Theo Epstein to Chicago Cubs: Power Ranking All 30 MLB GMs
Theo Epstein earned a reputation as one of MLB's elite front-office executives during his time as Boston Red Sox GM. In the Chicago Cubs, he has found a new challenge and a team willing to pay him as though he were the very best such top man available.
Without a doubt, Epstein's track record is impressive. At the same time, he has had huge advantages in available resources throughout his front-office career.
Other GMs, working with far less, have done nearly as much. Are they better, or are they simply more efficient?
For that matter, it seems as though certain skill sets would serve some offices better than others. Small-market GMs must be shrewd and creative; big-market guys must be bold and decisive, and above all, right.
A GM defines the direction of an organization. It is perhaps the most important role in every team in MLB, yet the men who sit there are rarely examined and ranked objectively. Let's turn that around. Here are power rankings of all 30 MLB general managers, including the Cubs' shiny new one.
30. The Empty Chair at Angels Stadium
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After Tony Reagins' departure earlier this month, the Angels have a power vacuum at the top. Any leadership is better than no leadership at all, and while the Orioles and (technically) the Red Sox are in that position as well, neither stands at such a critical juncture in its organizational development as the Angels.
With the Rangers light years ahead of them in virtually every way, it's a bad time for the Angels not to have a top decision-maker in place. Certainly, it will be resolved fast, but in the meantime, this is the least certain and most perilous front-office situation in baseball.
29. The Empty Chair at Camden Yards
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The Orioles need not make many big decisions this winter. They're not serious players for any big-name free agent, nor for that matter any medium-name free agent. They have no major asset who ought to be dealt.
They need a new leader, and without a doubt, Andy MacPhail left them in the lurch with his September waffling and October resignation. Still, Baltimore could return its entire 2011 roster in 2012 without doing measurable damage to an inevitably dim future.
28. Ned Colletti, Los Angeles Dodgers
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Colletti loves handing out multi-year deals to aging pitchers. He has an undue predilection for aging infielders. He apparently hates talented young outfielders, as evidenced by the inexplicable three-way trade into which he waded in July to rid himself of top outfield prospect Trayvon Robinson.
One way or another, Colletti found internal justification for a major investment in his bullpen despite starting crummy players at key positions first base, catcher and left field.
27. Bill Smith, Minnesota Twins
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Smith is tough to evaluate. He is in many ways a product of his raising, a man who took over an organization as sure of its own process as any in baseball. Smith changed nothing, and four years after his appointment, he still runs an organization fixated upon:
1. Developing and favoring with extreme prejudice homegrown talent
2. Emphasizing low-walk, high-contact pitchers
3. Playing small ball
Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to be as good at identifying (with sufficient exactitude) the players who can make that philosophy work as his predecessor Terry Ryan. Smith's results have been pretty good, but his process is badly flawed.
26. Ed Wade, Houston Astros
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Wade got his job in Houston primarily by being willing to tell owner Drayton McLane what McLane wanted to hear. Wade believed he could turn around the Astros without rebuilding, and as a result, the team ended up raging idly against the dying of the light in 2008 and 2009.
Now, after two years of last-resort rebuilding, Wade has done only a fair job of rehabbing a franchise that had run out of long-term assets. He's actually not an awful seller of assets, as it turns out. He simply waited way too long to start doing it.
25. Brian Sabean, San Francisco Giants
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Few examples of a team consistently succeeding in spite of its own front office can be found in big-league history. Sabean provides one.
Sabean brought in Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres and Cody Ross last season. Those moves came up roses in the best possible way. The Giants got outrageously lucky en route to winning the World Series last season.
Sabean leads a charmed life, but his paradigm for building a baseball team is among the worst in the game.
24. Larry Beinfest, Florida Marlins
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Beinfest is not technically the Marlins GM. That role belongs to Michael Hill. Beinfest, though, remains the main decision-maker in Miami.
A shrewd dealer both on the phone with other GMs and at the table with player agents, Beinfest is a fine executor of an organizational philosophy. Unfortunately, he's not good at formulating those philosophies, and he has some serious flaws as an influential executive.
He runs a rigid organization for which players do not much like to play. He does not balance short-term and long-term goals well when weighing tough choices. Perhaps worst of all, Beinfest is drawn inexorably to big names and big personalities and cannot build a winner unless it be a top-heavy winner with a short window in which to succeed. Beinfest has his strengths, but his weaknesses swamp them.
23. Kenny Williams, Chicago White Sox
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Williams' all-in gambit of last season failed in a generational kind of way. It was he who went to owner Jerry Reinsdorf with that proposal, and Williams ought not to have his job after having stuck his neck out this far for a failed experiment.
Chicago's farm system barely exists. The team lost so much money in 2011 that Williams replaced Ozzie Guillen with a rookie manager and a no-name coaching staff this month, and then only because he decided making Paul Konerko player-manager would be too transparent a move.
The White Sox might not even be able to re-sign franchise fixture Mark Buehrle this winter. Then again, Williams might grossly overpay him to stick around.
