Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich. If Hill and Beinfest can do something this offseason with some autonomy, they could compete in the NL East.

5. Chris Antonetti, Cleveland Indians
When I say Cashman doesn’t have any money and is restricted by his payroll, remember the Yankees’ yearly payroll is near $200 million. Cleveland's 2012 Opening Day payroll was $65 million.

So Antonetti really doesn’t have any money, nor does he have much of anything else to work with. His hiring of Terry Francona as manager is a step in the right direction. But a manager will only win if he has winning players. The “best” pitching pieces he has to trade are Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson, who don't have a ton of value right now. His farm system is below average at best, with the exception of shortstop Francisco Lindor. Shin-Soo Choo, arguably Antonetti’s best player, is a free agent after 2013, and Boras is his agent. Antonetti simply can’t let Choo walk away for only draft-pick compensation.

Further, the AL Central is surprisingly deep with Detroit’s dominance, Chicago’s surprise and the Royals’ rise. Exacerbating things is his team and fan base seem to have lost faith in the front office, with closer Chris Perez openly criticizing him in the media. A rough road lies ahead for Antonetti and team president Mark Shapiro, whose own deal is up after 2013.

Best managers of the first half 

June, 27, 2012
Bobby Valentine Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesValentine has endured lots of drama in the first half and yet, Boston remains in contention.

Joe Girardi is having perhaps his best season as manager of the New York Yankees, guiding them to the American League’s second-best record. In Texas, Ron Washington leads the league’s best team with three starting pitchers on the disabled list. However, when you manage two high-payroll teams that are stacked with some of the game’s best players, it makes life a little easier. Here are six other managers (three in each league) who have done very well with much less than what Girardi and Washington have. They are my choices for the best managers in baseball thus far in 2012.

American League

1. Bobby Valentine, Boston Red Sox
Fans and the media have criticized Valentine more than any other manager this year. However, when the dust settles, the fact remains he’s been the AL’s best manager in the first half of the season.

Five moves to fix the Red Sox 

April, 24, 2012
Kevin YoukilisElsa/Getty ImagesTrading Kevin Youkilis wouldn't be popular, but he could fetch some youth and pitching.

The basement is an unappetizing venue for the Boston Red Sox.

At 5-10, they sit at the bottom of the American League East behind a number of excellent teams. But unlike last year, when the club also started 5-10, the 2012 team is not good enough to make a dramatic turnaround as last year’s team did when it went on a torrid 45-25 run from May through July. Coupled with manager Bobby Valentine’s media miscues last week, pressure is mounting for rookie general manager Ben Cherington to make a move to help his ballclub.

Valentine is getting blamed for everything, but the fact is this team came into the season with major flaws in the outfield, starting rotation and bullpen. The Red Sox also had areas that needed upgrades at shortstop and catcher. They also have incurred major injuries. But most importantly, this team simply cannot pitch right now. And when your team can’t pitch, all the other problems become magnified.

So here are five moves that could solve some of those problems and help the Red Sox climb out of the AL East cellar. The overwhelming theme here is that with each move, the Red Sox not only get better, but they also get depth for the bullpen, starting rotation and outfield positions -- something they’ve sorely lacked and a major reason for their late-season collapse in 2011.

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Five managers feeling the heat 

April, 19, 2012
Dusty BakerMark J. Rebilas/US PresswireBaker isn't panicking yet, but he certainly is looking over his shoulder these days.

Big league managers have a hard enough time contending with things they can control, let alone things they can’t. A 162-game season is never a cakewalk, but when there are distractions and concerns early in the season, it doesn’t portend for smooth sailing for any skipper.

Some skippers are already contending with some unpleasant variables just two weeks into the season. Some came into spring training shouldering issues, while others might have made them with certain personnel decisions. But the kicker to it all is managers don’t play the game, so they’re somewhat at the mercy of player performance, which means they’re really not in control of as much as they think.

Below are five managers and what is distracting each of them. Are they panicking? Perhaps not yet, but they certainly should be feeling the heat.

Dusty Baker

Baker is in the last year of his contract, and despite winning the division in 2010, his contract hasn’t been extended yet, though the club has signed general manager Walt Jocketty, first baseman Joey Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips to long-term deals. So Baker remains somewhat of a lame duck manager. With the shadows of both Terry Francona and Tony La Russa looming, as well as Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, there is a growing sense that Baker must win to keep his job, or else one of those three will replace him. It is not a healthy position for Baker, and he will manage with more immediacy rather than over the long haul of 162 games.

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Grading the offseason: American League 

February, 17, 2012
Albert PujolsStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesThe Los Angeles Angels enjoyed the most fruitful offseason by signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.

