Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Game of Thrones

By Mark Smith

People used to ask me what types of books I liked, and my initial response was sports and history. As I’ve aged, however, I realized that I spent enough time reading and watching sports to want too many of those, and because most of my school books were history, my brain has begun to react to them as one might toward a particular beverage after a particularly bad night (not that any of us know about that). So I’ve started reading more fantasy novels, with fond memories of The Animorphs and Harry Potter, and the Game of Thrones series has become the first series I’ve begun to gobble up (if you have other suggestions, please let me know). It’s about a mythical land that’s essentially divided into seven former kingdoms that are now ruled by one king, and after certain events you can see coming, civil war breaks out, thus them playing a "game of thrones". In the aftermath, the various kingdoms play a cap shuffling game to re-establish a new dynasty to rule the land.

While I’ve been reading the first four over the past month and a half, we’ve also started to hear about the Cubs opening and who will move to take the job, and like those songs or albums that somehow become emblematic of certain times in your life, this series of books will remind me of this, which isn’t a terrible thing. As the lords fight, die, and scheme, they take new thrones and titles, but they always have to remember what and who they are leaving behind, often making secondary characters more important than they seem (long side note: This is one of the brilliant thing author George Martin does in the series. He has no problem killing characters off, and he is frequently introducing new characters, which can make things a little confusing at first but will enable the series to continue indefinitely. The Harry Potter books were really damned from the start because Rowling centered the story among a certain group of characters, and even if she wanted it to continue, she’d lose readers due to the change in scenery or difference in characters. Martin could continue the series for the rest of his life if he wanted). Looking at the baseball scenario, GMs are maneuvering to put themselves and a team on top, but once they leave one team for another, they leave a power vacuum. So my question isn’t who will take the Cubs, Astros, etc. job, but what jobs might be open after the initial shuffle and which might be the most desirable.

Boston isn’t likely to be an option. I can’t really see Epstein leaving Boston for Chicago. You would have to completely rebuild the team, and the window for competing is probably 2014. As for the “challenge” response, Boston and the AL East is pretty much always a challenge, but I will say that I have no intimate knowledge of Epstein’s thoughts. If he left, this is pretty much an ideal job--winner, big budget, rabid fan base--and all you would have to do is continue restocking the farm system. It’s Highgarden--really nice but probably not going to happen.

The Yankees seem like a slightly more probable possible opening. Cashman has been a bit more vocal this season, and I could see him wanting out of the craziness. If he were to head to Chicago, he would be leaving a high-profile position, but it could be a position about to take a turn for the worse. With an aging, expensive core, the new GM would need to retain CC, add a starter or two (the rotation has actually been quite good this year, but I don’t know why you would expect it to continue), and rebuild the farm system. The team, however, has a massive budget, great market, and enough prestige for anyone’s ego. People will definitely want this despite possible headaches. It’s King’s Landing--the place to be but you might not last long.

Tampa Bay is an interesting option, but if Freidman heads to another opening, I wonder what would really be left. Freidman will likely take most of his front office and scouting staff with him, I would imagine, and the incoming GM would need to rebuild that, deal with the stadium issue, and make due with a small payroll in the toughest and getting tougher division in baseball. The incoming GM, however, would have an excellent young team with a fantastic farm system.

Baltimore wouldn’t be my first choice for a spot, but it is the most likely of the positions so far to be open. A year and a half ago, it was an oasis of talent with Adam Jones, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Matt Wieters, and Josh Bell as a young core, but 18 months later, it’s turned out to be a mirage. The new GM wouldn’t have to start over, but he/she would have to really revamp the farm system and make some difficult decisions as to what young players could be dealt. Lots of problems to fix here, and one would have to do it in the AL East.

 Oakland seems a lot like Tampa to me. It doesn’t have a big payroll, and there are significant stadium issues inhibiting revenue growth. Beane may well want out of here. All is not lost, however, as the team has a bright young pitching staff, some good young players, and a decent farm system. Texas kind of looks like a juggernaut out there, but they aren’t invincible. The rest of the division is decent and beatable. With a few shrewd moves, the team could very well be in contention next season.

Washington’s Mike Rizzo’s name has been thrown out there, but I’m not sure he’d leave. After spending the last several years doing some serious remodeling to that franchise, it’s about ready to start paying dividends. Would you really want to leave now when Strasburg’s healthy, Harper’s so close, and you have such a nice young core? If he does leave, the incoming GM would have that to look forward to, and with the way Rizzo seems itching to spend, there might be more money to spend. In regard to the division, the Phillies window is for the next 2-3 years and the Braves look stocked for the foreseeable future, but the upside of this franchise could eclipse either team.

Chicago seems to be the big score, but you wonder if it is Martin’s Harrenhall--esteemed, yet accursed and too big for the incoming leader. The stadium either needs a serious remodel or to be replaced, the team needs the same, and the farm system looks to add little help. But it does have a big market, a rabid fanbase, and money to burn after the next few seasons. If you could build a winning team and take them to a championship, well you’d never want for anything ever again.

Houston needs a do-over. It’s farm system is sad, and the team is even worse. What’s worse is that it isn’t a huge market with a big budget, and you’d still have to be somewhat creative. Houston, however, does have a nice stadium, and one would have the ability to make the team into whatever he/she desired. The position would almost certainly be open, but it’s not the most appealing, like Winterfell after a certain event.

The Dodgers could also have an opening if Colletti runs to Chicago, for which I would not blame him. LAD, however, isn’t a lost cause. If the owner situation can be solved somewhat soon, Los Angeles is an awesome market, and the payroll could grow if … you know … it wasn’t spent on the owner’s lavish lifestyle. The team, itself, has a decent core, and the farm system is bearing some fruit. But it would need some work, and a stable environment is essential. If the owner fiasco gets worked out, this would be a really nice job to have, but if not, top candidates might shy away for now. It’s the Vale--a really nice place strategically but the owner is insane.

The idea behind a "game of thrones" is an interesting one, but I'm not exactly the type of person you'd see involved in it. Not that I'm not important. I'm actually kind of a big deal. Okay, no I'm not, but that wasn't what I meant. Anyway, I'm the type of guy that would get to the position of GM, and if I was happy and the team was performing well, I'd probably just stay put instead of putting myself through 3 years of misery trying to resurrect another franchise. So when I look at Theo, Cashman, Friedman, and Rizzo, I wouldn't move, but I can't speak for them. And that's something I think we forget at times. In the midst of trying to figure out where people are going (players, GMs, managers, etc.), we seem to try to predict thoughts. Unless you're the person himself/herself, you have no idea what they're going to do unless they specifically tell you, and then, you have to wonder why they told you. And if you are the person, I've had enough decisions in my life to know that I rarely know what I really want, so I can only assume (see what I did there?) that other people have similar issues. So until the contract is signed, sealed, delivered to the commissioner's office, and approved by the commissioner and all parties, can we please stop the conjecture? Report rumors and midnight flights to Texas, but if you need to include "think", "person with intimate knowledge", or "I ..." in a report, don't. In Martin's excellent series, the players always seem to scheme and predict moves, and while that's wise to do, the ones who get killed are the ones who assume they've got it figured out.

1 comment:

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

If you like fantasy, you can't beat Terry Brooks. His Magic Kingdom series is fun, but all the other stuff of his is serious hard-core fantasy. Another good one is possibly gone from the shelves by now, but Patricia McKillip had a wonderful trilogy that is still one of my favorites.

Oh, and great post. :)