Baseball has taken a turn for the worse in casting aside scouts
Dennis Gilbert, a former agent, insurance mogul, and Chicago White Sox executive, and founder of the Professional Scouts Foundation, predicts there are 30-40 scouts who get laid off every year. Some get rehired, but many others don’t. There are around 100 scouts who have been let go in the past few years. Some have been rehired, but last year Gilbert’s foundation (which was also founded by White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and White Sox scout Dave Yoakum) helped some 20 scouts in financial distress.
We’re in this transition period in baseball in which analytics are now driving the way teams do business. You’re seeing some of the craziest titles for executives and you wonder sometimes, is this baseball?
Back in the day, if you were a GM you didn’t make a move without first consulting with a scout. Scouts have told me that sometimes they go an entire season without communication with their team’s general manager because analytics are more important to them.
And there are some big names in the scouting world that don’t have jobs.
Wayne Krivsky was the general manager of the Reds after a long run with the Rangers, and then became a Twins scout before he was dismissed. For the first time in 42 years, Krivsky, 64, had to sit out 2018 and now it looks like 2019 may be just as bad.
“It was a difficult year,” Krivsky said. “I tried to stay as close to the game as I could. Being here in Cincinnati I probably went out to about 20 games to try to stay connected and see friends and be visible and let people know I want to work. When it’s been your whole life for 41 years and it’s in your blood and you love the relationships you’ve developed, to have that be gone, was difficult. But you try to stay positive and you keep knocking on doors in hopes you can find a place where they can utilize your ability.”
Even a younger scout such as Wade Taylor, 53, has been out of baseball for two years and is now working part time for UPS, according to a USA Today report.
It’s no coincidence that Gilbert is an adviser to Reinsdorf, the most loyal baseball owner to the scouting community. Reinsdorf has been generous to scouts, even helping families of scouts after they’ve retired or died.
Nobody will say it, but the younger the GMs get, the more age discrimination there is. Older scouts can’t evaluate talent?
The foundation helps with Cobra payments for lost health insurance benefits, hospice, funeral costs. It helps pay for mortgages, rent, credit-card bills, you name it.
“It’s sad in many ways the way things are going around baseball for scouts,” Gilbert said. “These men and women are the lifeblood of baseball. They have discovered the greatest players who ever lived. And they have never received the accolades for that.”
As scouting staffs shrink in certain organizations (not all of them), gone will be the culture that these scouts created. Who will tell the great baseball stories of how a player was discovered or how a player who made it to the Hall of Fame was bypassed in the amateur draft? What will we be left with? Stories of the best algorithm?
When you thumb through the titles of front office executives now, you wonder if this is baseball. The Cubs just made former Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow their director of strategic initiatives for baseball operations.
Good people are leaving the game every day and not many are getting jobs.The Twins have lost Bill Mele, a superb scout, who resigned from his job. The Marlins have gained the reputation around the league during the Derek Jeter ownership of treating their older scouts poorly.
One of the best pitching evaluators, Aaron Sele, just resigned from the Marlins. He felt he could no longer work for the new regime, which according to league sources has shown disrespect to veteran scouts.
Yet there are teams who really do it the right way —
where there’s a great balance between modern and old-fashioned baseball. Yankees GM
might be heavily into analytics, but he has not compromised his scouting as a result. “We haven’t reduced our scouting staff at all,” he said. What the Yankees and the Red Sox have done so successfully is combine the two entities so one relates to the other. In other words, a player who may be analytically perfect for their team is double-checked with genuine scouts who can recognize skills by sight that the numbers can’t. Those seem to be the successful organizations.
The Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Nationals, Dodgers, and Phillies seem to get it. Of course, there are also teams with more financial resources than other teams. It seems the less affluent teams are relying more on analytics and less on scouting.
It’s interesting that while the Astros have been a successful organization because their tanking enabled them to acquire top prospects that in many cases have turned into All-Star-caliber players, it was talent evaluators such as Ed Wade and Bobby Heck that identified and took the right players.
