Face of the Franchise
The General Manager is the visible head of the entire franchise. On a day-to-day basis, there are players that get more publicity and managers that (often) get more negative criticism, but when it comes to overall current and future viability of an organization, people look one place – the General Manager. When a new player is signed or drafted, or when a new manager is hired, fans want to know what attributes that person will bring to the organization.
In today's MLB, the General Manager acts as a clearinghouse of information and decision-making. The days when an entire front office staff consisted of a GM and a couple secretaries is over. Now, there are dozens of people to offer their insight and analysis. Whether someone is the Assistant General Manager of Player Personnel or a regional scout who has seen hundreds of amateur baseball games in the past year, their opinion will at some point be crucial to decision-making process of your favorite team.
That leads us to probably the most important responsibility a GM has – Hiring the Right People. GMs can't be everywhere and see everything. They must rely on a network of people to provide expert teaching, information, and analysis. One bit of bad information or analysis could lead to overspending millions of dollars on a free agent bust or drafting Christian Colon instead of Matt Harvey or Chris Sale. Bad teaching or player development can lead to a minor league system that fails to provide impact major-league baseball players. Allowing those bad decisions to continue to hold back the progress of an entire franchise should be job suicide.
Assembling and managing this team of experts is crucial to the continued success of the entire organization. A GM must first assemble the right people to make the right decisions. Once that team is assembled, the success of the franchise should be the first priority. There are three branches of an organization that the GM just be sure he has the right people making the right decision. If one person isn't doing a good job, it is up to the GM to help correct the mistakes or find someone that can do a better job. Loyalty is great, but in a results-oriented business such as professional sports, winning must hold the highest priority.
The first organizational branch in which the GM must make sure he has the right people is Scouting. There are many facets of the game in which scouting plays a key role. First and foremost, scouts are the frontline in judging amateur talent. They are tasked with deciding which players have the potential to reach the major leagues. Being able to look at the attributes of an 18-year-old kid in high school or a 16-year-old in the Dominican Republic, and project the growth of those skills over the course of the next five-to-ten years is a task that requires a great deal of knowledge, intuition, and (sometimes) luck. The GM must find the scouts that consistently find the talent.
Scouts also have several other duties within the game of baseball. Some scouts are scouting other organizations. They are looking at future opponents and trying to find tendencies or weaknesses that their own team can exploit when they play those teams. It can be as simple as plotting a hit chart to as complex as noticing how a pitcher might breathe before releasing a 78 MPH curve ball instead of a 95 MPH fastball. Any advantage that can be gained might be another "W" in the win column. The GM must find the scouts that consistently give his team a competitive advantage.
While some scouts are scouring the amateur talent, and other scouts are looking at future opponents, there is another set of scouts that is always on the lookout for potential breakout players. These might be young players that are stuck behind established veterans, or they might be a struggling outfielder that can turn his career around if he makes an adjustment or two. When a scout can find a player that might be undervalued by his own team, that player becomes a target in a trade. The subtle difference might mean the difference between finding the next Jose Bautista or the next Delmon Young. The GM must find the scouts that can find the diamond in the rough.
The second organizational branch in which the GM must make sure he has the right people is Player Development. A GM might acquire players that ooze work ethic and bleed potential, but if the GM doesn't have the right people in place to guide that team of potential all-stars to the major leagues, that GM is simply not going to be successful.
When a young, inexperienced player is drafted or signed to a free agent contract, not a whole lot is known about that player. Sure, the staff has the scouting reports that scouts have put together, but it comes down to acknowledging that the lives of these players will be vastly different than they have ever experienced. Most of the players were THE stars on their previous teams, and everyone oohed and awed over the sheer awesomeness of these young men's prowess with a bat or a ball. Now they are playing against (and with) players that have the same skills and abilities they have. They aren't one-in-a-million any more, they are just one of the guys now. Some players struggle greatly to make that transition; some never make the transition at all.
How well the players in an organization adapt to a new life is largely dependent upon the coaching and player development staff in the low minors. While some players might be used to playing 150+ games of baseball each year, many of them are not. The mental adjustment sometimes breaks young players. In amateur competition, a pitcher could rely solely on a 95 MPH fastball and be very successful. Now, the absence of at least one solid secondary pitch might mean that former stud pitcher is sacking groceries at the local supermarket. A hitter that used to feast on pitchers that threw mid-80's fastballs down the middle of the plate, now has the figure out how to swing when the ball is never where he wants it to be.
