Mariners' pick for GM will reveal path
Howard Lincoln's eyes were flashing fire on Monday. This was a man who had finally reached the limit of his patience, and seemed ready ...
Seattle Times baseball reporter
Howard Lincoln's eyes were flashing fire on Monday.
This was a man who had finally reached the limit of his patience, and seemed ready — indeed, aching — to try a new way.
Cut through all the words, and that's what I got out of Monday's news conference to announce Bill Bavasi's firing: A vote of no-confidence from the team chairman and CEO is the Mariners way of putting together a baseball team.
Lincoln promised changes. He promised a new plan. Nothing is off the table, he said, from trading Ichiro to changing managers. No stone will be left unturned.
"Let me just say we are open to anything," he said at one point.
They were the exact words that fans have been aching to hear.
The biggest test, however, of whether the Lincoln Manifesto is just empty platitudes, or a fundamental change in the Mariners' philosophy, will come from the hiring of Bavasi's replacement.
The man in charge of the search, team president Chuck Armstrong, is steeped in the old school, but that doesn't mean he can't adapt to 21st-century sensibilities. It behooves him to do so, and he says he's open to it. Good for him.
Armstrong has been in the organization since the George Argyros days in the early 1980s, and has had his hand in the hiring of most of their general managers. His challenge now is to embrace the full range of options available to him, including some that would seem to go against the Mariners' traditional methods of running things.
The Mariners, rightly or wrongly, are regarded as a team that is antithetical to the "Moneyball" philosophy, to use the common term for a sabermetric-friendly, statistically oriented method of analyzing player acquisitions.
Bavasi, I feel confident, would say that he used statistical analysis in combination with good, old-fashioned scouting. That may be true, but the decisions he made too often turned out to be misguided, which is why he is unemployed.
I talked Tuesday to Mat Olkin, the Mariners' "player-acquisition consultant" — their sabermetrics expert — who firmly believes that Bavasi was genuinely open-minded to the perspective he offered.
"I feel safe saying Bill was always interested in having that perspective," said Olkin, who remains on staff. "The thing I can't speak to is how he weighed that against other voices he listened to. I think he would have been a fool to listen to only me, and not to a lot of the other very qualified men he had on board.
"There were moves he made that I advocated for, and advocated for very strongly. I couldn't know for sure if, say, John Boles or Dan Evans [two Bavasi advisers] were not pushing for the same exact moves. I never really had a clear sense of how strong a voice I had.
"Part of that was by design. Bill always tried to protect me by not giving me any more information than he had to. He wouldn't say, 'I want to do this, what do you think?' He'd say, 'I have option A, B, C or D. I'm not going to tell you which one I like. You tell me which one you like and why.' He always gave me the feeling he was very interested in what I had to say."
Armstrong defended his own sabermetric bona fides on Monday. He pointed to his background as an engineering major at Purdue, with a statistics minor, steeped in such seminal sabermetric books as "The Hidden Game of Baseball," by Pete Palmer and John Thorn.
"In my own mind, I've used statistical analysis the whole time I've been in the game," he said. "I will also say Bill Bavasi, among the various GMs I've had here, has used it the most of anybody.
"On the other hand, I've learned if you just keep going with the cold hard statistics, that's not the optimal way, either. Talk to some of the old-line scouts, and they'll tell you that of the top 10 things to look for, the top three or four are makeup, makeup, makeup. Then after that you start looking at tools.
"I think it's an amalgamation of all those things."
While Lee Pelekoudas is clearly a competent baseball man, with a long and noble history with the Mariners, we don't know yet his philosophy for building a team.
Pelekoudas may prove to be a visionary, and the exact right man for the job. If he knocks us over with his reformation of the Mariners in the next 3-½ months, then he will have earned a full-time shot at running the team.
If not, then I would like to see the Mariners give serious consideration to some of the young, innovative thinkers out there from the same school that produced Billy Beane, Theo Epstein and their protégés — the likes of Chris Antonetti (Indians), David Forst (A's) and Jed Hoyer (Red Sox). There are many others for Armstrong to explore.
That's not to say that the best person for the job might not turn out to be someone else entirely — a Kevin Towers, Gerry Hunsicker, Terry Ryan, Brian Cashman or even Pat Gillick, all with proven team-building credentials.
But this is a crisis situation that implores the Mariners to truly be open to anything.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company