The story goes that it was Nolan Ryan, via manager AJ Hinch, who had to convince Astros owner Jim Crane to go get Justin Verlander even though analytics didn’t support that Verlander would be an effective cog for the Astros. Good thing Ryan made his case.
It’s very easy for teams to get caught up in the analytics because the numbers are compelling and often convincing. There’s science behind the evaluations and not just the intangible things scouts see. The top organizations realize that the two go hand in hand.
Take Brian Bannister, for instance. He’s the Red Sox’ assistant pitching coach and vice president of pitching development. He was a major league pitcher who gets the baseball part of it but also understands the scientific part. So he pores over video, spin rate, and the entire range of statistics and comes up with tremendous insight on how to make a pitcher better. Ask Rich Hill who owes his career advancement to Bannister. Bannister made simple adjustments for Hill, such as throwing his fastball on different planes and angles and throwing his curveball more.
It’s not just younger vs. older. When Alex Anthopoulos was GM in Toronto, he probably had the largest scouting staff in the majors, but he was also a big analytics guy. He hasn’t been able to hire that large a scouting staff in Atlanta for budgetary reasons, but if given the choice, he’d enhance it.
During the GM meetings in November in Carlsbad, Calif., I attended a tribute to late, great scout Don Welke. He worked for San Diego GM A.J. Preller, and prior to that Texas GM Jon Daniels. They adored Welke, because he evaluated players with his eyes and his heart. Oh, they had the other stuff — the analytics available to them — but they always wanted to know what Welke thought. And his judgment, not the analytics involved, had the most impact on whether or not to make a move.
The same holds true for Dave Dombrowski in Boston, Mike Rizzo in Washington, and Al Avila in Detroit — and what future Hall of Fame executive Brian Sabean did for so many years in San Francisco before the Giants’ front office was transformed into something unrecognizable. Sabean won three championships by putting together one of the most effective scouting staffs in the game and now has been cast aside.
Dombrowski inherited a large analytics staff in Boston, but he has always been a scouting-first GM. He relies on his inner circle — Frank Wren, Eddie Bane, Jaymie Bane, Brad Sloan, Steve Peck, Brian O’Halloran, Eddie Romero, Gus Quattlebaum, and Tony La Russa —
to make those tough personnel evaluations.
Theo Epstein is famous for his analytical ways. Remember his system known as “Carmine” with the Red Sox? Yet Epstein and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer never once have thought that scouts weren’t important.
Of course, as Krivsky points out, “It’s always a good day when you see a veteran scout get hired.”
Krivsky was referring to Willie Fraser, who had been fired by the Marlins and has now hooked on with the Cubs. And Ted Lekas, a longtime scout with the Orioles and Blue Jays who hadn’t worked for a couple of years, hooked on with the Braves.
There are some happy endings, but for the most part, the scouting community is hurting.
Apropos of nothing
1. Alex Cora’s heart says he shouldn’t go on the Red Sox’ scheduled Feb. 15 trip to the White House. President Trump disrespected his homeland in Puerto Rico with actions and comments about relief efforts. Cora should follow his heart and stand up for what he feels is right. If he elects not to go, I wonder how many Sox players will decide to stand by their manager and join him in protest?
2. Just wanted to expand on a note about Bryce Brentz returning to the Red Sox and teaming again with PawSox hitting coach Rich Gedman, who transformed him into a power hitter. “It’s hard to see guys go, but to get him back, that’s great,” said Gedman. “He had success. The main thing for him is he was healthy. The year he had two years ago here he was able to stay healthy.” Brentz played half the time last year after breaking his foot in May for Triple A Las Vegas (Mets). He returned in August and yet still hit 16 homers. “Some guys mature late. He got married and had a child and still is very excited about playing,” Gedman said.
3. Wish baseball writers would end this silly game of not voting Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame. He pitched in an era during which performance-enhancing drugs were not legislated with testing or penalties. It was also an era, in my opinion — based on people I’ve talked to from that time — in which players dabbled in steroid use. Nobody can judge Clemens’s body of work and declare he doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame when there are “users” who have already been elected. Even Reggie Jackson, who once opposed those guilty of PED use getting into the Hall of Fame, has changed his stance. “Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens should be in,” Jackson said at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions LPGA tournament. “It’s time.” Clemens was gracious enough to take time from the tournament to attend Thursday’s Boston Baseball Writers dinner, and he was a big hit talking about his first 20-strikeout game against Seattle. It appears his vote total will climb from the 57.3 percent of last season. He needs 75 percent with three more years of eligibility.
