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Sunday, October 30, 2005

One Step Forward, One Step Back

In the world of sabermetric-minded general managers, this weekend saw one step forward and one step backwards. First, the Arizona Diamondbacks have hired former Red Sox assistant GM Josh Byrnes replacing Joe Gariagiola Jr. who took a job with Major League Baseball. Byrnes got a four year contract with a club option for a 5th. Byrnes was the assistant GM here in Colorado for two years before going to Boston. Speaking of Boston, GM Theo Epstein is still in contract negotiations, and it appears he's being a tough negotiator.

While Byrnes is considered by many to be more of a Moneyball type he also has a reputation for being somewhat of a moderate. That was the step forward. Interestingly, Will Carroll noted on BP Radio on Saturday that the GM position in Arizona may have scared some potential candidates away since it appears that Matt Williams may be a sort of "GM in waiting" and has the ear of owner Jeff Morad. It'll be interesting to see what kind of patience Morad and his partner show with the young Byrnes and how much impact Byrnes will be able to have given that the D'Backs are still saddled with some large contracts, namely $11.5M to Luis Gonzales and $11M to Javier Vazquez and of course Troy Glaus ($9M) and Russ Ortiz ($7.4M). The story in the Arizona Republic noted that the owners recognize they're not baseball men and so Byrnes will be given the autonomy to make the decisions. It'll be an interesting situation to watch.

The step back came on Saturday when Paul DePodesta, the Dodgers GM who was hired before the 2004 season was fired. The way the story's being played in the mainstream media is that DePodesta is a poor communicator and neglected team chemistry, which led to the Dodgers 71-91 record this season after winning the NL West in 2004. The chemistry angle comes from the trade of fan favorite Paul LoDuca and the acquisitions of Jeff Kent, Milton Bradley, and J.D. Drew, all of whom are not exactly Shawon Dunston in the clubhouse.

While John Wesiman over at Dodger Thoughts will provide much better commentary over the next few days, my initial reaction is that essentially one year is too little by which to evaluate a GM unless they absolutely prove inept. After all, DePodesta has never even hired a manager let alone had time for draft picks during his tenure to help the club. It seems as if Frank McCourt is a guy who is quick to change directions when things don't work out immediately and probably hired DePodesta not because he understood the philosophy of "be the house" but rather because it was viewed as the hot new thing. McCourt's management style having now fired two GMs in 22 months doesn't bode well for the Dodgers franchise in the years to come. One could see him swinging between one extreme and the other in the same way as when Martin Luther compared human nature to a drunkard trying to ride a horse. He gets on and falls off on the left side. He resolves not to make that mistake again, so he remounts, careful to avoid falling off on the left, and promptly falls off on the right.

And it looks like McCourt will be leaning the other way in considering a longtime baseball guy like Pat Gillick, a man who has openly criticized the Moneyball approach as I noted in my article on the book Scout's Honor.

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