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Mariners blog

Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

October 14, 2008 at 8:35 AM

Don’t sweat GM dropouts

Well, we’re now a couple of weeks removed from the end of the 2008 season and things are really hopping on the GM front where the Mariners are concerned.
In fact, this whole search process could be wrapped up even quicker than the team expected. Looking down the list of interviewees, I’m pretty sure the team already has its four finalists. On the face of it, there isn’t very much to choose from in the threesome of Jerry DiPoto, Kim Ng and Tony LaCava and maybe even Peter Woodfork if you want a top-four. All four are, after all, assistant GMs with a track record of success. I’d say Ng, Dipoto and LaCava have the edge based on years of experience and the three or more organizations apiece that they’ve worked for.
Many of you have emailed asking me what I thought of this past weekend’s news that David Forst, Jed Hoyer and Rick Hahn would not be interviewing with the M’s. Based on what I wrote in the previous paragraph, I don’t think it’s anything that any of you should be sweating. I know I won’t.
The more devastating dropouts, we’ve known about for some time. Brian Cashman and Kevin Towers are both established GMs, still fairly young and possess a track record of proven success. Proven as in still employed at the GM position. This is different from a John Hart, who has been out of that spot for a few seasons and has not won as a GM since leaving Cleveland at the beginning of the decade.
Doug Melvin would also have been a very strong candidate, if not the top choice, had he made himself available for the Mariners job. But Melvin already has a job and is expected to sign an extension. That’s life. Same with Cashman. When you’re the GM of a winning team and that club wants to re-hire you, very rarely will you leave that spot. Even if you have some differences with your team’s owner. In Melvin’s case, he just made the playoffs. He isn’t about to get fired, so his debate about leaving was strictly about differences with his boss that could (from the face of it) be worked out. Cashman was a little different, in that his job security was an issue. Not any more (by New York standards anyway) with the extension. In the case of Towers, his boss wasn’t going to let him interview. Happens all the time and you learn not to sweat what you can’t control.
With all due respect to Bob Engle, a trailblazer in Latin America and one of the most valuable assets in this entire organziation, the Mariners can’t afford to hire someone from within. Sure, that’s unfair to him. But this team is a disaster and anybody already associated with it getting the GM job would ensure howls of outrage from the fanbase. This is why Lee Pelekoudas also won’t get the job. Engle is brilliant at what he already does on the international scouting front. But this is also about PR. And from a PR standpoint, he’d be a tough sell.
So, back to candidates dropping out of the race.
If this was a case of candidates being frightened away from the Mariners by an overbearing executive branch, then I would understand some teeth-gnashing. But that doesn’t appear to be the case here. Maybe a tiny bit with Cashman, who may have ultimately felt it was better to dance with the devil he knew in New York. But when you’re the GM of the Yankees, with money to fix problems on a team that still won 89 games this year, it’s tough to leave that for any team under any circumstances — let alone a 101-loss squad.
And let’s remember, Cashman made his choice before Mariners president Chuck Armstrong made this statement to MLB.com last week:
“If your management style is not collaborative and inclusive and you want to fly solo and do this on your own, you are not going to be our GM,” Armstrong said. “That’s not going to work here.
“We think the most successful form of management is one that major decisions are not made in a vacuum by one person. When ideas are discussed as a group, so that everybody in upper management has had a chance to have their say, then the best decisions can be made.”

That statement can be taken a couple of ways. As the story later points out, no team gives its GM absolute autonomy. Especially a first-year GM still learning the ropes. Cashman would likely tell you the exact same thing, given his experience with the Yankees. I can still remember the night George Steinbrenner bypassed Cashman completely and made an absolutely stupid deal to acquire Raul Mondesi and his huge contract. Our jaws dropped in the pressbox when we heard the Yankees had actually gone for that deal.
So, ownership often sticks its head in the way of even the best GMs.
In Seattle’s case, it probably would have helped the team had Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln given Bill Bavasi a little less autonomy. Horacio Ramirez anyone? Eduardo Perez?
But then again, a GM has to be able to make moves. If Armstrong continues to tie the new GM’s hands by insisiting on “value” that may not be there in a Jarrod Washburn deal, it could become a problem. It depends on the degree of the “collaboration” from upstairs. But I would expect added “guidance” from above if a first-time GM is coming in. And based on Armstrong’s statements, I have to believe his choice is going to be a first-timer. Not someone experienced like Melvin.
Now, as for the remaining candidates, I think the M’s have already spoken with the best ones.
Hahn isn’t any more experienced or credentialed than the DiPoto-Ng-Lacava trio. And his team did not give the M’s permission to interview him. Was this an excuse? Would the White Sox — as has been rumored — really have given Hahn permission if he truly wanted the job? Maybe. Was he frightened off by Armstrong’s comments, as some have whispered? I find it hard to believe that latter bit. That a guy would balk from an interview based on an MLB.com story rather than try to address such an issue face-to-face. You’d expect stronger stuff from any GM candidate, so I doubt that’s the reason.
In Forst’s case, he knows he will take over from Billy Beane in Oakland once the latter steps down in another year or two to become team president. Forst is already being groomed for the job and — let’s face it — would have a much easier time in Oakland than starting over new someplace else. He knows that team inside out and his relationships there are already intact, without having to relocate his family, or, frankly, move from a winning organization to a losing one.
And then, there’s Hoyer. He turned the M’s down, yes. But did he really have a shot at the job? Not finishing in the top-five, but really winning it?
There is a fine line in baseball between being perceived as an up-and-comer and being labeled as yesterday’s man (or woman). Start getting turned down after too many GM interviews and that’s what can happen. Hoyer is a ways away from that being the case, but it’s never a good idea to throw your hat in the ring too often unless you’re pretty sure you might get the job.
I think this is certainly true in Hoyer’s case.
He lacks the experience that the Ng-DiPoto-LaCava trio bring to the table as far as working for multiple organizations goes. They are all still relatively young but also between five and 14 years Hoyer’s senior. And when that’s the case, all else being relatively equal, a good team will go for the added experience. Did Hoyer bring anything extra special to the table compared to the others? From an off-field perspective, nothing jumps out. Sure, he played Division II college ball, but DiPoto pitched in the majors. LaCava was a pro ballplayer in the minors. Ng didn’t play professionally, though she was a college softball player. Not saying the on-field stuff will matter much, but it’s been touted as one of Hoyer’s assets. In this case, though, it’s an asset clearly trumped by others in this M’s race. To summarize, Hoyer wasn’t going to be the next Seattle GM. At this stage, having already seen his name “out there” in the media, he has little to gain by actually entering a race he’s destined to lose.
Hoyer will live to fight another day. But better to do that with a “clean” record than a pile of rejections. You can afford a few, but not a pile. And might as well not start the pile when you can avoid doing so.
By that logic, the latest three rejections don’t hurt the quality of what the M’s are going to end up with. They’ve gotten their hands on some of the brightest assistant GMs in the game and that’s a huge step up from where they were five years ago. From here, one of those picks will get their shot. It may even be Woodfork, though, as I said, all else being equal, I don’t see why the M’s would take him when the other three candidates offer the same fresh look with added experience.
After that, once the hire is done, it’s really up to the GM pick to shine. You never really know who will meet expectations until they are thrown into the fray. As a starting point, though, the three latest dropouts likely weren’t bringing anything to the field of candidates that wasn’t already there.
And when you’re the Mariners, any absence of truly bad news is always good news.

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