Along with the mental adjustments, the physical adjustments can be hard to overcome as well. Road trips are longer; you might not speak the same language as many of your teammates, and everybody you play is good. The game speeds up tremendously, and it speeds up at each successive level of the minor leagues. A player might be asked to learn a new batting stance or discover an effective third pitch. If that player can't make the physical adjustments necessary to succeed, they fizzle and become forgotten names on the draft history of yesteryear.
And that's where coaching and player development comes in. A GM must amass the best teachers of the game and put them in a place where they will likely not receive a lot of recognition. The coaches in the minor leagues don't make the headlines. But, one might argue that the job of a minor league coach is more important than that of the major-league manager. Managing a major league team of supremely gifted baseball players in the prime of their careers should be easy compared to that of the job of a minor league coach.
Minor league managers often have to deal with players that are away from home for the first time. They deal with players that suddenly have more money than they ‘ve seen in their entire lives. They deal with the attitudes of the elitist players that think they are perfect just the way are and resist the teachings and adjustments of those that should know better. The GM must build a team of minor league coaches that are the best teachers, coaches, instructors, and caregivers, so that the players reach (or even exceed) their true potential.
Analytics and Statistics
The third organizational branch in which the GM must make sure he has the right people is Analytics and Statistics. This is a relatively new branch in major league baseball organizations. Some organizations have embraced the statistical revolution within baseball, while others have relied more on scouts and players passing "the eye test". Wherever an organization might fall on that scale, all organizations use statistics to help with some of their decision-making.
For the purpose of this article, it is unimportant how much attention is paid to basic statistics or advanced sabermetrics. The fact is, all organizations use statistics in one form or another. The questions are: (1) how well do they use them, and (2) do they have the right people in place to produce effective statistics?
This is the hardest category to evaluate from an outsider's perspective. Each organization has their own set of statistics on players around baseball, and each organization keeps their statistics to themselves, for fear of another organization gaining a statistical advantage over them. The GM must maintain a staff of statisticians that they trust and produce results.
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As the face of the organization, the GM must obviously find the right people within the organization to help make the best decisions possible. Another aspect of the GM's job is Maintaining a Good Reputation in the Game. That means the GM must work well with the team's owner. The GM must also have the respect of other organizations and players throughout the game.
The relationship between an owner and a GM is unique to every organization. The level of confidence the GM has with the owner will go a long way in determining how an organization might be run. In some organizations, the owner feels it necessary to maintain an active interest in the day-to-day operations of their franchise. In other organizations, the owner has a much more hands-off approach. If an owner doesn't trust the decisions of the GM, then the owner might be reluctant to take risks on the budget of the organization. A lower budget might mean fewer coaches, fewer minor league teams, and obviously players that don't get paid as much. The GM must have the faith of the owner in order to make critical decisions to the future success of the organization.
Obviously, each organization has scouting reports of players from other organizations, but it would only make sense that each organization has a scouting report of each opposing GM. What are the strengths of a particular GM? What skills does a particular GM tend to overvalue (or undervalue)? Which GM might be willing and able to make desperate moves? Which GM is on the hot seat and needs to make a splash in order to hopefully save a job? Which GM can you beat in a trade? How much do some GMs tend to value the players within their own organizations? These are all questions that have answers written down somewhere, or that information is kept in the back of the minds of opposing GMs. The GM must acknowledge their own weakness and work to correct them so they don't look like fools in a trade.
Just like GMs develop reputations with other GMs across baseball, they also develop reputations amongst the players. Most players don't want to play for a GM that they don't think can lead an organization to the World Series. Most players don't want to play for a GM that drags out every contract negotiation and nitpicks all the negative aspects of a player's ability to play a game. Players want to be treated fairly. They also want to know what GM might be willing to overpay for their services. The GM must treat the players as adults, and they must exhibit a capacity for building a winning organization, or they won't be able to get the players that they want.
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Finally, as the face of the organization, the GM must Interact with the Media. How a GM might deal with the media will sometimes be dependent on simply where they work. The media in larger cities typically are a little tougher to please, while if you work in a smaller market, you might not get the tough questions that would somewhere larger. Regardless, the GM must treat the media with respect, because the media can have a large impact on the fans' perception of your organization.
Media relations is another an often overlooked aspect of a GMs job. What GMs must keep in mind is that the media is often reflective of the fanbase. The job of the media is to ask the questions that the fans want answers to. If a GM isn't willing to answer some of the tough questions, then the media and the fanbase gets restless. If a GM isn't willing to accept responsibility for his/her mistakes, the media and fanbase gets unsettled. If the GM deflects questions about the obvious deficiencies within his organization, the media and the fanbase get mistrustful. And finally, if a GM isn't willing to make the necessary changes to improve the organization, the fanbase simply loses interest. The GM must treat the media as an extension of the fanbase and respect the passion and knowledge they already have.