We talk about the impact of managers on an organization, but these days it seems the biggest job is general manager. It has become all-encompassing, more hands-on than ever. It has become, as Dan Duquette points out, a “24-7” job in which every single detail has to be accounted for — from overseeing the manager, to instruction, to player acquisition, to organizational philosophy, to contracts and business-related issues.
So when you win an Executive of the Year Award, it means you’ve done a pretty incredible job putting together a baseball team.
When you break down the American League candidates for this honor, you have to start in two places: Baltimore, where Duquette, after 10 years away from the game, has shown that being a GM is like riding a bike; and Oakland, where Billy Beane has turned the vagabond A’s into a pretty exciting little team that could with a young pitching staff and a carefree attitude.
Beane and Duquette will be challenged by Mike Rizzo, who turned the 80-win Nationals of 2011 into a playoff team (and presumptive division champion).
The Orioles have already improved 21 games over last year’s 69-win season, the biggest improvement in major league baseball. While manager Buck Showalter has slowly but surely laid the groundwork for the players on the field, Duquette deserves credit for adding to the roster, for constantly having to tweak the roster amid injuries.
Duquette made key deals for Jason Hammel and Jim Thome, picked Nate McLouth off the scrap heap, signed Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Joe Saunders. He signed Adam Jones to a contract extension.
He hired the right people — basically his old staff in Boston, including Lee Thomas, one of the best talent evaluators in the business. He brought in Rick Peterson to implement an organizational pitching system that has been off-the-charts successful.
Duquette has been a GM in three entirely different markets: Montreal in the early ’90s, Boston in the mid-’90s to early 2000s, and now Baltimore in 2012. He was voted Executive of the Year in 1992 in Montreal (and right-hand man Thomas got the award the following year in Philadelphia).
His work with the Red Sox also was stellar — making the Jason Varitek-and-Derek Lowe-for-Heathcliff Slocumb deal, trading Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. for Pedro Martinez, signing Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. Duquette got himself in trouble with his personality, something he has worked on changing.
And now you wonder why he was away for so long when he’s always had so much to offer.
Duquette has been smart enough to adapt.
“The new basic agreement has presented some economic changes in the game in terms of the competitive-balance tax, signing bonuses for draft picks, etc., that are certainly different than when I was last a GM,” said Duquette.
Duquette went from a small market in Montreal to a big market in Boston. He spent big money (for the time) in Boston. Ramirez’s deal for 10 years and $200 million was the biggest of its day. And despite his quirkiness and sometimes bizarre behavior, Ramirez played up to the contract. Ditto for Martinez, and Varitek became an incredible resource and one of the best defensive catchers of his era.
And it was Duquette who took Tim Wakefield off the Pirates scrap heap.
In Baltimore, Duquette came into a situation where the organization hadn’t won for 14 straight seasons. The Cal Ripken Era had faded into the sunset.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with good people,” Duquette said. “Mr. [Peter] Angelos and Buck are great resources to lean on. I had that support in Boston as well, with John Harrington and John Buckley, Mike Port, Lou Gorman.”
Duquette deflects attention off himself when asked about Executive of the Year.
“It’s important that fans know we’ve turned around the culture of the Orioles and we’ve transformed it into a winning organization,” he said. “We have good young players to build with, like Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy, to go along with Matt Wieters and Adam Jones and our other young veterans.”
For Beane, this is business as usual. He has a revolving door of players. He has won even after sending All-Stars Gio Gonzalez to Washington, Trevor Cahill to Arizona, and Andrew Bailey to Boston. Beane came away with Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Ryan Cook, Derek Norris, and Josh Reddick. They have all been a big part of the success.
Beane, who has never won Executive of the Year, has used a starting rotation of youngsters Parker, Milone, A.J. Griffin, Daniel Straily, and Travis Blackley to author an incredible turnaround from a 74-win team from last season.
He signed the super-talented Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million deal, signed Brandon Moss to a minor league deal. He signed Brandon Inge after he was released from Detroit, and Inge contributed with big hits.