To say baseball's landscape has shifted this offseason is an understatement. There was an exodus of talent to the American League, and teams like the Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees find themselves amid baseball's power elite. There's a chasm between the top and the bottom of the American League, and much of that canyon was dug this offseason. Here's how each team did during the winter. (For a look at my NL grade, click here.)

Los Angeles Angels - Grade: A

Key Transactions: Acquired C Chris Iannetta from Colorado for RHP Tyler Chatwood; signed 1B Albert Pujols, 10 years, $240 million; signed LHP C.J. Wilson, five years, $77.5 million; signed RHP LaTroy Hawkins, one year, $3 million.

Bowden's Take
The Angels signed the best position player and starting pitcher available on the free-agent market in Pujols and Wilson, respectively, which placed them among a group of six elite AL teams. The signings have bolstered the offense. The Angels also own arguably the best four-man rotation in baseball. Hawkins adds depth and leadership to the bullpen. The Angels won the offseason and put themselves in the position of being World Series contenders.

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Ranking 10 moves of the offseason 

December, 27, 2011
Albert PujolsStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesThe Los Angeles Angels spared no expense to acquire Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.

With the midpoint of baseball’s 2011-12 offseason upon us, it’s a good time to circle back to take stock of the most significant moves made thus far.

1. Los Angeles Angels sign 1B Albert Pujols and LHP C.J. Wilson

Angels owner Arte Moreno shocked the baseball world the morning of Dec. 8, when he signed three-time National League MVP Pujols to a 10-year, $254 million contract and left-hander Wilson to a five-year, $77.5 million pact. Pujols’ move from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Angels can be effectively compared to when Babe Ruth changed teams, going from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees in 1919.

2. Miami Marlins winter meetings spending spree

The Marlins hadn't signed a significant major league free agent since 2005. Now nearly seven years later, the Marlins made a splash by signing closer Heath Bell, left-handed starter Mark Buehrle and shortstop Jose Reyes. Buehrle gives the Marlins a lefty to put between staff ace Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. Bell has been one of the most effective closers in baseball over the last three years, while Reyes is one of baseball’s best leadoff hitters and improves the Marlins' defense on the left side of the infield.

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Red Sox meticulous in hiring Valentine 

November, 30, 2011
ValentineAP Photo/J.Pat CarterBobby Valentine will offer the Red Sox thorough preparation and plenty of heart.

It looks like the Boston Red Sox finally have their man.

After the drama that surrounded the exit of former general manager Theo Epstein and field manager Terry Francona, the Red Sox chose Bobby Valentine as their next manager with decidedly less fanfare. Though the Red Sox left themselves in a lurch by seemingly having no plan in the wake of Epstein's and Francona’s departures, they got themselves together and methodically searched for their next manager. And I can tell you from experience, the process of hiring a manager is by no means easy.

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Bowden's Bullets: Free-agent bear market 

November, 26, 2011
Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols & Yu DarvishAP Photo/Getty ImagesWho will sign Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols? Will Yu Darvish become available?

Major League Baseball’s winter meetings begin next Sunday at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, and there will be fireworks.

Make no mistake, general managers are savvy enough to take advantage of being in a spotlight under which they can get their clubs national attention and maximize their teams' ability to sell tickets, luxury boxes, promotions and advertising. I predict there will be a flurry of movement this year because the free-agent market has remained somewhat inert thus far.

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Bobby Valentine the perfect fit for Boston 

November, 21, 2011
Bobby Valentine, Ben CheringtonAP PhotoBen Cherington and Bobby Valentine could work well in Boston

The search for a new manager has not gone as smoothly as the Boston Red Sox would have liked.

They’ve seen a whole host of candidates come through Yawkey Way, including Gene Lamont, Pete Mackanin, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Torey Lovullo. New Boston general manager Ben Cherington fought over Dale Sveum with former colleagues Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer -- who now work for the Chicago Cubs -- even having Sveum in for a second interview. But Sveum chose to set up shop at Wrigley Field instead of Fenway Park.

With the Red Sox's front office seemingly indifferent to the candidates it has already talked to, it has now turned its attention to Bobby Valentine, who is in Boston Monday for an interview.

By letting Epstein and Terry Francona go in October, the Red Sox put themselves in a precarious situation. Most assumed the respected Red Sox leadership of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino had options already established, otherwise why let go your GM and manager? They did not and now find themselves scrambling. By hiring Valentine, they can also hire someone who they can groom underneath Valentine as his bench coach and avoid putting themselves in this position again the next time they make a change.

Valentine, 61, is clearly the most qualified among all remaining manager candidates with experience. He guided the New York Mets to the World Series in 2000 and helped the Chiba Lotte Marines to a Japan Series championship in 2005. He’s a proven winner with big-market experience. His leadership, motivational and organizational skills are exceptional. He owns a high baseball IQ and the type sense of humor and media savvy it takes to succeed in a pressurized market like Boston.

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