MLBtradeRumors is reporting that Ed Wade will be relieved of his duties on Monday. According to the same report, president of baseball operations Tal Smith is expected to retire. It is not known whether the Astros will also fire Brad Mills. There is some speculation that the next general manager will get to determine his fate.
I'm sure Astros fans will start a chorus of "ding dong the witch is dead," but this is not necessarily a complete repudiation of what Ed Wade has done in Houston. Simply put, a decision was made that Wade was not their kind of guy. I thought they would have waited until after the Winter Meetings, but they clearly wanted to act sooner than later.
As Bill Parcells once said, "if you want me to cook you a meal you have to let me buy the groceries." In other words, if Crane wants to win on a tight budget he needs people he can trust to get that job done. Of course, it isn't just as easy as firing Wade and moving forward. They must interview new candidates and then decide which direction to go from there.
Do you go with a young assistant general manager or do you make a play for an established general manager? A young general manager is obviously more daring, but it allows them to keep the rest of their baseball operations staff intact if they want. Naturally, that is the other half of the equation. The article also states that they will be meeting with the assistant general managers to decide their fate.
If they hire an established general manager, he will have a lot more say in who works for him. That could mean a house cleaning. Given the fact that there are six days until the Winter Meetings, these decisions are very important. The article above lists a number of different possibilities for the position. Instead of playing with names, let's take a look at what the organization needs.
Go with the head over the gut
Wade felt his way through most of his moves. Sure, there was information exchange going on, but the question is always what information and how it is used. For people that misunderstand sabermetrics and their value, this is where they come into play. Anyone can apply formulas, use a slide rule and crunch numbers on the calculator. It takes analysis to tell what those numbers mean.
The practice of statistics is all about probabilities. No one can predict the future with certainty, but when we play with probabilities we improve our odds a great deal. For a lot of fans, that concept is way too conceptual to digest. So, let's consider the case of Brett Myers.
Ed Wade's gut told him that he had turned a corner and matured. Analytics told us he simply had an out of context season. Lo and behold, the statistics were right. Guess what, if you go with statistics you end up getting things right more often than not. If you go with your gut you might go 50/50. Some GMs can live with that. When you are a mid-market team like the Astros, you have to do better than that.
Adapt to changing times
Tal Smith is a terrific baseball man. He spent 35 years with the Astros and a few years with some other organizations. He built the 1980 NL West champions. He played an integral part in stewarding the Astros into their great period of the 1990s. I have actually met Tal Smith and he has always been nice and accommodating.
So, it pains me to say that the world has passed him by. Ed Wade learned from his knee so to speak. He is also generally friendly and open with fans. Not only do they go with their gut, but they generally have repudiated the use of advanced statistics to help their gut make a decision.
Rules change (as we have seen with the CBA) and times change. Informational generations seem to occur every five years or so. If I look back on my attitude towards baseball five and 10 years ago, it is almost scary. The problem is that these guys carry those same attitudes with them. A GM must be willing to assimilate new ideas and methods into his or her repertoire or become extinct.
Fans aren't stupid
Baseball fans are becoming more and more knowledgeable with each passing year. Numerous sites and publications give us access to statistics at our fingertips. Baseball teams have access to proprietary information that we do not have, but the gap is not as wide as you think. Getting by on tried and true cliches and generalities won't stick.
Ed Wade once described Pedro Feliz as a good run producer. Excuse me? Surely he jests. He was looking at his RBI and making a generalization. He was promoting a move that he likely knew wasn't a significant one. GMs must do that as part of their job. They sometimes have to put copper in a package and sell it as gold. We get that. There are ways of doing that now with the new information. It takes a little bit of effort, but fans will appreciate that effort.
Much like the president of the United States, no man or woman can do a credible job as a general manager without good people around them. The Moneyball crowd thought they could get by without scouts. You can't. You also can't get by without people analyzing the data. Of course, I say that partially because it is my passion.
Yet, we must consider how difficult it is for any scout, assistant GM or GM to impartially judge a player they have watched grow up. Seamheads (as we are sometimes called) shouldn't make the final call, but they should have a voice in the decision. In that case, the Brett Myers of the world can be seen for what they really are.