Earlier this week, David Cameron, the managing editor of FanGraphs and the man perhaps most responsible for bringing that site into the mainstream, announced that he was leaving his post to take a formal role in the San Diego Padre’s front office. That’s awesome. Good for David and great for the Padres, who now have one of baseball’s best and most eloquent minds on their payroll; kind of crappy for the baseball article reading public. BUT: There’s still OTBB, so everyone will get through this ok.
The surprising move did get me thinking though – what’s the best front office you could make if you were only allowed to hire people who have no formal affiliation with the MLB? In other words, if your candidates could never have been a player, never have been in another front office, and in fact could never have been an MLB employee in any way, shape or form.
So I decided to find out.
No MLB front office is structured the exact same way so I made mine out of 10 senior roles that seem representative of what most teams have. I then tried to fill out the roles and justify why I went the direction I did. Here’s my fictional front office for my fictional team…
General Manager: I struggled with a lot of these. There are a lot of great candidates out there and its very hard to narrow things down to just one person. However, since the most important role by far is “Decider-in-Chief”, I went with Michael Schur. For those unfamiliar or for those that know him by his twitter name Ken Tremendous, Michael is a founding member of Fire Joe Morgan, the baseball blog that put baseball blogs on the map. He’s also a writer on The Office, and the showrunner for Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn 99, and The Good Place. He is also the co-host of the PosCast with Joe Posnanski. He’s a huge baseball fan, though unfortunately of the Red Sox, and he’ll make a great GM. Here’s why:
Michael is used to being in charge. As a showrunner he’s had to manage large staffs with challenging personalities while making sure the final product of their collaboration stayed strong and on track. He’s a big baseball fan so he knows the game, that’s definitely a plus. He’s funny. He’s a new school baseball thinker so he’ll be on board with all the analytics stuff I’ll want my team to do (evidence: he named the law firm in Parks and Rec the Law Offices of Bapip, Pecota, Vorp & Eckstein) and he’s not afraid to be critical of stupid ideas, including his own. Schur runs the show; everyone else just lives in it. Already, I’m confident I have a winning organization on my hands.
(Also, as you will see, my front office has an unsettling lack of diversity (we have a Muslim guy, two Canadians, and a Cuban- all men) , which is really not great. I think Schur will help fix that problem as he fills out the rest of the staff.)
Ok, here’s how I view these next three: Assistant GM is like the Chief of Staff, he or she manages a lot of the day to day operations and assists the GM in decision making, though he’s focused, like the GM, on building the best roster and organization possible. Senior Adviser is like Vice President in the sense that the Senior Adviser gets to be in all the meetings, has the GM’s ear, is able to float around and weigh in on whatever he or she wants, and has no real responsibility when it comes to the functioning of the office. The Director of Baseball Operations is kind of like the Assistant GM in the sense that the role is highly focused on day to day stuff but involves a bit of input in overall strategy… but unlike the GM or Assistant GM , the Director of Baseball OPs is really only worried about players and coaches already in the organization.
Assistant GM: My GM is a TV guy – and as you will see, my Senior Adviser is going to have no baseball experience either – so I do feel the need to have some serious baseball expertise in my Assistant GM role. I thought a lot about Buster Olney, Jayson Stark, Ken Rosenthal and others, but nevertheless I will go with Jonah Keri. Jonah knows baseball very well, but he also knows about other stuff too and I like well rounded people. Also he’s very tall and that makes him authoritative. I see a great dynamic between Keri and Schur that fosters a loose but serious office environment that will bring out the best in everyone.
Senior Adviser: This was the toughest one, by far. Since my Senior Adviser doesn’t have any real responsibility, this is a great opportunity to bring in a smart person who maybe doesn’t know baseball as well as the other people I’ve hired. I’m looking for somebody who thinks differently, is innovative, and brings a different perspective from the other people on staff. I considered Keith Olbermann because I thought a contrarian point of view might be valuable, but I dismissed that idea pretty quickly. Others who got real consideration include: Jon Stewart, Bill Belichik, Ernest Moniz, Tim Cook, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. I thought very seriously about Coates before settling on my final choice, who I am very excited about: Malcolm Gladwell! Gladwell will be great. Imagine him just floating around while everyone works, seeing things that people haven’t seen and thinking about things in a new way. What I love about Gladwell is his intellectual honesty, he asks questions and follows the answers logically no matter where they go, even if the answers seem at first counter intuitive. I want him in every meeting just thinking out loud and being smart.
