With *seven* new GMs being named since late September - and two vacancies yet to be filled in Miami and Toronto - it's safe to say that a number of clubs will be undergoing a revamp of sorts as the 'Hot Stove' season heats up.
Whereas new GM hires in Boston, Anaheim, and Seattle will come with immediate expectations due to high-priced veteran rosters and large fanbases, two clubs stick out in that their candidates have been brought in to assist with an organizational rebuild.
David Stearns (Milwaukee) and Matt Klentak (Philadelphia) head into their new post with teams that failed to win 70 games in the 2015 season. The immediate outlook for these two clubs also doesn't appear too promising, as they're clearly below all other teams in their divisions based on talent level of the 25-man roster. The focus for these rookie GMs will be infusing young, controllable impact talent into their organization and in the case of the Brewers, doing so on a small-market budget.
The other common thread between these men is they're part of a growing trend in the industry that's seeing CEO's/presidents/upper management entrust young, Ivy League-educated professionals to be their point men in running the front office. By my count, 11 of the 28 current GMs are Ivy League products - a ratio which doesn't figure to decrease anytime soon with up-and-comers such as Chaim Bloom (Rays, Yale) and Dan Kantrovitz (A's, Brown University) waiting in the wings.
For a myriad of reasons, I don't think there are any noticeable trends in the way this new breed of analytically-inclined executives are running their ballclubs. For every hallmark Jeff Luhnow (Penn) draft or Jon Daniels (Cornell) stealth overseas signing, there's an A.J. Preller (Cornell) - Golden Hot Stove God - who has his own ideas on how to engineer a winning team.
What becomes clear when looking at links between baseball's top decision-makers is that they're especially adept at matters involving contract negotiations and the collective bargaining agreement. With ever-rising salaries and the expiration of the league's current CBA in December 2016, upper management across the game has placed a premium on locking in these ace negotiators, counting on them to save the club millions in the long term and invest wisely in the draft/trade/free agent markets. Let's take a look at how the newest Ivy Leaguers on the block might choose to navigate their first offseason in charge.
David Stearns - Milwaukee
At just 30 years old, Stearns appears to be the fourth-youngest GM in league history behind Theo Epstein, Jon Daniels, and Randy Smith of the Padres in 1993. The Harvard grad has served as Jeff Luhnow's sole assistant GM in Houston the past three seasons, which is notable as it's uncommon around the league for just one executive to fill the role of right-hand-man.
It's not a surprise to see Stearns tabbed to lead the Brewers' front office into the future, given the masterclass rebuilding effort he helped engineer with the Astros. It's clear that Milwaukee is well behind the player development machines in their division (Cards/Cubs/Bucs), and the hiring of an up-and-comer in Stearns reinforces the idea that the Brewers are gearing up for a total revamp.
While the Brew Crew have ranked as a bottom-barrel farm system for several seasons, recent trade acquisitions and draftees has seen the system make as much improvement as any club the past calendar year. Along with 2015 first-rounder Trent Clark, Brett Phillips and Domingo Santana - fruits from the Carlos Gomez trade - arguably make up three of Milwaukee's top five prospects. With potential impact shortstop Orlando Arcia in tow, the pieces are here for an impressive young lineup down the road.
With an offense-heavy system in place, Stearns' most important task will be adding pitching talent that's ready to contribute to the next competitive Brewers team. It will be interesting to see how much of Houston's rebuilding strategy the GM will take with him to Milwaukee; in Stearns' first year with the 'Stros, the team deployed somewhat of a 'tanking' philopsophy with their payroll slashed to an unthinkable $26 million at the start of the 2013 season. The Brewers' big club currently sits just north of $50 million, and it's fair to wonder how soon the cost-cutting could begin given the low expectations surrounding the team for the upcoming season. After all, the trading of high-priced veterans during the offseason has the two-pronged effect of saving a team millions in payroll costs while adding young, controllable prospects to the mix.
The Brewers will be a team to watch this winter because the rebuilding club holds several major league regulars that would be attractive targets for those that miss out on the upcoming free agent frenzy. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy is the most valuable asset on the 40-man roster, but signed to a dirt-cheap $10 million over the next two years, the analytically-minded Stearns will likely keep his prized pitch-framer around as he has multiple future windows in which to deal him. The same goes for Matt Garza, who has negative trade value following a career-worst season and will need to right the ship in the first half for Milwaukee to have any chance of getting a prospect for him at the deadline.
On the flipside, veterans Adam Lind and Francisco Rodriguez, each on the books for a reasonable $7.5 million in 2016, look like the strongest bets to be moved this offseason. The former would appeal to both big spenders and cost-conscious clubs as a professional hitter signed cheaply for just one season. With the 1B/DH free agent market consisting of Chris Davis and little else, Lind should have no shortage of suitors looking for a middle-of-the-order bat. Similarly, Rodriguez' trade value could be helped by a thin reliever market that features Darren O'Day and Tyler Clippard but few other proven options. While there has been ample buzz in recent days about several elite closers (Chapman, Kimbrel, Melancon, etc.) being available at the right price, K-Rod is a proven stopper that shouldn't cost any high-end prospects to acquire.