4. Is Adam Jones not the perfect fit for a younger team in need of veteran leadership? It seems Jones would be perfectly suited for a team such as the Braves, who have a number of young players that Jones could influence. If Jones had his druthers he’d probably stay in Baltimore, where he could guide the young players there. Jones, 33, played the last 11 years for the Orioles before becoming a free agent this offseason.
5. You wonder if former Astro Marwin Gonzalez may have overplayed his hand on the free agent market. He’s a very good player and a clutch player, but when former National League batting champion DJ LeMahieu (.348 with Colorado in 2016) signs with the Yankees for two years at $24 million, it doesn’t appear that Gonzalez is going to be able to come close to super utility player Ben Zobrist’s four years at $56 million, which runs through 2019.
6. One reliever the Red Sox might take a shot with is Greg Holland, who had an excellent second half with the Nationals after a poor first half with the Cardinals. Holland was coming back from Tommy John surgery and didn’t answer the bell early in the 2018 season. But as he got more comfortable he started pitching very well. Holland had a 0.84 ERA in 24 appearances for the Nationals after a 7.92 ERA in 32 appearances for the Cardinals.
7. Our old friend Rick Swanson has suggested the Red Sox sign lefthander Oliver Perez. Not a bad idea. The 37-year-old had a 1.39 ERA and a .742 WHIP in 51 games last season for the Indians. Righties hit .104 against him, while lefties hit .194.
8. So, while we understand that the Hot Stove isn’t quite over, who is better at this stage, the Red Sox or Yankees? It’s hard to say Red Sox because they have not signed or traded for replacements for Craig Kimbrel or Joe Kelly, while the Yankees re-signed reliever Zach Britton and added reliever Adam Ottavino. The Yankees also added lefthanded starter James Paxton and re-signed J.A. Happ, while the Red Sox re-signed Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce. The Yankees added LeMahieu and they may not be done. The Yankees seem closer to dealing starter Sonny Gray (possibly to the Reds), and once they do they’ll likely pick off another free agent starter to add to the back end of the rotation to protect themselves in case CC Sabathia, who had a heart procedure, can’t make it back.
9. Dave Dombrowski’s contract runs through 2020, so there may not be any urgency by Red Sox ownership to extend him just yet.
10. It doesn’t seem far-fetched that the Phillies can land both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Here’s one scout’s assessment of Harper: “One thing I worry about with him is that he plays the game at 110 miles per hour. I just worry that a commitment of eight to 10 years might be troublesome from the point of view that he’s going to get hurt given the way he plays.”
11. Adrian Gonzalez had his showcase on Friday at Los Angeles Valley College and all seemed to go well. The veteran first baseman has had some back issues the last couple of years, but he appears to be over them. Gonzalez is a .287 career hitter with 317 homers, 1,202 RBIs, and an .843 OPS. Gonzalez is 36 and would love to continue playing. He has earned $190 million in his playing career.
12. Word on the street is the Red Sox could easily deal Christian Vazquez or Blake Swihart if they wanted. The problem? The return. Obtain a reliever? Obtain prospects? Get a second baseman? Dombrowski said he didn’t foresee the team going with three catchers, so we’ll see how the logjam is solved.
From the Bill Chuck files — “In 1,053 games, facing 1,776 batters with two outs, Mariano Rivera held batters to a .198 batting average and permitted just 19 homers (and had a .553 OPS). He allowed a two-out homer once every 55.4 games.” . . . Also, “In 1,041 games, facing 2,721 batters with two strikes, Rivera held batters to a .157 batting average and permitted just 30 homers (and had a .418 OPS). He allowed a two-strike homer once every 34.7 games.” . . . Happy birthday, Matt Albers (36).