Ranking MLB's Top 10 General Managers

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIMarch 21, 2015

Ranking MLB's Top 10 General Managers

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The MLB clubs that consistently make October runs don't just have stars on the diamond and master button-pressers in the dugout, they also have savvy general managers calling the shots in the front office.

    From Brian Cashman in the Bronx to Billy Beane and Brian Sabean on opposite sides of the Bay, there are all sorts of top-flight execs around the league.

    As the 2015 season approaches, now is the perfect time to sift through the array of candidates and build a list of the best of the best. In the process of constructing the top 10, a variety of factors were taken into consideration. Here are the four most important:

    1. The number of World Series titles—after all, that's what it's all about
    2. The number of playoff appearances
    3. The GMs' track record on the trade block, the free-agent front and in the draft
    4. The Payroll Limitation Factor

    That final bullet point requires a bit of explaining. Baseball is not an even playing field—not even close. Last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers opened up the season with a $229 million payroll, while the Miami Marlins fell at the opposite side of the spectrum with just under $46 million in commitments.

    The idea of the "Payroll Limitation Factor" is to take that drastic disparity into consideration in the ranking process. Each GM gets a score from zero to five, with zero representing no limitations and five representing the most. As a result, the GMs are graded on the basis of what they've accomplished with the means available.

    Cashman, Beane and Sabean all end up near the top of the list, but none of them claims the distinction of the No. 1 spot.

Honorable Mention

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Before getting started with the top 10, let's take a look at some of the front office officials who just missed the cut.

    For this article, there were two types of honorable mentions. The first is for the executives who were once GMs but who now hold a different title. These execs don't qualify for the top 10, but at the same time, they shouldn't be ignored altogether simply because they did good work and got promoted:

    • Andrew Friedman, Los Angeles Dodgers
    • Theo Epstein, Chicago Cubs

    The second group is for current GMs who were in the running for a spot but who were ultimately left on the outside looking in:

    • Sandy Alderson, New York Mets
    • Rick Hahn, Chicago White Sox
    • Chris Antonetti, Cleveland Indians
    • Jerry Dipoto, Los Angeles Angels
    • Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariners

10. Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Number of World Series Titles: 0

    Number of Playoff Appearances: 1

    Payroll Limitation Factor: 3.5

    Dayton Moore has done a remarkable job of building this Kansas City Royals team from scratch.

    Alex Gordon joined the organization the year before Moore arrived, but the exec has nonetheless snagged all sorts of major contributors via both the draft and the amateur free-agent market. At the top of that list are the likes of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Greg Holland, Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, Kelvin Herrera and Yordano Ventura. Moore has also brought in rising stars like Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar via the trade front.

    The GM has never had a war chest to work with, but the payroll in Kansas City is definitely growing. Last year, the bill was up to $92 million on Opening Day, which represented a nearly $10 million bump up from the start of 2013.

    Moore cemented his spot in the top 10 thanks to the dark-horse run that his squad embarked upon last fall, coming up just one game short of a World Series ring.

9. Neal Huntington, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Number of World Series Titles: 0

    Number of Playoff Appearances: 2

    Payroll Limitation Factor: 4.5

    Originally appointed to the office back in 2007, Neal Huntington needed some time to adjust to his new job. That adjustment period is officially over.

    As the 2015 season opens up, Huntington sure has the Pittsburgh Pirates moving in the right direction. The National League Central squad has earned back-to-back postseason trips, and the pieces are in place to keep that streak alive for the foreseeable future.

    Back in 2012, Huntington inked Andrew McCutchen, one of the most dynamic players in the game, to an extremely team-friendly deal. The six-year, $51.5 million contract keeps the perennial MVP contender under club control though the end of the 2018 season. The GM has been shrewd with money in general, as last year's team began the season with a payroll just under $72 million.

    Huntington has also overseen the construction of one of the most promising farm systems in MLB. Per Bleacher Report, the organization checks in at the No. 6 spot in the rankings.

    Huntington's ability to field a playoff contender at the big league level while simultaneously building toward the future speaks to his expertise in the front office.

