If you’re a Pirates fan, one of your main sources of entertainment in the next month or two will be the team’s searches, first for a GM and then a manager. I always have trouble getting too much into the speculation, at least to the extent it gets down to specific names. As fans, we don’t get to hear the interviews, and if there’s a GM or manager version of ZiPS, I’m not aware of it. We only know the surface things. I’ve generally got a better idea of what, or whom, I don’t want to see. I find it easier to specify general attributes I’d like to see.
So with that in mind, here are my ideas. They’re largely the same for both jobs, except as otherwise specified.
Forget the “Local Guy” angle. I’ve never understood this. What possible benefit could there be from the mere fact that a guy is from Pittsburgh? Will he be better able to make pitching changes because of his intimate familiarity with weather and wind patterns? Seriously, does anybody besides me remember when a lot of fans were irate that the Pirates didn’t hire Local Guy Jack Zduriencik? He was a terrible GM in Seattle, much worse than Neal Huntington. It makes sense with Travis Williams because he’ll be running the business end of things. For the GM or manager, it’s irrelevant.
No Celebrities. I also don’t get the tendency to gravitate toward name recognition. For one thing, the Big Names usually made their Big Names in big markets. The Pirates present a specific set of challenges that the Big Names won’t be used to. For example, Buck Showalter (who’s come up in connection with both jobs and who I think would be a horrible choice for a host of reasons) is used to being able to throw money at veteran players and not worry too much about prospects. (I’ve read that his demands for more spending were a major reason he got booted in Arizona. Whatever you think of Bob Nutting, that just won’t work in Pittsburgh.) Another reason for avoiding the Big Names is that I genuinely think somebody trying to make a mark as a GM or manager will be more committed to addressing the Pirates’ “peculiar” challenges. A non-celebrity won’t have the option of moving on to a gig with the MLB Network, so he’ll need to make a success of the job in Pittsburgh.
Any prior connection to the Pirates or Neal Huntington should be a disqualifier. I don’t mean this in a vindictive sort of way, although it feels good to write it. It’s just that the Pirates for a long time have struck me as a rigid, insular organization that operated without any semblance of transparency or accountability. I could write page after page on this, but it appears to me that this complacency, and the aim-for-mediocrity approach that went with it, became an integral part of the team’s culture and permeated the entire organization. How could you have the Pirates’ record in drafting and development over a twelve-year period and be unwilling, as Huntington appeared to be prior to his dismissal, to make any front office changes? In my view, the Pirates desperately need to find a GM and manager who’s had no part of that culture. According to Nutting himself, they need to refresh all their operations. They need people in the leadership positions who won’t have the slightest temptation simply to come in and tweak a few things, and allow the organization to lurch along its current path. The worst thing they could get is somebody who’s inclined to say, “We’ve been doing it this way.”
Look to organizations, especially small- or mid-markets, that have been successful and are strong on analytics. This is a no-brainer and I’ve been encouraged by many of the manager and GM names that have popped up so far. Depending on how accurate the reports are, the Pirates seem to be looking at organizations like the Rays, A’s, Twins and Brewers, all of which have been successful in ways that the Pirates need to emulate. The analytics part is vital, as I’m sure most folks here will agree. Nutting appears to realize, or at least so he says, that the Pirates have fallen behind in that area, which is a stunning situation given all the credit the team got just a few years ago for being on the cutting edge. (Personally, I suspect that part of the problem was Clint Hurdle deciding he was safe and didn’t need to go along with the analytics any more.) The GM obviously has to have significant background with it, but the manager needs a demonstrated ability to work within that framework. I also think it’s important to get people who are used to working in a more modern framework. I get the impression that the more advanced organizations work in more of a team format. The manager is less of an old-style “field general” than, oh, a project manager. Even GMs now seem to operate as team leaders rather than working in a dictatorial manner, which is another reason I don’t like Showalter for either job.
Anyway, those are my general ideas. I don’t pretend to know who’d be the best candidates to satisfy them.