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New GMs have a chance to be bold
The basic notion has survived in baseball as long as anyone can remember: A general manager is loath to trade one of “his guys.”
“His guys” are defined any number of ways: the big-dollar free agent for whom ownership begrudgingly gave approval; the young player obtained in a trade for the aging All-Star; the first-round draft choice who received a massive signing bonus.
“His guys” never account for an entire 25-man roster. They are the group of players who can’t be traded without (a) the owner eating money, (b) the media ripping the GM for placing his faith in the wrong player or (c) the GM admitting that a rebuild is afoot. In the most extreme cases -- the Texas Rangers parting with Alex Rodriguez -- it can mean all of those things.
I mention this now, because the baseball industry is at a point when the “His Guys” Rule has been suspended for roughly one-quarter of all the teams in Major League Baseball.
Six franchises have changed general managers since the end of the season: the Orioles, Red Sox, Twins, Angels, Cubs and Padres. And the Astros have a new owner who hasn’t said whether GM Ed Wade will stay on the job.
That’s not to suggest seven GMs have carte blanche to make moves without regard to salary ramifications or existing roster structure. But they can be especially bold. GMs don’t need to justify a new direction to owners or reporters in quite the same way if they weren’t around when the organizational GPS was programmed.
With that in mind, here are the seven teams that have had major leadership changes since the end of the regular season – and what it could mean for the offseason trade market.
Dan Duquette’s first task in Baltimore is stabilizing a starting rotation that finished with the worst ERA in the major leagues this year (4.89). The Orioles aren’t close to contention yet, and No. 1 starter Jeremy Guthrie will become a free agent after the 2012 season, so he’s the most obvious candidate to be moved. Perhaps one of the C.J. Wilson suitors will pull out when the bidding gets steep and part with the necessary prospects to acquire Guthrie, who is set to earn between $8 million and $9 million in salary arbitration next year. Still, there is an argument for Duquette to keep Guthrie: He’s a 200-inning pitcher on an unproven staff.
The Red Sox have moved at a deliberate pace throughout the offseason. Their managerial search has stretched for nearly two months, and we’re still waiting for the announcement. Ben Cherington’s most significant personnel decision to date was not matching the Phillies’ offer to Jonathan Papelbon. Cherington was part of Theo Epstein’s front office, so it’s not as if he can divest himself from the team’s recent moves, but how about flipping shortstop Marco Scutaro for a starting pitcher? The Boston rotation remains two arms short. I’m tempted to suggest a Carl Crawford trade, but it’s probably too early for that.
Team president Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer understand that a hasty rebuild won’t suffice on the North Side. The focus should be on winning in 2014 – at the earliest. Fortunately, they have a number of tradable players who can supplement the developing core. Right-handed starters Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster, outfielder Marlon Byrd and left-handed reliever Sean Marshall will be free agents after the 2012 season; and right-handed starter Matt Garza after 2013. All are available in the right deals.
Which option would teams prefer, free-agent Wilson at six years and $100 million or Wandy Rodriguez at three years and $36 million? Rodriguez is appealing indeed, even if he will cost a couple prospects on top of the money. It may take owner Jim Crane several more days before deciding whether to keep GM Ed Wade, but the delay shouldn’t hurt the Astros as long as they’re ready to move Rodriguez when the Wilson sweepstakes is at its peak.
The Angels have the most balanced roster of any team to change GMs this offseason, and there is every reason for Jerry DiPoto’s team to compete with the Rangers right away. The Angels could move Ervin Santana, but he’s under control through 2013 and the back end of the rotation was suspect this year. It would make more sense for DiPoto to deal away one player from the crowded outfield/first base/designated hitter group: Mark Trumbo, Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos, Mike Trout, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, or the rehabilitating Kendrys Morales.
Terry Ryan is back in charge after a four-year hiatus, but he doesn’t have a Johan Santana-type trade commodity to spark a rebuild. Center fielder Denard Span has been in demand from the Nationals and other clubs, but can Minnesota really afford to trade him when the other outfielders on the 40-man roster are Ben Revere, Rene Tosoni, Joe Benson, and Oswaldo Arcia? The rotation needs a makeover, and maybe this is the offseason when another team makes the right offer for mercurial left-hander Francisco Liriano.
The Padres aren’t spending much money these days, so anyone with a seven-figure salary is an automatic trade candidate. We’re looking at you, Jason Bartlett, Orlando Hudson and Chase Headley. San Diego has decent infield depth behind that trio -- power-hitting third baseman Jedd Gyorko could debut in 2012 -- so it will be a minor upset if new GM Josh Byrnes doesn’t trade at least one of the veterans before Opening Day. Besides, the Padres may need to clear payroll if closer Heath Bell returns via salary arbitration.
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