Larry Beinfest is a genius.
I'm a fan of the A's and Billy Beane, but Beinfest is head-and-shoulders better than any executive in the game.
Consider this table of payroll and win-loss record since Beinfest took over in 2002.
Year Payroll W-L
2002 $42 mil 79-83
2003 $46 mil 91-71
2004 $42 mil 83-79
2005 $60 mil 83-79
2006 $15 mil 78-84
2007 $30 mil 71-91
2008 $22 mil 87-75
2009 $37 mil 45-44
That's eight years, one World Series title (2003), and only one season of 85-loss ball (2007).
In 2006, the Marlins fielded a team with easily the lowest payroll in recent memory, and nearly went .500.
Last season, they fielded a team with a $22 million payroll, easily lowest in the majors, and won two fewer games than the unlimited-money Yankees.
Beinfest has never had a legitimate budget to work with, yet he has never presided over a true "rebuilding period."
The Rays, Royals, and Pirates have taken years to "rebuild," saying they need time for everyone to develop, yet Beinfest's work shows that a team can "rebuild" while still remaining somewhat competitive, not playing the terrible baseball of the pre-2008 Rays and the current Orioles, A's, Royals, and Pirates.
What does Beinfest do that makes the Marlins a perennially average-or-better team despite a comically low payroll?
He evaluates talent fairly.
It's pretty simple what Beinfest does. He gives everyone a chance to play in the majors, then quickly sends down inept players and keeps those who play well.
Want some examples? Take Hanley Ramirez. When the Marlins acquired Ramirez from Boston in the 2005-2006 offseason, they said they'd let him start in the majors, straight out of a mediocre year in Double-A.
Rather than worry about what everyone said about Ramirez not being ready, Beinfest decided to give Ramirez a chance to prove he was ready. He won Rookie of the Year in a year where just about every other organization would have kept him in the minors.
Dan Uggla was a 25-year-old coming off a decent effort at Double-A in his second try at the level, and the Marlins picked him up in the Rule 5 Draft, surprising nearly everyone. Again eschewing the "conventional wisdom" that had Uggla pegged as a no-tools Quad-A guy, Beinfest installed Uggla at second.
If it wasn't for Ramirez, Uggla would have won 2006 Rookie of the Year, and both Ramirez and Uggla have made it to the All-Star Game.
The Marlins acquired Cody Ross in late 2006. Ross had journeyed through two different organizations that year, and was already 25. Beinfest gave him an extra outfielder job in Florida on the basis of his strong Triple-A power numbers.
Last year, Ross hit .335/.411/.653 for Florida.
There are all sorts of examples: John Baker, Dan Meyer, Lee Gardner, Kevin Gregg...Beinfest is willing to try almost anyone in a Marlins uniform.
The great thing about Beinfest's tactics, though, is that while he gives everyone an opportunity, he doesn't overcommit to anyone.
Last year's ace, Ricky Nolasco, was struggling early in 2009, so Beinfest dispatched him to Triple-A. After a brief stint there, Nolasco came back up and reestablished himself.
Cameron Maybin was thought to be one of the top ten prospects in the game entering 2009, but after a .202/.280/.310 start in 26 MLB games, he was sent to Triple-A.
Beinfest will give anyone a shot to prove themselves, BUT THEY HAVE TO PROVE THEMSELVES.
One of the great things about having a roster with no big contracts is that the organization can't use a player's salary as an excuse to hold onto him.
Larry Beinfest wouldn't have Bobby Crosby on his roster after the way he's played for the last several years. Crosby would be long gone. But Billy Beane, one of the few baseball executives anywhere near as adept as Beinfest, continues to hold onto the former Rookie of the Year, far past Crosby's expiration date.
Everyone gets their chance, and if they don't produce, they're traded, released, or sent to Triple-A. It's that simple.
It doesn't matter to Beinfest whether a minor leaguer is "too young," "too old," "unathletic," "unpolished," or any other scouting way of saying "I don't like him."
If a player produces in the minors, they get to be a Florida Marlin. If they don't play well as a Florida Marlin, they shouldn't expect to be one for long.
Another great thing about Beinfest is that he always maximizes everyone's value.
Take the Miguel Cabrera trade. The Marlins traded Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit for Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz, and Mike Rabelo.
So, the Marlins got rid of Cabrera and Willis and got a decent starter (Miller), a starting CF (Maybin), a backup catcher (Rabelo), a decent swingman (Badenhop), and two busts.
Eventually, Miller and Maybin will improve and should be worth two or three prospects each, just before they hit free agency. One prospect in each deal will probably pan out, and eventually get traded for more prospects. The Marlins just keep getting good young players as a result of trading their veterans who they can't afford.
If a player isn't going to be part of the next year's Marlins, Beinfest nearly always ships him out. Mike Jacobs and Josh Willingham, for example, were traded away this past offseason.
So often, non-contending teams will hold on to veterans they don't need. If you're, say, the Nationals, and you have a veteran reliever, it doesn't matter how good he is, you need to get rid of him.
Why? Because he won't be on the next good Nationals team. All he's doing, whether he's pitching great or terribly, is blocking a young guy (hey, Nationals, ever heard of J.D. Martin? No? Okay, keep pitching Ron Villone then) who could be a part of the next contending team.
Will J.D. Martin be on the next good Nationals team? Maybe he will, maybe he won't. But Mike Rizzo should take after Beinfest and get rid of Villone, call up Martin, and see what he's got.
If he succeeds, great. If he doesn't, you haven't lost anything, because Villone wasn't going to be a part of the hypothetical Stephen Strasburg-Bryce Harper Nationals of 2012-2017.
A perfect example of this is Florida's Kevin Gregg-Jose Ceda trade this past offseason. Gregg's a decent MLB pitcher who is aging and getting expensive; Ceda is one of the best relief prospects in the game.
The Marlins never carry around any deadweights on the roster, and they don't carry around useless veterans. A quick perusal of the roster finds only Brendan Donnelly, who was only just recently acquired (Beinfest is giving him his shot; we'll see what he does with it) and Wes Helms as the only questionable guys on the roster.
Compare that to, say, the Royals.
The Royals have Bruce Chen, Jamey Wright, Ron Mahay, Mike Jacobs, Tony Pena Jr., Willie Bloomquist, and Jose Guillen on their roster. Sidney Ponson, Kyle Farnsworth, and Yuniesky Betancourt are on the Royals' DL.
This team is rebuilding?
Seriously, are any of those guys going to be major contributors in 2011 or so, when the team is supposed to be "rebuilt?"
Heck, are any of those players contributors in 2009?
If Beinfest was the Royals GM, most or all of those players would be gone. Even a guy like Mahay, who isn't all that bad, would be gone because he's 38, expensive, and replaceable for the league minimum (with someone like, you know, Dan Meyer, who's been one of the best lefties in baseball for Florida).
If any of those Royals can be traded for anything, Dayton Moore should follow Beinfest's lead and trade them now. Anyone else should be released and replaced. If you keep cycling through players, Beinfest-style, you'll eventually find players that can contribute, even if they come out of nowhere.
Heck, the Royals proved that already. Look at Mike Aviles and Kila Ka'aihue. Try forecasting their 2008 seasons from their pre-2008 data.
Ultimately, what Larry Beinfest does to run a team is very simple and very obvious, yet other GMs let other concerns (scouting reputation, money committed, etc.) get in the way of simply judging players by how they produce and how likely they are to produce for their team when it reaches its window of contention.
I just wonder why other GMs don't run their teams like Beinfest.
It's not rocket science, but if the other 29 GMs are the standard for baseball intelligence, Larry Beinfest is a genius.