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.

RHP Fairbanks, Rays agree to 3-year, $12 million contract

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Dave Nelson/USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Reliever Pete Fairbanks and the Tampa Bay Rays avoided arbitration when they agreed Friday to a three-year, $12 million contract that could be worth up to $24.6 million over four seasons.

The deal includes salaries of $3,666,666 this year and $3,666,667 in each of the next two seasons. The Rays have a $7 million option for 2026 with a $1 million buyout.

His 2024 and 2025 salaries could increase by $300,000 each based on games finished in the previous season: $150,000 each for 35 and 40.

Tampa Bay’s option price could increase by up to $6 million, including $4 million for appearances: $1 million each for 60 and 70 in 2025; $500,000 for 125 from 2023-25 and $1 million each for 135, 150 and 165 from 2023-25. The option price could increase by $2 million for games finished in 2025: $500,000 each for 25, 30, 35 and 40.

Fairbanks also has a $500,000 award bonus for winning the Hoffman/Rivera reliever of the year award and $200,000 for finishing second or third.

The 29-year-old right-hander is 11-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 15 saves in 111 appearances, with all but two of the outings coming out of the bullpen since being acquired by the Rays from the Texas Rangers in July 2019.

Fairbanks was 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 24 appearances last year after beginning the season on the 60-day injured list with a right lat strain.

Fairbanks made his 2022 debut on July 17 and tied for the team lead with eight saves despite being sidelined more than three months. In addition, he is 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 12 career postseason appearances, all with Tampa Bay.

He had asked for a raise from $714,400 to $1.9 million when proposed arbitration salaries were exchanged Jan. 13, and the Rays had offered for $1.5 million.

Fairbanks’ agreement was announced two days after left-hander Jeffrey Springs agreed to a $31 million, four-year contract with Tampa Bay that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

Tampa Bay remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.