First Pitch: The Pirates Don’t Need a General Manager

The Pirates need a General Manager. That much is obvious.

I’d argue that the Pirates need more than just a General Manager running the baseball operations side of things. They need a President of Baseball Operations to oversee the entire organization, and to report to no one else but Bob Nutting.

Back in 1927, Billy Evans was credited as being the first General Manager in the game. Not every team added a General Manager at the same time. The Dodgers, for example, didn’t add a GM until Branch Rickey in 1950. That was 23 years after Cleveland first appointed a GM.

These days, every team has some form of a GM, but the next wave has been above the GM.

In 2014, the Dodgers hired Rays’ GM Andrew Friedman away, and made him the President of Baseball Operations. Friedman was regarded as one of the smartest minds in the game, and now would be elevating his role, overseeing the Dodgers’ entire baseball operations, with another GM in charge of making the moves.

They didn’t stop there. They hired Josh Byrnes from the Padres to be the Vice President of Baseball Operations. Byrnes was the GM of the Padres, and previously GM of the Diamondbacks. Still, the Dodgers didn’t have a GM, despite hiring two GMs from other organizations.

They finally got a GM when they hired Farhan Zaidi. He was previously an assistant GM in Oakland, and a rising talent in the executive ranks.

In total, the Dodgers added the best GM in the game to oversee everything, added another GM to basically oversee scouting and player development (Byrnes), and then added an up and coming GM to make the moves for the team, obviously with Friedman overseeing everything.

The Dodgers don’t currently have a GM. Zaidi left last offseason to assume the President of Baseball Operations role in San Francisco — a position that Neal Huntington was also considered for last year. Zaidi just hired his GM yesterday as the Giants look to be replicating the same process the Dodgers started.

The Pirates should follow the same path. They’re currently looking for a General Manager, with new team president Travis Williams overseeing everything. But Williams doesn’t have a baseball background, meaning he shouldn’t have say in any of the moves by the next GM.

Baseball is so expansive now that it’s not efficient to have one guy overseeing the entire organization as a GM used to do. Scouting is a massive operation. Player development is a massive operation. Making the daily transactions for the big league team, along with signings and trades, is a massive operation. A proper analytics department is a massive operation. Having one guy oversee all of this, while also making the moves for these positions, is not the best approach.

I believe the next market inefficiency has already been tapped into by big market teams: Time.

There just isn’t enough time in the day, or in a season, for one GM to do everything that was previously required in the role. By having multiple GMs, or multiple rising GM candidates to divide up the work, you create more time.

You can have one guy dedicated to scouting and development, with other guys under him. You can have a GM who handles the trades, signings, and other moves. You can have someone overseeing the analytics department.

All of these roles would give a deeper dive into those departments, rather than having one person oversee everything.

And then the one person who is overseeing everything has an easier time making decisions, since he’s getting reports from GM-worthy guys who are overseeing each department.

The previous view was almost that baseball needed one guy to run an entire team. But what if we view that job as several individual jobs rolled into one? Wouldn’t you rather have a GM running the scouting and player development side, with nothing else to focus on? Wouldn’t you rather have a GM making trades in the majors, while not having to spend time on draft and international strategies? How much better could these people do their jobs if they had less work to do, and a specific area to focus on?

The Pirates could technically accomplish all of this with just a GM who oversees everything and delegates out responsibility. The problem is that “President of Baseball Operations” is now a real job, and it’s above the GM. Not every team has one, but I believe every team will eventually have one.

Just because the Pirates don’t have the role, doesn’t mean a person can’t move up to that role with another team. If you get a good GM, he could be hired away by another team to be their President of Baseball Operations.

It’s not free to create the role, as you need more executives in the front office. Cue the “Bob Nutting is cheap” jokes. This is actually an area where Nutting could save money.

The Dodgers haven’t won a World Series, but they’ve made it twice and have been one of the best teams in baseball since Friedman took over with this new approach. Their drafting and player development has been outstanding, allowing them to field a cheaper team. The Dodgers make over $250 M a year from their local TV deal alone, so they could afford any team they wanted.

In 2015 the team spent $291 M by the end of the season and finished with 92 wins. Three years later, in 2018, they had another 92 win season. This one came with a $195 M payroll. And this year they started at the same rate, winning 14 more games in the process.

The Dodgers had spent $250 M or more per season from 2014-2017. Under Friedman, they found a way to win at the same rate for around $200 M. He made about $8 M a year, and essentially saved the team $50 M a year, while arguably making them more of a World Series contender than they were in the past. Even if you add in the salaries for the other GMs and executives, the Dodgers are coming out way ahead.