He obtained George Kottaras and Stephen Drew, both big contributors at the end. He almost got Hanley Ramirez.
“He’s the best GM in baseball,” said Reddick. “And he has been for a long time. He gives people the opportunity to have their talents come out. The environment he creates is amazing.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Stunning to me that Rays bench coach Dave Martinez didn’t get the Houston job. The Astros talked about using the Tampa Bay model, going with someone similar to Joe Maddon. Then they shift gears and hire Bo Porter.
2. We’ve said it before: Dwight Evans should be more involved with the Red Sox. I asked him why you no longer see strong arms like his in the outfield. His answer: “When I came here in 2002 as a hitting coach, I noticed we’re not taking infield. I was told, ‘We haven’t taken infield in three or four years.’ Are you kidding me? I think there are good arms out there, but I don’t think we hone those skills enough. I think it needs to be taken a couple of times a week. Just throwing the ball to a guy behind second base, behind the screen. You’re not working on your arm strength. What drives the game right now is not great arms and defense — it’s offense. We all know that.” Bobby Valentine wanted to re-institute infield this season, but he was met with so much resistance that it didn’t happen.
3. Omissions from the All-Fenway team: Reliever Bob Stanley, catcher Birdie Tebbetts, infielder Pete Runnels (who won two batting titles in his five seasons in Boston), and infielder Billy Goodman, who in 11 seasons with the Red Sox batted .306 and won the 1950 AL batting title with a .354 average.
4. The Angels allowing a league-high 34.1 percent of inherited runners to score tells you all you need to know about why they (probably) won’t make the playoffs. They never addressed their bullpen woes.
5. When players get fined these days, it’s usually $750. In case you wanted to know.
6. Bud Selig is the commissioner of the major sport that fans dislike the least, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll. Understandable. Selig has made all the right moves, from a tougher steroid policy to introducing a new round of the playoffs, and a lot of other things in between.
Apropos of something
The Braves deserve a bravo. They held their course after a 9-18 September collapse in 2011 in which they blew an 8½-game wild-card lead, and the fruits of their labor are now rewarded with a home playoff game. They’re a team you don’t want to face in the playoffs.
They were able to correct some problem areas, one being that the bullpen was pitching too many innings. Manager Fredi Gonzalez took heed of this, reducing the workload so Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and superb closer Craig Kimbrel remained fresh. The three have been extraordinary.
The Braves have won 22 straight games in which Kris Medlen pitched, something that has happened only three other times since 1920. The Giants won 22 straight behind Carl Hubbell in 1936-37 and the Yankees won 22 straight for Whitey Ford in 1950 and 1953, in and around the two years he served in the Korean War.
The Braves haven’t lost one of Medlen’s starts since May 23, 2010, in Pittsburgh. He came out of the bullpen to be a fill-in starter, and a funny thing happened: He became the ace of the staff. The Braves will try to make it 23 straight when Medlen, who is 9-1, starts against the Mets Sunday.
First baseman Freddy Freeman and outfielder Jayson Heyward have emerged as excellent everyday players. Center fielder Michael Bourn, who has been out with a strained left thumb, has given the Braves a huge spark at the top of the order.
“They are a team right now I would pick to get to the World Series,” said a National League scout. “They have deep starting pitching, great bullpen, and their lineup is still dangerous.”
Updates on 9
1. Terry Francona, ESPN analyst — If he remains patient, he will have his pick of some plum managing jobs. He may opt for Cleveland because he’s comfortable with the front office there, it’s a place where he has worked and where his dad played, and it gets him back to the majors. A reason he wouldn’t take it: money. He won’t get the big-time contract, and the Indians don’t have the big-time resources for him. If he goes there, after a while he would be frustrated.
2. John Farrell, manager, Blue Jays — Speculation is all over the place on how easy or difficult it would be to extract Farrell from his contract. The prevailing thought is that Toronto would hold up Boston for a good player, but those around the Jays believe it would be easier to get him now than it was last year. Farrell is not considered the be-all, end-all to the Jays future, as they hoped when they hired him. But he does provide comfort to the Sox baseball operations staff, which has worked well with him in the past.