Predictions, both unsubstantiated and bold:
- Brewers trade 1B Adam Lind to Astros for RHP Francis Martes
- Brewers trade RHP Francisco Rodriguez to Orioles for RHP David Hess and international bonus moneys
- Ryan Braun trade rumors begin percolating in June and possibly earlier; Braun's 5 yrs/roughly $100 million left on his deal could be seen as a value for competitive clubs, and the rebuilding Brewers would surely explore dealing the former MVP and investing payroll resources elsewhere.
Matt Klentak - Philadelphia
The city of Philadelphia is familiar with the concept of a rebuild, having witnessed Sam Hinkie's high-octane asset-hoarding that's become his trademark as GM of the 76ers. For all their 'tanktastic' tendencies, the Sixers were ranked earlier this year by ESPN as the pro sports franchise that's most embraced analytics in their team operations. Their baseballing neighbors on Broad Street were ranked last in the February report, out of 122 teams.
Flash forward to the present day, where the Phillies' front office overhaul has resulted in a plan to finally move the team, technologically, into the current century. The club will roll out a custom-made database system this offseason known as 'PHIL' (Phillies Holistic Information Location) to help blend analytics with personnel decisions, and it's not a coincidence that these changes are being implemented so soon after Ruben Amaro Jr.'s departure as GM.
To replace Amaro, team President Andy MacPhail interviewed at least nine candidates but ultimately decided to stick with baseball's hottest craze since the invention of the bat flip: hiring a fresh-faced Ivy League grad to become your teams' general manager.
Matt Klentak, the youngest GM in club history at 35, presents an interesting parallel to his adversary in Milwaukee, the newly-hired David Stearns. Both Ivy graduates put in an identical four years in the Labor Relations department of the MLB Commissioner's Office, where each worked closely with the league's new CBA and also got an inside look at how all 30 clubs do business. Each then parlayed a term as Director of Baseball Operations into their respective assistant GM roles, where they made their bones on tough salary negotiations and arbitration cases that made them such hot commodities in the front office executive world this offseason. It's Klentak's vast array of experiences in the game that will be put to the test right away, as the Phillies not only hold the number one overall pick in next years' June draft, but also the largest 'draft spending' pool, the largest international signing pool, the highest waiver priority, and the first pick in December's Rule V draft.
Just as Stearns is in Milwaukee, Klentak steps into a situation where the Phils' farm system has been heavily fortified by deadline trades. While Amaro was universally criticized for clinging to an aging, overpaid roster for far too long, the bounty received for Cole Hamels now looks like a stroke of patient - gasp - *genius* from the former embattled GM. Though they had to include a valuable reliever in Jake Diekman and absorb a possible sunk-cost Matt Harrison contract, the Phils brought back five viable prospects in a package that had both quantity and quality: sweet-swinging lefty outfielder Nick Williams, tooled-up but raw catching prospect Jorge Alfaro, possible mid-rotation piece Jake Thompson, and two back-end/bullpen arms in Jerad Eickhoff and Alec Asher.
After ranking 20th in April's minorleagueball farm system rankings, it's conceivable that Philly will push their way into the top 10 by the end of the year on the strength of the Hamels trade and continued growth from their stable of prospects. Potential five-tool shortstop J.P. Crawford remains the crown jewel of the system and after holding his own in the Eastern League as a 20-year old, is a candidate to get the call to the Show at some point in 2016. 6'6" righty Franklyn Kilome and last years' first-round pick, outfielder Cornelius Randolph, perhaps offer the most upside of any Phils' prospects and will be worth watching as they climb the lower levels. There's a lot to work with here, and that's before considering what Klentak might be able to wrangle in during his first offseason with the team.
It's interesting that the Phillies chose to honor longtime catcher Carlos Ruiz before their regular season finale in October, for tying Jason Varitek's MLB record of four no-hitters caught. 'Chooch' is on the books for an unattractive $8.5 million in 2016, the last year of his contract. Offensively, the 36-year old is a shell of the player who hit .325/.394/.540 in 2012 but could still net a 'C' prospect in return if the Phils paid down some of his salary in a deal. The offseason market for catchers includes Matt Wieters and little else, and the team should feel more than comfortable heading into the future with Cameron Rupp and breakout backstop Andrew Knapp - who rang up a .360/.419/.631(!) line in a half-season at AA - behind the dish.
There have been recent rumblings that flame-throwing reliever Ken Giles could be made available, but Klentak should soon realize that this winter isn't the ideal time to cash in on one of the teams' most-valued assets. A trending storyline so far this offseason has been the openness of GMs to list their star stoppers on the trade block - Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, and Mark Melancon are just a few of the names being shopped around. For teams desperate to bolster their 'pen, these proven but expensive options may actually command far less on the trade market than Giles, who is on the books for a mimimum contract and under team control through 2020. The fact that Giles could still be in his prime by the time the Phils are ready to contend - and the 'Godfather-offer' that'd be needed to pry him away - makes a deal highly unlikely despite industry chatter.
Predictions, both unsubstantiated and unnecessary:
- Phillies trade C Carlos Ruiz and cash to Detroit for IF Joey Pankake
- Phillies trade 1B/DH Ryan Howard and $28M of the $35M left on his contract to Cleveland for LHP Sean Brady
- Phillies select Cubs RHP Felix Pena with first pick of December's Rule V draft