22. Frank Wren, Atlanta Braves
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Wren is part of a franchise as good at developing talent as any franchise has ever been over a substantial period. The Braves are loaded with talent in the minors, especially on the mound. They're a fine team with a chance to overthrow the Phillies sooner rather than later in the NL East.
They are not in that position thanks to Wren, though. Wren is the man who signed Dan Uggla to a $65 million contract. He has come back time and again to bad outfielders and seems utterly ignorant of sabermetric principles that guide the actions of smart teams the league over these days.
21. Dan O'Dowd, Colorado Rockies
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The Rockies tend to blend into the background a bit most years, and their general manager is no different. O'Dowd, though, made a big splash last winter when he inked both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to huge contract extensions. One could argue that he overpaid, but O'Dowd is establishing a reputation as a creative and aggressive executive.
The flip side: He sometimes pulls the trigger on what feels like an important deal, even when it is not so. O'Dowd did not need to trade Ubaldo Jimenez this July and did so for far too little return.
20. Ben Cherington, or Whomever Gets the Gig for Boston Red Sox
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The Red Sox do not seem to be in flux the way the Orioles and Angels are, or the way the Cubs were until they lured Epstein from Boston. While the announcement may not be immediate, it looks for all the world as though Boston will turn to the man it briefly named co-GM in 2005.
Ben Cherington was Epstein's right-hand man for the past five years and now seems the heir apparent to this job. He can rise no higher on this list for now, because he is not technically in place and because so little information about Cherington is available to us thus far. Knowing he's an Epstein confidant, though, lends Cherington early credence.
19. John Mozeliak, St. Louis Cardinals
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This season perfectly embodies what Mozeliak does well in the big chair and what he does poorly. What he does well is work around injuries and deficiencies, as well as fill large gaps in a roster by simply being willing to overhaul a team at the drop of a hat.
What Mozeliak does poorly, though, is develop and appreciate young talent. That drove him to trade Colby Rasmus, albeit for a package that has played a role in St. Louis reaching the NLCS. It also has led him to build a tepid farm system that might not sustain St. Louis' success far into the future.
18. Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals
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Moore is not a brilliant collector of assets, nor a master trader, nor a great negotiator. From a standpoint of process and building patiently for long-lived success, though, he is a talented GM.
Moore built what was, for a year anyway, the best farm system in recent memory, and the future in Kansas City looks bright even though its GM has trouble seeing through guys like Jeff Francoeur.
17. Chris Antonetti, Cleveland Indians
Like so many others, Antonetti inherited a franchise rather than built one. The Indians go about things a certain way. They rarely make free-agent splashes. They are a patient franchise. They rely on astute trades to succeed.
Antonetti already has made a few of those since taking over the GM role, and as a result, the Indians played into August as serious contenders in 2011. Going forward, Cleveland looks like a fine competitor to the Tigers and Royals for AL Central supremacy, and the organization owes much to Antonetti for his willingness to thrive within a framework built by his predecessor.
16. Walt Jocketty, Cincinnati Reds
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Jocketty is an aggressor at all times, a man who relishes making a big splash. St. Louis was struggling to find traction as a mid-market club when Jocketty took the helm there. When he left, it was a bustling baseball metropolis.
In Cincinnati, Jocketty's sound process apparently remains in place. The results have been uneven so far, but the team has huge potential, and Jocketty is good at recognizing the optimal areas for improvement on such squads.
15. Dave Dombrowksi, Detroit Tigers
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Dombrowski has built winners in a bunch of places and in a dozen ways. He thrives in the world of wheeling and dealing and is consistently able to reel in top free-agent targets quickly.
Dombrowski organizations tend to have very thin farm systems, but often that is because of the astute moves he made in full mind of the trade-offs involved. Winning means the world to Dombrowski.
14. Jed Hoyer, San Diego Padres
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Hoyer fell to the San Diego Padres from what one might call the Epstein tree, and he shows Epstein's aggressive approach already.
Consider that in three trades over the past year alone, Hoyer has acquired a very promising center fielder, a slugging first baseman who will hit in a big way in the big leagues someday and a trio of talented pitchers ideally suited to San Diego.
Cameron Maybin, Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, Joe Wieland and Robbie Ehrlin all might be on the next pennant-winning Padres team. Hoyer might well be behind the glass of an owner's box when that takes place.
13. Neal Huntington, Pittsburgh Pirates
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The Pirates' pseudo-contention in 2011 was enough to merit a contract extension for Huntington, and he deserved it. Under his stewardship, the moribund Bucs have begun a turnaround.
They have a few top-tier players at key positions. They have a bevy of high-upside pitchers in the minor leagues. Most of all, though, they have Huntington, who demonstrates a clearer vision for the Pirates' direction than they have had in years.
12. Ruben Amaro Jr., Philadelphia Phillies
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If intelligent, extravagant brinkmanship were the criteria for topping this list, Amaro might do it. He took over a World Series champion, a tall order, but he made all the right decisions right away. Eight months after taking over the gig, Amaro dealt for Cliff Lee, vaulting the Phillies into the 2009 World Series.
