Theo Epstein and the Other Guys: Power Ranking Every MLB GM
The whirlwind talk surrounding Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein’s move to the Chicago Cubs confirms the growing superstar status of baseball GMs.
Before Moneyball turned Oakland GM Billy Beane into Brad freaking Pitt, GMs largely operated behind the scenes. They were the unsung heroes and unpunished goats of the baseball world, largely shielded from the media crush that awaits players and field managers.
Now the GM meetings in December are national news, and the very best have become the buttoned-up faces of their respected franchises.
More than ever, we want to know who among them “gets it” and who lags behind the times. This list pursues that very question.
28-30. Vacant Q. Nothingness (Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles and LA Angels)
The Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Angels all lack general managers right now.
Which beg the questions:
Who has the pass code to the safe?
How are they using the office space? Common room? Reading nook?
Who brings donuts on "GM provides the donuts" Tuesday?
How are the being generally manged?
It's a mystery.
27. Ned Colletti (Los Angeles Dodgers)
It’s OK to feel bad for Ned Colletti.
When he took the reins of the Los Angeles Dodgers five years ago, he couldn’t have foreseen the McCourt divorce imbroglio or the general gloom that would befall this once proud franchise.
But what about the things he could control?
Handing out inflated deals to veterans like Manny Ramirez, Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Casey Blake put this team in financial shackles. Now they might waste the best years of a good young nucleus that includes Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.
Truth is, the Dodgers needed over-investment from ownership to stay competitive. Peal back the cash curtain, and it’s clear Colletti wasn’t making shrewd baseball decisions.
26. Ed Wade (Houston Astros)
In my mind, Wade’s biggest sin was waiting. Wade could have seen the Astros declining when he took over the club in 2007, but he held on to some veteran parts way too long.
Dealing players like Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence earlier could have netted the team critical farm system depth. Instead, they settled for less than market value on all three, and just this year, seem to have finally embraced a total rebuilding process.
25. Kenny Williams (Chicago White Sox)
After early success that led to the White Sox 2005 World Series win, it’s been a rough few years for Kenny Williams.
The Adam Dunn signing this offseason backfired and splashy trades for veterans like Ken Griffey Jr. and Jake Peavy produced little gain.
Williams’ biggest boo boo was the king’s ransom he paid the Arizona Diamonbacks for middle-of-the-rotation starter Edwin Jackson in 2010. Williams sent top prospects Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg to Arizona in the deal. The former just came off a fantastic first full big league season, and the latter recently completed a dominant campaign in Single A.
24. Michael Hill and Larry Beinfest (Miami Marlins)
That the Marlins didn’t sell at the trade deadline tells us ownership want the team to contend next year when they enter their new ballpark.
That tall order falls to the Hill-Beinfest duo, who must hope that key contributors Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson can stay healthy while youngsters Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton progress.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Marlins chase a big name this offseason to help fill the seats. If owner Jeffrey Loria wants a big name, he’ll get a big name. It’s on Hill and Beinfest to make sure that money is well spent.
The Marlins have some good young talent at the big league level, but there isn’t much behind the current crop that offers hope. This is a make or break cohort for Hill and Beinfest.
23. Jack Zduriencik (Seattle Mariners)
When Zduriencik landed Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins over the 2009-10 offseason, folks were ready to give him Executive of the Year right then and there.
That was before Seattle fielded one of the worst American League offenses in the DH era.
Now the Mariners need to figure out how they’ll cope with Figgins’ awful contract and the prospect of wasting another spectacular season out of ace Felix Hernandez.
22. Bill Smith (Minnesota Twins)
After a deflating year in Minnesota riddled with injuries and underachievement, a once-promising future looks cloudy.
Fans have to wonder if Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer will ever regain the form that made both perennial MVP candidates. With $74 million due the duo over the next two seasons, that question reigns supreme.
If both can recover from injury and rust, the Twins have as good a chance as anyone to go from worst to first in the anemic AL Central.