3. Bobby Valentine, manager, Red Sox — If the Sox let him go, his managerial career may not be over. Jeffrey Loria had him pretty much hired in Miami before he was pressured to hire a Latin American manager; now Loria is considering replacing Ozzie Guillen. Valentine is also close to Reds owner Bob Castellini, who is at the end of a contract with Dusty Baker.
4. Manny Acta, former Indians manager — He has never really had a chance to manage a good team, and that’s too bad, because he’s a good manager. It’s interesting that Acta, Valentine, and Guillen were named the three least-popular managers in a player poll taken by Sports Illustrated earlier this season. All three could be fired. It goes to show that players don’t like tougher managers and can get them fired.
5. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox — He says he lost 20 pounds since spring training. He blames the inactivity. “It seems when I’m playing a lot, I’m hungrier and eat more,” he said. “When I’m not doing a lot, I tend not to be as hungry and eat less. I’m starting to gain some back now.”
6. Andy MacPhail, former Twins, Cubs, and Orioles executive — Classy man that he is, MacPhail has declined all requests to be interviewed about the Orioles. Much the way Dan Duquette had a big role in the 2004 Red Sox, a lot of current Orioles players are a product of MacPhail’s efforts over the years. Like Duquette, MacPhail didn’t get a chance to reap the rewards and was eventually replaced. MacPhail has been out of baseball this year, but the feeling is he’ll resurface soon.
7. Mike Adams, RHP, Rangers — He had been solid in a set-up role all season, but now he’s slumping. He allowed three homers to Oakland Thursday after giving up only one in 51⅔ innings. In nine appearances in September, Adams has allowed seven runs and 14 hits in 8⅓ innings. This may be related to the anti-inflammatory injection he received in the back of his right shoulder after his velocity was down to sub-90.
8. Justin Smoak, 1B, Mariners — The baseball world has waited for Smoak to become the new Mark Teixeira. Instead, he has been Carlos Pena, hitting under .200 most of the season. But Smoak has begun to come on. He recently hit .472 over a 10-game period by shortening his swing. He hit homers from both sides of the plate last Tuesday. Now he’s making it tough for the Mariners to decide: keep him or deal him?
9. Jose Valverde, closer, Tigers —
From the Bill Chuck files, a look at some 2012 Fenway numbers:
1. Among Red Sox with 100 plate appearances, David Ortiz had the best Fenway batting average, .359, followed by Pedro Ciriaco at .323. Last season, Adrian Gonzalez led in home games at .347, followed by Ortiz at .342.
2. The departed Gonzalez led Boston with 85 home hits; Dustin Pedroia had 82. In 2011, three Sox had more than 100 hits: Gonzalez (109), Jacoby Ellsbury (108), and Pedroia (102).
3. Ortiz and Cody Ross led the Sox with 13 Fenway homers. Ellsbury led in 2011 with 15.
4. Ross led the Sox with 49 home RBIs. Ellsbury led the 2011 Sox with 61.
5. Clay Buchholz led Sox pitchers with six wins at Fenway; Felix Doubront was next with five. John Lackey led the 2011 Sox pitchers with seven.
6. Jon Lester had 10 home losses in 2012, followed by Alfredo Aceves with seven. In 2011, Lackey led with seven.
7. Among pitchers with at least 10 Fenway starts, Buchholz had the best ERA at 4.66; Josh Beckett was next at 5.26. In the same category in 2011, Beckett led with 2.71, followed by Lester at 3.49.
8. Among relievers with at least 10 Fenway appearances, Junichi Tazawa had the best ERA at 1.37; Rich Hill was next at 1.38. In the same category in 2011, Daniel Bard led with a 2.70 ERA.
9. The Red Sox had 12 home saves in 2012, with Aceves getting eight. Last season, they had 13 saves at home, with Jonathan Papelbon earning 11.
Happy birthday, Dave Magadan (50) and Jeremy Giambi (38).Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.