In December of that year, he traded Lee as part of a shuffle that landed Roy Halladay. Eight months after that, Amaro landed Roy Oswalt, and five months after that, he managed to fit Lee back into the fold.
The fiscal agility alone makes that string of transactions impressive. He has not done a terrific job of maintaining the team's long-term viability, but he's done very well to keep the Phillies atop the NL heap the last three seasons.
11. Sandy Alderson, New York Mets
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The Mets haven't had the freedom to do much over the first year of Alderson's tenure, but that might change this winter, and one way or another, this will be Alderson's first chance to make a big impact on his new team and reshape it in his image.
He has always been among the game's really revered baseball intellects, so sooner or later, this addition is going to pay huge dividends for the Mets.
10. Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariners
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The last two years have been a roller coaster for Jack Z's reputation, but he's looking good again after a 2010 season that had everyone questioning the process in Seattle. In 2011, he set about fixing Seattle's woeful offense and made savvy trades for prospects around the trade deadline.
With the starting rotation Seattle is building, Trayvon Robinson and Dustin Ackley have an ever-growing chance to play on a winner in 2012.
9. Kevin Towers, Arizona Diamondbacks
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Towers was good at what he did in San Diego but has been great in his first year at the helm of the Diamondbacks.
He wisely dealt Mark Reynolds for what has turned out to be critical bullpen help, added J.J. Putz at the back end of that bullpen via free agency and effected a 27-game turnaround in his first year in Arizona.
8. Theo Epstein, Chicago Cubs
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Epstein is brilliant, to be sure, but his objective and methodological approach has been marred a bit the last few years by some bad individual decisions. Those ought not to outweigh his talent and his valuable angle on the game, but they do register.
The Cubs are less rich than Boston. They are starting from a hole. The margin for error is much smaller, and already burdened by Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol's bad contracts, the Cubs can ill afford another.
7. Doug Melvin, Milwaukee Brewers
Melvin had been good, but not great, during his first few years running the Brewers. Only recently has a steady revenue stream from much-improved attendance helped Melvin and the Brewers get a bit more creative.
Once it did, though, Melvin set into motion a plot at which many, many people scoffed. He dealt arguably the four best players under age 25 in the Brewers organization over the winter, netting a stud starter in Zack Greinke, another pitching upgrade in Shaun Marcum and a replacement shortstop named Yuniesky Betancourt.
In theory, Melvin wanted to build a team that could win in 2011, because he did not and does not have any assurances of being able to contend in 2012 without superstar slugger Prince Fielder. By midseason, that gambit seemed in jeopardy. Melvin, though, kept wheeling and dealing, and lo and behold, he strung together a number of positive additions that have the Brewers still kicking in mid October.
6. Billy Beane, Oakland Athletics
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The man who learned to poke holes in inefficient markets might never find one quite so ripe for the picking again, but Beane's mental approach to the job remains elite.
Oakland retains a process-based self-evaluation model, and the team seems to be headed in the right direction again. Beane is agile enough to succeed even in this post-Moneyball era.
5. Brian Cashman, New York Yankees
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It had to have been difficult to tune out the criticism that came with the trust Cashman put in Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and others this season. Many GMs cannot do it at all.
Moves like those, though, typify Cashman's willingness to trust the coaching and instructional staffs in the Yankee organization and take those informed risks. The Yankees have been reaping the benefit of Cashman's boldness for years.
4. Mike Rizzo, Washington Nationals
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Rizzo has had the good fortune of having unparalleled talent available to him in three straight drafts and the good sense not to shy away from their soaring expense. He is building something in Washington, and this year's huge progress should be just the beginning. Free agents will get much more willing to give the Nats a chance in the future.
Incidentally, a good deal of half-derisive talk has circled Rizzo's relationship with Scott Boras of late. To be clear: What is wrong with being able to talk to, and occasionally even feel an upper hand in working with, the absolute premier player agent in sports?
3. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay Rays
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Friedman works within the cruelest parameters of any GM in baseball. He runs a team he built into one of the league's best, but each offseason, he faces the harsh reality that his competitors are four or five times richer and nearly as smart. Nearly.
Friedman makes great trades, has a knack for the bright throwaway moves that so few of the new-age GMs seem to string together (see Kotchman, Casey) and constantly replenishes a very deep farm system. With $100 million to spend on payroll each year, he would be unstoppable.
2. Alex Anthopoulos, Toronto Blue Jays
Anthopoulos is starting to get access to the kind of resources Friedman lacks, and that's scary. This is the man who moved the immovable Vernon Wells, who is quickly making a habit of gathering unwanted but talented young players from other clubs and who may already have Toronto's minor-league system stocked with top-five talent.
1. Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers
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To be the best, you have to beat the best, and Anthopoulos got his butt beat by Daniels in a trade last winter.
Within hours of Anthopoulos' great achievement, trading Wells to the Angels without eating much of his money, Daniels managed to extract Mike Napoli from the Blue Jays for the low price of reliever Frank Francisco. That trade might be the one that puts the Rangers over the top for their second straight AL pennant.