If not, Bill Smith will be responsible for two of the worst contracts in baseball. So much of his legacy hangs in the balance next year.
21. Sandy Alderson (New York Mets)
The jury is still out on Alderson, but early returns look favorable. Flipping Carlos Beltran for top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler made the best of a bad situation and will help the Mets where they need it most, in their rotation.
The Mets’ next five years, and Alderson’s legacy, now largely depends on their ability to re-sign shortstop Jose Reyes.
Do that, and the Mets have a chance to improve next year. Fail, and the organization missed a major opportunity to gain more prospects.
20. Chris Antonetti/Mark Shapiro (Cleveland Indians)
Since general manager Chris Antonetti and club president Mark Shapiro share personnel duties, it seems fair to rate them as one mutant GM, Chark Shaponetti.
Shaponetti did a nice job turning Cleveland into a contender this year, and might have earned some hardware had the team kept pace with Detroit.
Instead, Cleveland finished well behind the pace in the AL Central and gave up two big time prospects, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, to get Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez.
Just because Ubaldo didn’t help this year doesn’t mean he can’t keep this team in the race next year or the year after. With youngsters Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall coming along, there’s hope yet for this deal.
19. Neal Huntington (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Give credit to Huntington for immediately committing to a fresh start in Pittsburgh. Huntington arrived in November 2007 and quickly moved Xavier Nady, Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Freddy Sanchez and JacWilson to help rebuild the farm system.
The fruits of that labor started to pay off this year when Pittsburgh ascended to first place around midseason, and the Pirates finally look like they’re moving in the right direction.
Mind you, there are still plenty of holes to fill, and Huntington can’t be happy with an overachieving rotation that lacks youth and upside.
18. Jed Hoyer (San Diego Padres)
Last year, Jed Hoyer’s rebuilding process got blindsided by winning, and false hope therin eventually set the San Diego Padres back.
Picking up veteran bats like Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Tejada during last year’s quixotic run muddied a perfectly good rebuilding process, and now, Hoyer needs to find his bearings.
The inability to unload Heath Bell at the trade deadline also stings a bit, and I’m not sure where the Padres stand now. Matt Latos, Anthony Rizzo, Cameron Maybin and a few others hold promise. Still, is there enough there to foresee a resurgence?
17. Mike Rizzo (Washington Nationals)
As ownership begins to open their pockets, Rizzo has the Nationals poised to move in the NL East.
It’s hard to credit Rizzo for adding Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper to the organization since both were consensus No. 1 selections, but Rizzo’s made other key adds. He brought along second baseman Danny Espinosa and stole catcher Wilson Ramos from the Minnesota Twins for the price of one Matt Capps.
On the flip, the big contract he tendered Jayson Werth already looks excessive.
16. Billy Beane (Oakland Athletics)
It’s been eight seasons since the Oakland Athletics last made the playoffs, and the luster of Moneyball is dimming for Billy Beane.
Other teams got wise to Beane’s system long ago and siphoned the best parts of his groundbreaking philosophy. The onus is now on Beane to move one step ahead.
With Oakland’s stadium woes handicapping the franchise, Beane needs to find another edge and do it soon.
15. Dan O’Dowd (Colorado)
With the disastrous Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle deals in his rear view, O’Dowd’s made some nice decisions the last few years.
Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez in the middle of the lineup give Colorado great options moving forward, and with both signed to affordable extensions through 2017, the team has money left over for upgrades.
Colorado also loses a big chunk of salary next year when Todd Helton’s deal enters its decline phase, and the addition of pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White give Colorado hope.
14. Walt Jocketty (Cincinnati Reds)
After one disappointing year, I’m not ready to close the book on Cincinnati Reds Walt Jocketty.
The Reds still have an embarrassment of hitting riches, and Jocketty’s diligence in drafting Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal give them the flexibility to trade for a pitcher at some point.
