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Organizational change in MLB

Stefan Fatsis and Jon Weinbach have a thought-provoking article in today's WSJ, prompted by the departure of Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein from the club. The main point appears to be that the traditional GM's job has become too much for one person:

Many of the job's core activities -- fielding trade offers, keeping tabs on prospects, negotiating contracts -- haven't changed. But today's general managers work in a baseball landscape that is vastly more complex than even a decade ago.

Consider: When the Dodgers won the World Series in 1988, they had about 15 baseball-operations staff members in the team's main office. This season, the Red Sox had nearly double that, including eight "player development consultants" and the famed statistics guru Bill James. Likewise, as player salaries have soared -- the average payroll on the 30 big-league teams in 2005 was about $70 million -- the deadlines on baseball's year-round business calendar have taken on greater importance.

..."There used to be a press conference held quarterly or someone inquiring two or three times a season," says Atlanta Braves general manager John Schuerholz, who at 65 years old is the dean of big-league GMs. The media crush, he says, "is far more challenging even for the most intellectually competent among us, especially the young among us who have less experience."

Yet the demands and pace of the GM's job often require the energy of a 20-something, a reality that has fueled the rapid rise of junior executives like Mr. Epstein.

Getting the right mix of energy, innovation, and experience in important decision-making units is not an easy trick. But it is especially important in a dynamic marketplace, as with major league baseball in recent decades. Free agency, the flood of media money, and MLB's response in the form of revenue sharing and the luxury tax all pose significant challenges. Adapt (Atlanta, Boston) or expire (Detroit, KC). In this regard, I found the following bit from the article intriguing:

The new principal owner of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Stuart Sternberg, ditched the GM title completely. He installed 28-year-old Andrew Friedman, less than two years removed from Wall Street, as executive vice president of baseball operations and last week hired 55-year-old baseball veteran Gerry Hunsicker to back him up. "It's not a one-person job," Mr. Sternberg says.

That's an interesting adaptation - a blend of youth and experience to do the job. I know nothing about Friedman, but Hunsicker's record with the Astros was outstanding. One wonders why he would take the job in Tampa when he was a candidate for jobs that look better on paper. Sternberg's overhaul of the organization may have played a role. I'll be keeping my eye on Tampa.

: Tom Kirkendall's post suggests that Tampa might be getting damaged goods. At a minimum, Hunsicker is not getting much love from his former employer.