Why aren’t more MLB general managers former MLB players?

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As a follow-up to Ruben Amaro Jr.’s recent four-year contract extension with the Phillies, Jayson Stark of ESPN.com has an interesting article about how only three of the 30 current general managers played in the big leagues.

Amaro is one, along with Kenny Williams of the White Sox and Billy Beane of the A’s. And together they had a total of 536 career hits. Amaro, Williams, and Beane have all had considerably more success as GMs, so why aren’t more former players getting the gig?

I think one big reason is that being a GM is about far more than just signing players and making trades. Back when Terry Ryan stepped down as GM of the Twins in late 2007 he talked about still loving the player-evaluation part of the job, but no longer wanting to have the other responsibilities that came along with it. And his replacement, Bill Smith, has focused more on those “other” aspects of being a GM while his top assistant, Rob Antony, and various other front office members take on a bigger role in player evaluation.

Minnesota is just one example, of course, but my sense is that applies to many and perhaps even most teams across MLB. When fans think of a GM they may imagine a guy making phone calls to other teams, sitting down with agents to hammer out contract details, and talking to scouts about which players they ought to target. In reality there’s a lot more “general” managing going on, and while many former big leaguers are no doubt very good at evaluating players they may not be quite as good at running the day-to-day or business side of things. Or at least not as good as the increasing number of Ivy League-educated GMs.

Obviously some GMs thrive at both aspects of the job, and it’s probably not a coincidence that Amaro and Williams both attended Stanford University and Beane was headed to Stanford prior to signing with the Mets out of high school. In many ways they’re extremely smart guys who just happen to be former players. I’m sure there are many more than three guys capable of hitting a curveball and being the face of a huge organization, but the modern GM job calls for a lot more than just deciding who to sign or trade and playing baseball at the highest level isn’t necessarily the best way to prepare for those other responsibilities.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.