I applaud Jocketty for refusing to mortgage this team’s future when they fell out of the race this year. He understood the Reds still have good years ahead of them and lay pat. Smart move from a longtime baseball man.
It’s also important to note that Jocketty came into office about a month after the trade that sent Josh Hamilton to the Texas Rangers. Remove that from consideration, and Jocketty’s record is pretty clean.
13. John Mozeliak (St. Louis Cardinals)
Nabbing Lance Berkman off the scrap heap this winter might have been the best offseason move in baseball. Adding Matt Holliday when no one wanted him also merits mention.
But John Mozeliak’s tenure as the Cardinal’s GM has a bottom line, and its name is Albert Pujols.
Mozeliak couldn’t get the best hitter of the decade locked into a contract before the season started, and whenever the Cardinals’ improbable postseason run ends, it will be incumbent upon him to seal the deal.
12. Dayton Moore (Kansas City Royals)
A couple of years ago, poking fun at Kansas City GM Dayton Moore was so easy it felt cheap.
Now, employing a shrouded strategy known simply as “the process,” the former Braves scout is the toast of the baseball world. Over a few short years, Moore built one of the most hyped group of prospects in baseball history, one that has folks talking playoffs in KC for the first time in a decade.
History tells us to wait and see with youngsters like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Wil Myers and Mike Montgomery, but there’s no doubting the good vibes.
11. Kevin Towers (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Most GMs overseeing a worst-to-first turnaround get showered with praise. Since Kevin Towers only joined the organization this offseason, kudos for his work are predictably more restrained.
Former GMs Jerry DiPoto and Josh Byrnes made key moved to build the Diamondbacks’ core group, and Towers put the finishing flourishes on that core by retooling the NL’s worst bullpen.
Give Towers full credit for the latter. His moves made the difference this year.
Still, his footprint isn’t on this team the same way other GMs impacted big winners.
10. Dave Dombrowski (Detroit Tigers)
Dombrowski doesn’t have the sheen of a forward-thinking young GM or a mathematics degree from Harvard.
Sure, he says quaintly old school things like “with a starting pitcher, winning games is extremely important,” but he also wins.
Remember that Dombrowski assumed control of the Tigers right before their record-setting 119 loss seasons. Since then, he’s overseen a rapid revitalization followed by a period of sustained success.
He’s had his mistakes (Magglio Ordonez’s contract chief among them), but he’s gotten the big things right. Luring Miguel Cabrerra to Detroit kept the team competitive, and adding Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta made the Tigers’ run this year possible.
9. Brian Sabean (San Francisco Giants
The longest tenured GM in baseball inspires plenty of strong opinions.
Four division titles, two pennants and a World Series win last year quiets most detractors, but a bad move this season gives Sabean bashers new fodder.
Dealing top prospect Zack Wheeler for half-year rental Carlos Beltran did nothing to solve the team’s deeep-seated offensive woes. Now the Giants have little left on the farm and will likely remain one big injury away from offensive ineptitude each year.
Then there’s the Barry Zito contract, one that Sabean will never live down.
All that said, Sabean built a winner in San Francisco for the first time since the team’s been on the West Coast. That’s no easy feat.
8. Brian Cashman (New York Yankees)
It’s not really worth talking about bad contracts and good contracts with Brian Cashman.
Yeah, two of his players appear on Joe Posnanski’s list of the worst contracts in baseball.
But that’s part of the plan in New York. They purposefully overspend in order to ensure playoff appearances every year. Cashman simply carries out the orders.
Within that structure, Cashman does a good job, and a firm re-commitment to the farm system has the Yankees ready to reload.
Re-signing C.C. Sabathia once he opts out of his deal will be tops on Cashman’s offseason checklist this year. With egg still on his face from two unsuccessful attempts at Cliff Lee, Cashman needs to cement the Sabathia deal.
Think C.C. and his agents don’t know that?