8. Dan Duquette, Baltimore Orioles

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Number of World Series Titles: 0

    Number of Playoff Appearances: 2

    Payroll Limitation Factor: 3

    Technically, Dan Duquette is the executive vice president of baseball operations for the Baltimore Orioles. The reason that he qualifies for this top 10 is because the O's actually don't have a GM in the club hierarchy, and Duquette is the top baseball decision-maker.

    His tenure with Baltimore marks his third go-around in an MLB front office, and the early results have been highly impressive. Duquette has reigned over the club for three seasons, and the Orioles already have made two postseason appearances. The team even posted a .525 winning percentage the one year that it missed out on October.

    During his stint with Baltimore, Duquette has definitely had dinero to work with, as the Orioles' Opening Day tab was $107 million in 2014. However, Duquette has also demonstrated a knack for finding great values on the free-agent market. Last February, he inked Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million deal. The right-handed hitter then proceeded to clock 40 home runs and help the Orioles storm to the AL East crown.

7. Mike Rizzo, Washington Nationals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Number of World Series Titles: 0

    Number of Playoff Appearances: 2

    Payroll Limitation Factor: 1.5

    Since taking over in March 2009, Mike Rizzo has built the Washington Nationals into a powerhouse. The Nats have played in two of the past three postseasons and are the early favorites to win the Fall Classic this season. Per Odds Shark, Washington's line is set at 7-1, which is the highest among all 30 clubs.

    Under Rizzo's watch, the Nats have made a habit of racking up regular-season wins, but postseason success has so far been elusive. In the club's two postseason trips, the squad has bowed out in the NL Division Series on both occasions.

    During his stay in the nation's capital, the pile of cash that Rizzo has been working with has grown steadily. Back in 2009, the Nats' Opening Day payroll was $60 million, but by the start of 2014, that figure ballooned to $137 million.

    A former scout, Rizzo has made great use of the team's first-round draft picks—especially back in 2009 and 2010, when the Nationals had the No. 1 overall selection. In back-to-back seasons, Rizzo snagged Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Grabbing Anthony Rendon No. 6 in 2011 is another highlight on his draft resume.

6. Ben Cherington, Boston Red Sox

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Number of World Series Titles: 1

    Number of Playoff Appearances: 1

    Payroll Limitation Factor: 1

    Ben Cherington has never been afraid to take a risk.

    For that reason, the GM of the Boston Red Sox is a difficult executive to rank. In his three seasons at the helm at Fenway Park, it's either been hit or missand miss by a lot.

    The Red Sox won the World Series in his second year in charge, but in the other two campaigns, the team finished in the cellar in the AL East.

    Cherinton's regime has been defined by aggressive moves. Before the 2013 season, he shipped out a slew of underachieving veterans and sparked the team to a World Series run. This winter, Cherington cornered the free-agent market for impact bats, scooping up Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.

    With the No. 5 farm system in Bleacher Report's rankings, Cherington has put the team in prime position to swing another aggressive move this summer. 

5. Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Number of World Series Titles: 0

    Number of Playoff Appearances: 5

    Payroll Limitation Factor: 1

    With the club sitting atop the AL Central throne for the past four seasons, Dave Dombrowski has transformed the Detroit Tigers into a perennial contender.

    The ability to spend a ton of owner Mike Ilitch's fortune certainly hasn't hurt that cause. During that stretch, the Tigers have never opened a season with a payroll below $106 million.

    While Dombrowski has handed out his fair share of megadeals to the likes of Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, he's also demonstrated a skill for staying liquid. Last winter, Dombrowski dumped Prince Fielder and his awful deal on the Texas Rangers. Jettisoning Fielder allowed the Tigers to redirect the funds needed to keep Cabrera and Martinez around.

    There have been some negative aspects to Dombrowski's career with the Tigers. In his first nine seasons in charge, Detroit made only one postseason appearance, losing in the World Series in 2006. With the club, Dombrowski has simply never been able to win the big one. The team returned to the Fall Classic in 2012, but the San Francisco Giants crushed the Tigers, sweeping the squad aside.

4. Brian Cashman, New York Yankees

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Number of World Series Titles: 4

    Number of Playoff Appearances: 14

    Payroll Limitation Factor: 0.25

    Brian Cashman's ring collection is impressive.

