Wait, now we're over-valuing great GMs?
Upon Andrew Friedman jumping to the Dodgers, I wrote a column suggesting it's high time baseball executives finally get paid what they're actually worth, which is a lot more than most of them have been getting paid. Fortunately, my friend Dan Rosenheck is always ready for a healthy debate ...
If you believe in the "Moneyball"-inspired Great GM Theory of Baseball, Mr Friedman's move should foreshadow the apocalypse for competitive balance in the sport. Statistically-minded observers have long encouraged teams to invest in their front offices: earlier this year Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight calculated that Mr Beane had been worth an astonishing $1.4 billion to the Oakland Athletics. Once the news broke of Mr Friedman's move, Rob Neyer claimed that "it's long been obvious that good general managers were massively underpaid" (emphasis in original), and Ken Rosenthal wrote that "whatever the price, Friedman will be a bargain." If rich clubs are at last beginning to wield their financial advantage on their brain trusts as well as their players, this argument goes, their poorer rivals will be consigned to the league's basement for all eternity.
There is plenty of reason for concern that the advent of free-spending, statistics-driven "Moneyball with money" teams in big markets will overwhelm the game's modest redistributive economic policies, which have allowed 11 of its 30 franchises to make the World Series and 27 to reach the playoffs over the past decade. However, the tendency of quantitatively oriented commentators to ascribe the entirety of a team's over- or under-performance (relative to its payroll) to the wizardry or lack thereof of its GM requires greater scrutiny.
Hold on a minute there, Dan ... Who, exactly, is ascribing THE ENTIRETY of any team's performance to the GM?
This is what we affectionately call "a straw-man argument" ... affectionately, because they're so easy to knock down. Granted, this tendency might exist. Just not among the people who have been actually arguing that great GM's have been underpaid, relative to players.
Randy Choate earned $2.5 million this year. Does it really make sense for nearly all of baseball's top executives to earn less than Randy Choate? And I ask that question as a fan of Randy Choate.
Dan's argument, as I understand it, is that yes, it does make sense. Because there are many fewer Randy Choates than baseball executives who can essentially do what Billy Beane and Andrew Friedman do, and are happy to do it for less money than they might earn on (for example) Wall Street.
Well, I'm not so sure. While Dan points out, quite correctly, that Beane and Friedman cannot thrive without the support of their employers (the owners and team presidents, etc.) and their employees (everybody else in baseball operations), he seems to give short shrift to the skills necessary to communicate with ownership and manage that ever-growing baseball-operations department.
Yes, maybe you can pluck any 32-year-old assistant general manager from the ranks of an intelligent organization and he'll thrive immediately at the top of the organization. But if you're the Dodgers, do you really want to take that chance? Why not spend what it costs to get someone who's already done the job, and thrived?
I'm 95% sure there are dozens and dozens of major leaguers, right now, who can do what Randy Choate does. Take a lefty with a good arm, spend a few months teaching him to throw sidearm, and boom there's your LOOGY. I am 75% sure there aren't many Andrew Friedmans running around right now, ready to effectively run a baseball team right this minute.