7. Frank Wren (Atlanta Braves)
Even with the late season swoon, there’s plenty to like about Frank Wren’s tenure in Atlanta.
The Braves have the best pitching depth in baseball, with prospects Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor and Arodys Vizcanio in line behind an already solid rotation.
On offense, the outcomes are less promising, but with improvement from Jason Heyward and a year’s confidence from Dan Uggla, the unit should do well enough to keep the Braves near the top of the league. A full season of Michael Bourn should also help the offense find its grove.
Following the sterling regime of John Schuerholz, Wren’s done well to keep the momentum with Atlanta.
6. Doug Melvin (Milwaukee Brewers)
Doug Melvin walked the front office plank this offseason and lived to tell the tale.
Facing the imminent departure of All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder, Melvin unloaded the rest of his minor league bullets to land starters Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke.
Fast forward 10 months, and Milwaukee sits within three wins of the franchise’s second World Series appearance.
Melvin deserves props for the bold thinking and the killer instinct.
5. Theo Epstein (Chicago Cubs)
Cubs General Manager Theo Epstein.
That’s going to take some getting used to.
Even with the Boston Red Sox late season collapse this year, you cannot deny Epstein’s track record. He brought two World Series to Boston and made a slew of gutsy moves, from trading Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 to signing Carl Crawford this past offseason.
He’s not without flaw, obviously, but on the balance, Epstein has more wins than losses to his name. Chicago, an organization in real disarray, will be his toughest test yet. If Epstein can turn them around, he deserves a place among baseball’s elite front office men.
4. Alex Anthopolous (Toronto Blue Jays)
Under the radar and north of the border, Alex Anthopoulos is doing a masterful job rebuilding the Toronto Blue Jays.
A brief summary of his many triumphs:
1. Dumped Vernon Wells and his organization-crushing contract.
2. Locked up the best hitter in baseball, Jose Bautista, to a dirt cheap five-year, $64 milion deal.
3. Snagged Colby Rasmus for the St. Louis Cardinals.
4. Added top prospects Brett Lawrie, Kyle Drabek, Travis d’Arnaud and Anthony Gose.
At the major and minor league levels, Anthopoulos is making all the right moves.
3. Ruben Amaro Jr. (Philadelphia Phillies)
Ruben Amaro, Jr. owns the trading deadline. Each of the last three seasons, he’s dealt for a big name in July, starting with Cliff Lee in 2009, continuing with Roy Oswalt in 2010 and culminating in Hunter Pence this year.
He’s built a fringe playoff team (let’s admit, the 2008 bunch wasn’t dominant) into the best team in the National League and a prime destination for top free agents.
All the while, Amaro has maintained one of the better farm systems in baseball, one particular strong on the kind of low-level, high-ceiling talent that appeals to rebuilding teams.
2. Jon Daniels (Texas Rangers)
Jon Daniels has so many good deals to his name it’s hard to count them all.
Neftali Feliz, Josh Hamilton, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Valdimir Guerrero (good version), Adrian Beltre and Colby Lewis all arrived in Texas under Daniels’ reign. True, he traded away Adrian Gonzalez, but he also sold high on Alfonso Soriano to make way for Ian Kinsler at second base.
Today, Texas is positioned better than almost any team in baseball, equipped with a lucrative TV deal, a great on-field product and some of the game’s best minor league talent lying in wait.
Much of the credit goes to Daniels and his willingness to invest in young players.
1. Andrew Friedman (Tampa Bay Rays)
No one is doing more with less right now than Tampa Bay wunderkind Andrew Friedman. Without fan support, a decent stadium or much financial flex room, Friedman put the Rays in the postseason three of the last four seasons.
Most importantly, he put an end to the free agent nonsense prioritized under the last regime and focused on building Tampa from the ground up. It’s also worth noting that in 2008, Friedman secured franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria for the bargain price of of six years and $17.5 million. The team also holds options for 2014-16.
Few GMs have the foresight and savvy to lock down a deal that good.