    Since he was promoted to the GM's office in February 1998, the New York Yankees have reeled off 14 playoff trips, six World Series appearances and four Fall Classic titles. However, to accurately rank Cashman, the arc of his tenure must be considered.

    The Yankees made it to the World Series in five of his first six seasons, but since then, the club has been back only once. The team's exorbitant bankroll is also part of the equationespecially since the most outlandish spending corresponds with the recent dry spell. 

    New York's Opening Day payroll has been north of $200 million in six of the past seven seasons. 2014 was the only time it wasn't, with the figure sitting at $197 million. As is the case in any MLB front office, big-money moves aren't decided by a single voice.

    As a result, Cashman doesn't take all the blame for all the monster deals gone wrong. Still, there are simply too many albatross contracts that have been dished out during his time in the Bronx to ignore. For that reason, Cashman drops in the rankings despite his collection of World Series trophies.

3. Billy Beane, Oakland Athletics

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Number of World Series Titles: 0

    Number of Playoff Appearances: 8

    Payroll Limitation Factor: 4

    Billy Beane is a front office wizard. He's the only MLB executive who's had a movie made about him.

    He's also the kind of executive who refuses to apologizeeven when one of his blockbuster moves goes completely sideways. Last summer, Beane traded for Jon Lester, and his team proceeded to face-plant. After the season, Beane told Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group that he would have done it all again.

    "Simply put, if we don't have Jon Lester, I don't think we make the playoffs. We made it on the last day, and if we don't make that exchange, I don't believe we make it."

    Watching the team's inept offense after the departure of Yoenis Cespedes, it's difficult to agree with Beane's claim. His refusal to concede is also the last thing that fans want to hear. The thing is, when you have produced the results that Beane has, you get to say whatever you want.

    Since taking over before the 1998 season, Beane has never had an Opening Day payroll over $82 million, but he's still piled up six division titles and eight postseason berths. The knock on him, of course, is that the Oakland Athletics have advanced beyond the AL Division Series on only one occasion.

2. Brian Sabean, San Francisco Giants

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Number of World Series Titles: 3

    Number of Playoff Appearances: 7

    Payroll Limitation Factor: 1.5

    For a GM who has put together three World Series-winning clubs in the past five seasons, Brian Sabean sure is underappreciated.

    Last fall, when the San Francisco Giants completed the hat trick, Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that skipper Bruce Bochy had just "managed himself into the Hall of Fame."

    So where's the Cooperstown praise for Sabean?

    The answer to that question is that Sabean, who's been on the job since October 1996, has also been at the wheel for some lean years. From 2004 to 2009, the Giants endured a six-year playoff-less streak. That lack of consistency sinks Sabean to the No. 2 spot in the rankings, but that doesn't take away from what he's done with the Giants.

    Sabean has made a habit of drafting future aces like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, has shown an uncanny ability for finding quality contributors off the scrapheap and has brought the team four World Series appearances and three rings.

    That's pretty good stuff. Cooperstown is definitely in Sabean's future.

1. John Mozeliak, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Al Behrman/Associated Press

    Number of World Series Titles: 1

    Number of Playoff Appearances: 5

    Payroll Limitation Factor: 2.5

    Having advanced to at least the NL Championship Series in each of the past four seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals are MLB's model franchise. John Mozeliak, the team's GM since 2007, is the executive responsible for that success. The key for Mozeliak has been an impeccable scouting record and prudent free-agent spending.

    Under Mozeliak's direction, the Cardinals have owned the draft and the amateur free-agent market, resulting in a flood of major contributors arriving at Busch Stadium. From Matt Carpenter to Kolten Wong to Michael Wacha to Carlos Martinez to Trevor Rosenthal and Lance Lynn, the list goes on an on.

    As for the free-agent front, Mozeliak has avoided throwing around foolish amounts of money. During his time with the Cardinals, the team has never opened a season with a payroll higher than $116 million.

    There's no question about itMozeliak doesn't have the ring collection to match the likes of Cashman or Sabean, but he's also done more with less and built a squad that is a legitimate World Series contender year in and year out.

    Note: All salary information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts on BaseballProspectus.com.

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.


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