Friday, October 7, 2011

How Much Is a GM Worth?

I still can’t believe the Marlins gave up real, live human beings for Ozzie Guillen. Nothing about that situation makes any sense whatsoever. The Marlins have repeatedly shown they have no idea how to handle public relations or get their employees to handle public relations in an appropriate manner, and Ozzie is the Pandora’s box of public relations nightmares. Owner Jeffrey Loria is a nutcase who can’t sit still for more than four months, and Ozzie’s actions will make him stir like he’s got ants in his pants. Even looking at this from a pure baseball perspective, Ozzie is about as good of a tactician as I am a tennis player (though I always swing for the fences). Then, the Marlins gave up two decent arms that could be late-inning relievers, and even if that isn’t much, 1-2 wins a season is way more than the wins Ozzie will cost the team. About the only thing Ozzie has going for him is that he’s Hispanic, but I’m not really sure if that matters that much or not to the 1,430 Marlins fans. The trade was just ridiculous all the way around, and if this is what they meant by Loria having more say in baseball operations, I no longer worry about the Marlins as Morrison and whoever else ticks him off will be traded for a stereo system and a scoreboard upgrade shortly.

Anyway, what this made me wonder about was the value of a GM. Managers could be worth a few wins if they didn’t all make the same decisions, but GMs make quite different decisions all the time. They have to. They can’t make the same decisions, don’t live under the same circumstances, and have differing ideas on what builds a good team. Through all of this, they have the most impact on the team. They build it from the ground up, and they could have a huge impact on the number of wins a team has. So when it comes to the Cubs possibly trading something to get Theo Epstein from Boston, I have no idea what to think, but here are a few thoughts.

1) If Ozzie brought back two decent prospects, the Red Sox have to demand a premium prospect at least.

2) Is there even a way to try to quantify a GM’s value? Valuing managers appears difficult enough, but they have definite cause-effect relationships between decisions on the field. When they bunt, we know the difference in run expectancy. How do you evaluate Cashman losing out on Cliff Lee and going to Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon?

3) Regardless of the method of valuing, I guess you would have to look at a GM as apart from the players. With players, we simply add the win values to the replacement team and get our answer. With a GM, you can’t just add his value. You would have to deconstruct the team and put it back together, trying to recalibrate for Decision Made and Decisions A, B, and C. Or you’d have to start from a “Team A would have been this good pre-GM 1” approach and go from there. Sounds fun.

4) You would have to adjust for payrolls, etc. like using park effects. Friedman’s job is much harder than Epstein’s, so it’s like Friedman is hitting at Petco while Epstein is in … well, Fenway Park. You can’t just look at straight records.

5) You would have to adjust for expectations. You can’t penalize Neil Huntington for ripping apart the Pirates when it was the right thing to do, and you can’t use the same standard for Cashman in New York.

6) And what decisions do you credit them with making? The MLB moves? Sure. But what happens when you have a GM that stays out of drafting and most player development decisions? Do you take away that credit, or do you give him credit for hiring the man who does make the decisions?

7) I don’t think you could really use contracts as part of a decision like we do for players. The cost per year, sure, but the number of years isn’t really important. If their contract comes up, they are a lot easier to re-sign than a player, but if teams and/or GMs started taking note of their real value, that may eventually have to change.

8) Are their leveraged moves? For example, is a move at the Trading Deadline more important than one made in the off-season?

9) Do GMs get points for getting into the post-season and winning World Series? It is a weighted crapshoot, but Cashman did win all those rings while Schuerholz didn’t.

Honestly, to properly evaluate a GM and come to some quantifiable number seems impossible. We would probably have to know all sorts of things that we don’t know, may never know, or can’t know. But at some point, the Cubs may have to sit down and ask themselves the question, “What is Theo worth?”, and the Red Sox are going to want to get fair value for him. But what is fair value? That needs a number, right? I mean, both teams should really want to know so that the Cubs don’t miss out on making a franchise-saving move and the Red Sox avoid losing their GM, causing 2 Fast 2 Furious: Red Sox Drift or some equally crappy move. This isn’t a situation that comes around often, but should it? Should GMs becomes tradable commodities? Are GMs the real market inefficiency?

Most importantly, if you’re the Cubs, who are you willing to give up for Theo or whoever? And Red Sox or whoever, who are you willing to accept for your GM?


Jason Wojciechowski said...

You forgot about dreaminess. Theo is more dreamy than any other GM. His Dreaminess Above Replacement is like 23.

More seriously (though don't underrate the seriousness of dreaminess), related to #4 is the question of in what circumstances a GM can succeed. An argument has always floated around the A's blogosphere that Billy Beane thrives on being an underdog and having no money such that moving to a high-payroll team would remove the mental advantage he's created. In this particular instance, the issue doesn't really apply -- the Cubs job isn't so materially different from the Red Sox job (at least market-wise -- ownership? Who knows) that we'd expect it to require an entirely different skill-set.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Also depends on how strong the manager has his fingers in the pie. How could you ever rate someone who GMs for the Orioles, Angels or Cardinals?

doc said...

I think you're being a little harsh about Ozzie. I grant that his handling of his lineup this year (especially Dunn & Rios) was more than a little odd, but a large chunk of that (according, at least, to the local media) was the organizational refusal to promote their prospects. You can't play Viciedo and de Aza if they're not on the roster. And, at least over time, his handling of the pitching staff (whch may be mostly Cooper, but we'll see, won't we?) has been better than adequate.