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GM searches ignore impact of talent evaluators

by Jim Callis
November 22, 2005

CHICAGO--Just when you thought it was safe, here's yet another column on the baffling state of general-manager hirings in baseball.

No, I'm not some cigar-chomping old-timer who's upset that clubs are turning over their baseball operations to guys younger than I am.

I didn't chuck my jar of Metamucil in anger because the Rangers' Jon Daniels and the Devil Rays' Andrew Friedman are 28, and the Diamondbacks' Josh Byrnes is 35. Nor did I wave my AARP card proudly when the Phillies hired 68-year-old Pat Gillick or the Dodgers tabbed 50-year-old Nick Colletti.

If I were running a team and looking for a GM, the No. 1 attribute I'd value would be the ability to judge talent. When it comes time to make the call on player moves, I'd want my GM to have the knowledge and experience to make intelligent, confident decisions.

Yet four of the five clubs mentioned passed on attractive in-house candidates with a proven track record of talent evaluation. None of them got beyond a perfunctory interview, if even that.

Track Records Of Success

The Phillies keep coming up just short in the National League playoff race despite an impressive pipeline of homegrown talent. Assistant GM Mike Arbuckle was Philadelphia's scouting director from 1993-2001, drafting Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard, Ryan Madson, Jason Michaels, Brett Myers, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Randy Wolf.

Arbuckle's picks also included Adam Eaton, Johnny Estrada, Scott Rolen and Derrick Turnbow, whom the Phillies let slip away. Gillick may have Hall of Fame credentials, but Arbuckle is more likely to stick around for the long haul.

Before scouting director Logan White's first draft for the Dodgers in 2002, their farm system talent placed 25th in our annual organization rankings. Los Angeles jumped to No. 2 within two years and could move into the top spot when we update the rankings again in the spring.

With a farm system burgeoning with premium prospects such as righthanders Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton, third baseman Andy LaRoche and catcher Russ Martin, White's picks are about to make Colletti look very good. White knows better than anyone which of the Dodgers' farmhands are keepers and which would be better utilized in trades.

Devil Rays special assistant Tim Wilken was part of a Blue Jays scouting department that outdrafted every organization during the 1990s. As Toronto's scouting director from 1996-2000, he hit on first-round picks Billy Koch, Felipe Lopez, Dustin McGowan, Alexis Rios and Vernon Wells; found Casey Blake and Michael Young in the middle rounds; and stole Jay Gibbons, Orlando Hudson, Reed Johnson and Brandon Lyon in the late rounds.

Wilken was heavily involved in the Rays' 2004 draft and ran their 2005 effort, two of the deeper talent grabs in the last two years. But not only did Tampa Bay turn to Friedman, they also brought in former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker as the second in command.

When the Diamondbacks promoted Mike Rizzo to scouting director in 2000, they had a thin system that would plummet to 29th in our rankings the following year. Now Arizona has the game's best core of elite prospects in shortstops Stephen Drew and the still unsigned Justin Upton. They also boast first baseman Conor Jackson and outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Carlos Quentin, giving Byrnes a terrific start to rebuilding the club.

Rizzo's drafts also have sent Chris Snyder, Chad Tracy and Brandon Webb to the majors. Byrnes has some scouting background, but not nearly as extensive or as successful as Rizzo's.

Outside Looking In

The Rangers had a strong internal candidate a year ago in former assistant GM Grady Fuson, whose 1995-01 drafts as Oakland scouting director yielded cornerstones such as Jeremy Bonderman, Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, Rich Harden, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. Fuson, who didn't have as much glaring success running Texas' drafts from 2002-04, was John Hart's heir apparent there until leaving after a Buck Showalter-orchestrated coup in 2004. Fuson is now a vice president in chart of scouting and player development for the Padres.

There are several other strong talent evaluators on outside clubs who would make good GMs. The Twins' Mike Radcliff, the dean of current scouting directors, is the most obvious. Scouting directors Eddie Bane (Angels), Roy Clark (Braves), Stan Meek (Marlins), Damon Oppenheimer (Yankees), Paul Ricciarini (Astros), Dick Tidrow (Giants) and Jack Zduriencik (Brewers) also merit interviews, as does Marlins vice president of player personnel Dan Jennings.

Most of these guys aren't in the business of self-promotion, so you rarely hear about them outside the pages of Baseball America. And quite frankly, they're so good at their current jobs that it's convenient for their clubs to keep them where they are.

But several of the game's better GMs cut their teeth in scouting, among them Gillick, Jim Hendry (Cubs), Doug Melvin (Brewers), Terry Ryan (Twins), Brian Sabean (Giants) and Kevin Towers (Padres). There's no reason the same formula wouldn't work today.

The Red Sox are having trouble finding anyone who wants to replace Theo Epstein. They could do far worse than checking out the names in this column.

You can contact Jim Callis by sending e-mail to jimcallis@baseballamerica.com.

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