Friday, June 11, 2010

6 comments Steve Phillips Wants Us To Know It Isn't Easy Being a GM

Steve Phillips wants us to know that being the general manager of a Major League Baseball team isn't as easy as it looks. It requires reading skills, the ability to use a telephone, and sometimes you even have to talk to doctors...all while having to attend a minimum of 81 baseball games. Club Med this gig ain't. So he wants fans to remember this as they begin to criticize general managers for not running an MLB club in a way that leads to success. I am not sure this line of reasoning works very well when a general manager has to explain to the team's owner why the team isn't performing well. The whole "it's really hard to do" excuse seems kind of like a loser's line of reasoning for failure as a general manager.

I am just saying this straight up, if you think the job of a general manager is hard maybe you shouldn't be in that position. Fans of teams are crazy, there is no doubt about that. Fans like to criticize and second-guess every move made, but that's part of the position and why general managers get paid a good amount of money. The fact the job is hard does not excuse shitty GMing.

As a former general manager, I often get approached by fans who vent about their teams and general managers. They don't like the players the GM acquired or they are frustrated by the inactivity of the man in charge.
Mostly, these fans are probably Mets fans approaching Steve Phillips wondering why he made some of the moves he did as a GM.

I have heard comments like, "I mean come on, how hard can it be? I won my fantasy league last year and I did it by making a few great trades."

These people are clearly idiots. Life is not a fantasy draft. Fantasy baseball and real baseball are different. These people should be dismissed as idiots and an article about how hard it is to be an MLB GM is not required to respond to this stupid analogy between real life baseball and fantasy baseball.

I am a guest on many radio shows where the hosts are often critical of the moves made by general managers as well. They can't understand why the GM didn't realize that he needed more pitching.

What I have come to understand is that everybody believes they can be a general manager.

Once the Mets hired Steve Phillips as their general manager I think that sort of opened the floodgates for many people to believe anyone could be a general manager. So it is ironic (maybe, I don't want FJMariotti to yell at me if I am wrong) that Steve Phillips complains about this.



Why do we even run approval polls to gauge how the President of the United States is doing in office? WE DON'T EVEN UNDERSTAND WHAT HIS JOB ENTAILS! SO WHO ARE WE TO JUDGE HIM?

Most fans (I am including talk show hosts as fans) believe that the general manager's job is all about putting together the major league team. Certainly that is a major part of the job, but it is far from the entirety of it.

Sometimes you have to bang interns too. That takes up some time, especially if they are really clingy and annoying.

There are many more responsibilities that a general manager has beyond just building the 25-man roster in the big leagues. Let's take a look at some of those duties and then we will look at the major league roster construction.

Steve Phillips' duties as Mets GM in 1999...

8:00am- Walk in the office.
8:01am- Get coffee.
8:04am- Check threatening messages from interns he is having an affair with.
8:05am- Pee.
9:15am- Ponder sending Jose Reyes for Juan Cruz Jr. trade out.
9:16am- Ponder releasing this Mike Piazza guy.
9:34am- Call scouts to see if it would be worth trading for Robin Yount.
9:35am- Find out Robin Yount has retired.
10:48am- Pee.
10:49am- Take a nap.
12:20pm- Get woken up from nap by a call from the owner threatening to fire him if he tries to trade any more quality minor league players.
12:21pm- Pee.
12:22pm- Work on completing nap.
2:43pm- Calls down to clubhouse to see if that incompetent Bobby Valentine is still managing the team.
2:44pm- Leave angry voicemail for Valentine when he won't pick up the phone.
4:32pm- Watches a Little League game before eating dinner.
4:33pm- Signs 5 year old Little Leaguer who hit the ball well off a tee.
6:30pm- Mentally prepares for watching a baseball game. Does so by listing players from 1991 All-Star game he would like to trade for.
7:35pm- Once game begins starts fielding phone calls from his various mistresses. Doesn't watch game at all.
7:40pm- Pee.
9:30pm- Fires Bobby Valentine.
9:31pm- Rehires Bobby Valentine at the insistence of Mets ownership.
11:12pm- Goes to bed.

The general manager does a lot of reading.

Oh shit, you gotta be literate for this job. I didn't think a general manager had to read or anything like that. I have new respect for the position because I HATE reading.

He pays particular attention to the comments written by the respective minor league managers/coaches. Results are important but improvement isn't exclusively evaluated by results. In the minor leagues, the process is often as important as the results. What this means is that the GM needs to understand the development plan for each of his minor leaguers and monitor that plan.

I like how Steve Phillips is pretending he gives a shit about minor league players. Nothing in Phillips' history as the GM of the Mets shows he cared about prospects. In fact, he still doesn't care for prospects. The only plan he has for a prospect is when to trade his ass away. Strasburg for Oswalt anyone? How does that look after one start by Strasburg in the majors?

The GM is also keeping tabs on the amateur scouting department and their preparations for the Rule 4 draft in June. Who are the players being considered for the first-round selection?

I know GMs do this, but they don't check on the players being considered in the first-round every single day. There are also assistant GMs that help with this and easy-to-read reports given to the general manager of a team where this information is broken down. It's not like Steve Phillips had to go over every single at-bat for every minor league player when he was the GM of the Mets. He had reports given to him by other members of the organization that made it easy for him to follow what was going on.

What do the scouting reports say about the players who could be available when they select? What is the signability of these players? Are the club's resources being spent appropriately?