Director of Baseball Operations: This choice came down to Sam Miller or Ben Lindbergh because I think Director of Baseball OPs, more than any other role, really does require a good deal of experience. Since I can’t choose anyone with actual MLB experience, it came down to Lindbergh and Miller, who co-ran the Sonoma Stompers, as chronicled in their book The Only Rule Is It Has To Work. Lindbergh, though, is ineligible because he once interned with the Yankees and Sean says that counts – so Sam Miller gets the nod. I think GM Schur will have a lot of input in crucial decision and coaching hires but Miller will be able to use his experience in Sonoma to run my organization effectively.
Director of Scouting: I have to admit, I really wanted Keith Law here. The ESPN writer and analyst is one of highest profile and best public scout/journalists around, and is essentially an expert on all 30 farm systems. Alas, Law worked for the Blue Jays once upon a time so he is ineligible. Instead, I’ll go with my second choice, Eric Logenhagen (sorry, Eric! Also, congrats!) Longenhagen is FanGraph’s top prospect writer and he’s a great guy to lead my scouting department. Eric’s work can be found here.
Director of Player Development: This one was tough, too. It strikes me that you’d really want a former player or coach in this role to impart wisdom whilst overseeing the minor league system. Since I don’t have access to anyone who has worked for an MLB organization in any way, I’ll have to go to the next best thing. The question of course being: what’s the next best thing? NCAA /American collegiate baseball or Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan? If it’s college, I’m going with the 78 year old legendary former coach of the Texas Longhorns, Augie Garrido, who won 1975 NCAA baseball games as a manager. That’s a great option and I like mixing in one old school guy with my young front office, but instead the nod goes to Koji Yamamoto, the Hall of Fame Japanese manager who played in the NPB and managed both the Japanese WBC and Olympic teams. Plus, at a spry 72, he’s a whole senate term younger than Garrido.
Team Travel Coordinator: This one took some thought but David O’Brien is my guy and here’s why: O’Brien, the current Atlanta Braves beat writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, has been on the road with baseball teams for years so he knows where players like to stay, what they like to do, and what they should avoid. He’s also a fan of great food (knows the best places to go at all the MLB stops), and great music (hot takes here), so I’m confident my team will be well -fed and listening to lots of Jason Isbell.
Medical Director: Rany Jazayerli is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributing writer at Grantland and The Ringer. He’s a huge Royals fan and worked with Rob Neyer on a Royals book project at one point. He’s also a dermatologist and created the statistical concept of Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP). He will be a fine Medical Director for my stats-forward front office.
Director of Baseball Analytics: This is easy: Nate Silver. Yes, there are lots of awesome baseball analytics guys out there doing really good cutting edge stuff (Dan Brooks comes to mind as one of the best), but Nate Silver is the OG baseball statistician. He invented PECOTA; he helped develop Elo Ratings; he’s worked and written for SI, ESPN, Baseball Prospectus, and many, many others. There’s no one better suited to be in charge of my analytics department than Silver.
Director of Guest Services: Another tough one. I seriously, seriously, seriously, considered Anthony Bourdain for this role, for obvious reasons, but I’m worried that Tony might not be so interested in the nitty-gritty logistics involved in Guest Services. Instead, I’m going with Dan LeBatard, the Miami Herald reporter and host of ESPN’s most popular radio show and podcast. LeBatard is zany and fun and likes to push the envelope. Also, I know Schur is a fan of his so they’ll get along great. I might not love LeBatard’s aesthetic tastes, but I think fans will love his style. Plus, he’s a big guy and big guys know good food.