Bob Nutting would have to spend more to put a new-age front office in place, filled with GMs or GM candidates to oversee all of the huge individual aspects of the game. But the Pirates would most likely be more efficient at scouting and player development, allowing them to win more with a smaller payroll. This would make any investment into the front office a profitable one.

I look back at the history of the GM position and I wonder how a team like the Dodgers went 23 years without a GM after the Indians essentially created the position. It’s easy to have that view now, since we know there are so many things a GM needs to oversee to have an efficient organization.

I think we’re going to look back in the future and wonder how any team went without a President of Baseball Operations, who was in charge of overseeing several other GM-types, all in charge of overseeing individual aspects of a GM’s previous job. We already know that all of these roles are too much for one guy to oversee. In the future, we’ll wonder why teams stuck with the same “one GM” method when the task was obviously too big for one person.

The Pirates are in a perfect position to implement this strategy. They don’t need a GM. They need a new-age front office, with a GM as President of Baseball Operations, and other GMs under that person, overseeing the key individual areas responsible for an organizations success.


My wife picked out today’s song. It’s a pretty awesome jazz rendition.



By John Dreker

A total of 12 former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including two Hall of Famers.

Pie Traynor, third baseman for the 1920-35 and 1937 Pirates. Considered to be the greatest third baseman in the first 100 years of baseball according to a 1969 centennial team voting, Traynor spent his entire career with the Pirates, 17 years as a player, and six seasons (1934-39) as a manager (457-406 record). His .320 career average ranks ninth in team history. He also ranks seventh with 1,941 games played, sixth with 1,183 runs scored, fourth with 2,416 runs scored, fifth with 3,289 total bases, sixth with 371 doubles, fourth with 164 triples and fourth with 1,273 RBIs.

Rabbit Maranville, shortstop/second baseman for the 1921-24 Pirates. He hit .283 with 245 RBIs and 345 runs scored in 601 games with the Pirates. He played 23 years in the majors and recorded 2,605 hits. Maranville is considered one of the best defensive players in history, posting a 30.8 dWAR, which ranks seventh all-time. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1954.

Jason Grilli, pitcher for the 2011-14 Pirates. He went 3-11, 3.01 in 161.2 innings over 168 appearances, picking up 47 saves. He had an ERA under 3.00 in each of his first three seasons with the Pirates. Grilli played 15 years in the majors, seeing time with nine different teams. His father Steve Grilli was a Major League reliever for four seasons.

Kyle McPherson, pitcher for the 2012 Pirates. He had an 0-2, 2.73 record in 26.1 innings over ten appearances (three starts). His career was derailed by injuries and that ended up being his only big league season.

JR House, catcher for the 2003-04 Pirates. He saw very limited time in his two season in Pittsburgh, going 2-for-10 in six games. House played parts of five seasons in the majors, getting into a total of 32 games.

Roberto Hernandez, pitcher for the 2006 Pirates. He posted a 2.93 ERA in 43 innings over 46 appearances with the Pirates. Hernandez played a total of 17 seasons in the majors, pitching 1,010 games. He recorded 326 saves, which ranks as the 18th most in big league history.

Rey Quinones, shortstop for 1989 Pirates. He hit .209 with three homers and 29 RBI’s in 71 games in Pittsburgh. In four seasons in the majors, he hit .243 over 451 games.

Scott Loucks, outfielder for the 1985 Pirates. Went 2-for-7 in four games during his brief time with the Pirates. Prior to joining Pittsburgh, he played parts of four seasons with the Houston Astros, getting into a total of 69 games.

Bob Long, pitcher for the 1981 Pirates. Had a 1-2, 5.95 record in three starts and two relief outings during his only season in Pittsburgh. His only other big league experience was 28 relief appearances for the 1985 Seattle Mariners.

Lee Howard, lefty pitcher for the 1946-47 Pirates. He was a September call-up in 1946, who made two starts and one relief appearance. Howard made two September appearances the following season. He missed three years due to serving in the Navy during WWII. When he passed away in 2018 at age 94, he was one of the oldest living former Pirates player.

Charlie Hastings, pitcher for the 1896-98 Pirates. He 14-24 record in three years in Pittsburgh, making 36 starts and 16 relief appearances. He had a 4.51 ERA in 359.1 innings. His only other big league experience was 15 games for the 1893 Cleveland Spiders.

Joe Battin, third baseman for the 1882-84 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Hit .205 in 175 games. Led the league in games played with 98 in 1883. During the first season of Major League Baseball in 1871, he was the youngest player in the National Association.