Imagine the following. You are a general manager. Your task is to release one of two players. The first is disappointing but talented, able to play several positions and shine, at least defensively in all of them. The other man can play two positions and is labeled a great defensive player simply because he cannot hit big league pitching. To put it another way, you are the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and you have to choose between Andy LaRoche and Andy Marte.
Ask any owner or general manager, and they’ll tell you: Having a highly competent and knowledgeable GM is key to assembling a successful team. This is what makes LaRoche’s recent release by Pittsburgh, as well as most any other decision the Pirates’ front office has made in the past 15 years, puzzling. Granted, perhaps scouts were wrong when they formerly labeled LaRoche a can’t-miss star. But replacing him with Marte, who is at least as weak offensively and doesn’t even have an opportunity in Pittsburgh as a utility player, seems to make little baseball sense.
The Washington Nationals just splurged on an outfielder who is injury-prone, will be too old in the last few years of his contract to give the Nationals anything close to a $20-million performance, and will probably play center field instead of right. In a few years, Jayson Werth will be a hindrance more than much-needed help. Werth is solid offensively and defensively– he just isn’t a franchise player. The Nationals play in a tough hitter’s park, too, and Werth won’t be surrounded by the same offensive juggernaut as he was with the Phillies. The Nationals, whose farm system is beginning to produce some very interesting position players, need pitching and more pitching to contend. Twenty million dollars buys a lot of good young pitching.
Then there are the Seattle Mariners. Seattle had an idea last winter: If pitching and defense are that important to winning games, let’s see if all pitching and defense can get you into the World Series. Problem was, after Cy Young-winner Felix Hernandez, all that pitching didn’t amount to much, and a player such as Chone Figgins was changed from a Gold Glove third baseman to a fish-out-of-water second baseman, leaving a hole at both positions. Combine the Mariners’ defensive woes with an offense that only Ichiro was able to contribute much to, and the reasons behind the 2010 Mariners 101-loss season become painfully obvious.
Now, Seattle is dangling its star closer, David Aardsma, as bait for a game-changing offensive player. The only pure slugger on the free agent market, Adam Dunn signed with the White Sox. Very few, if any genuine home run threats would consider Seattle anyway– it’s simply too tough to hit the ball out of Safeco Field. The Mariners seem likely to repeat their poor 2010 season again and again.
Major League Baseball is littered with teams who were unsuccessful and will continue to be unsuccessful. But the model of how to run a competitive franchise season after season is there. It shouldn’t be too difficult to see.