Desperate GM can cripple a franchise

Originally Published: January 13, 2007
By Keith Law | Scouts Inc.
A general manager's primary objective, no matter what he may say, is to keep his job. GMs typically make $300,000 or $400,000 a year at a minimum, with several earning a million or more. The job also carries tremendous authority and, within a small circle of people, prestige. It is not an easy job, and it can be a 24/7 job, but given the money and perks, it's one that current holders don't want to lose.

The problem is that the best way to keep a GM job when you know you're in danger of losing it is to produce results in the short term, sometimes in the very short term. This idea of trading a dollar in the future for 10 cents in the present often manifests itself in moves like trading prospects or young players for "proven" veterans, signing well-known free agents whose name value exceeds their on-field value and back-loading deals to maximize disposable payroll in the current year without regard to the payroll consequences for future years.

Barry Zito
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesThe Giants last month signed Barry Zito to the richest deal ($126 million over seven years) ever for a pitcher.

At times, this aligns itself well with the best interests of the organization as most baseball team owners are in the business to make money, with a small number in the business to win; most economists agree that the best way to increase team revenues is to win more games. But most organizations with GMs who are on the verge of a firing are in that situation because of more fundamental and often systemic problems like poor scouting, inability to develop players or the most fundamental problem of all -- insufficient talent. For those teams, a baseball strategy built around winning more games this year, this month or this week is wrong. Trading away young talent, eliminating long-term payroll flexibility and alienating a portion of the fan base can set the team back several years.