Again, this isn't an everyday thing. MLB teams also have a Scouting Director, so the GM doesn't have to be completely hands-on while scouting high school and college players. While I won't say general managers don't do anything in regard to the scouting of players in the draft, it isn't his first responsibility and the Scouting Director is in charge of this. So I think Phillips is exaggerating how much of a GM's time this takes up. Throw in the fact some teams have the scouting department broken down even further to the point a general manager is rarely doing independent thinking through the decisions that need to be made because the options are well laid-out for him.

More time and money should be spent scouting the players who will get paid the most money.

I would think this could go without saying. Apparently not.

The professional scouting staff needs to be managed as well. If the club is in the pennant race, then the scouts need to be deployed to watch major league talent on other clubs who might be available in a trade. If the club is not playing well, then the scouts need to be deployed to watch minor-league players who might be part of a package coming back in a deal for a veteran player.

This is all a part of managing the 25-man roster. Fans criticize GMs for not doing this part of the job well and telling us how hard it is is no excuse for doing a shitty job. Basically Steve Phillips is saying fans shouldn't complain because being a GM is hard work. Of course it is, but that doesn't mean others can't second-guess the decisions made by that GM.

The GM needs to have accessibility to his key scouts within minutes as trade discussions are fluid and can change quickly and dramatically.

Blah, blah, blah. There are cell phones available. It is not like the GM has to send a carrier pigeon with a message to a scout or anything. This is all a part of managing the 25-man roster, not anything extra the fans don't know about. Breaking up the job of a GM into smaller parts to make it look more complicated isn't going to impress me.

The general manager has to manage the people below him on the organization chart, but he must also manage the people above him. In most organizations that means the owners, but it could also include a team president or a board of directors.

I know Steve Phillips is trying to break this all down to seem more complicated than it is, but are fans not supposed to criticize general managers because they have a lot of responsibility and a job that seems complicated? This annoys me. Under this idea no one could get criticized. I am sure BP could say, "don't criticize us" and lay out exactly why they aren't at fault for the oil spill of the coast of Louisiana. Things are always more complicated than they seem, but the reason a person is hired to do a job is because he/she is supposed to be good enough to do succeed given those conditions.

I don't care if a general manager has to answer to two different groups of people. Most people have a job that can be described this way. You gotta serve somebody.

The general manager is the primary spokesman for the team. He communicates the personnel and business decisions of the organization. He can help market the team to the fans. He can humanize the players. The GM can educate the media and the fans about the game as well. There is rarely a day that goes by that a GM does not have contact with members of the media. Each interaction is an opportunity to deliver a message of hope to the fans.

Steve Phillips is just rambling at this point. The premise of this article is that no one understands what a GMs job entails, yet everyone seems to know the general manager is the public face of the franchise. So telling us we have no idea what a GM does and then listing things the public knows a GM does is pretty ineffective.

As far as the 25-man roster is concerned there is a lot to manage on a daily basis.

Well of course there is. Everyone who criticizes the general manager doesn't think they can be a general manager, they are just second-guessing the moves because they have an emotional vested interest in the success of the team. No one said the job was easy, but it isn't a one-man shop like Steve Phillips wants us to believe it is.

The GM speaks with the team physician on a near daily basis getting updates on the health and well-being of the players.

The trainers are also part of the daily communication with the GM providing real-time updates on the status of players.

This takes up how much time in a GMs day? Maybe ten minutes? Isn't this information, if it is necessary from day-to-day have as much importance to the manager as the general manager?

The general manager and manager speak on a daily basis. They discuss the pulse of the team. Performance matters far more at the major league level, so players who are underperforming are the bulk of the conversation. These conversations are a way for the general manager to ask strategic and tactical questions of the manager. They can discuss pitching decisions and the lineups. It is also an avenue for the manager to make personnel requests and state his needs for the roster.

The coaches are certainly available to the GM whenever he has questions about players on his team or other teams. These conversations help the general manager make decisions about player personnel moves.

I think I am still missing the part where the general public doesn't understand what a GM does. I feel like baseball fans and those who complain about the team know about these conversations, to the point what goes in during these conversations are the basis for many of the complaints.

Building the 25-man roster is what most fans believe the GM job is all about. It certainly is the most visible aspect of the job, but I hope you see that the job is far more encompassing than just that.

Right, but 90% of it is building the 25-man roster and managing that roster. The other 10% other members of the organization are in charge of and the GM oversees them.

In building the roster, the GM must evaluate his own personnel against that of his competition. How does his pitching stack up? Do we have the power and speed necessary to score runs in different ways? Does our lineup have the balance necessary to neutralize an opposing manager's in-game moves? Do we have a bullpen which affords the manager options to stifle an opponent's rally?

This is not "more encompassing," this is building a 25-man roster to compete with other teams.

Statistical analysis is valuable as well. What does a player do well and where can he improve? Stats merely quantify patterns of behavior (performance).

Who doesn't know this?

Gathering the opinions of scouts, coaches, other executives and former teammates of players is critical in player personnel decisions. This is the information not captured by statistics: Can a player play in a large market? What kind of teammate is he? How does he handle failure? What are his off-field habits?

I wonder if this is the same evaluation process Steve Phillips used to trade for Mo Vaughn.

Check out the moves Steve Phillips made as the Mets GM. I am sure Steve Phillips thinks this article is just the second-guessing of fans who don't know anything at all about what a general manager REALLY does. Behind all these bad moves is a fundamental lack of understanding (from Phillips' point of view about the fans) about what Phillips REALLY did as a general manager. This is wrong. The fans know what Phillips did as a general manager, he made a few good trades and made a few more bad trades. I don't care how it happened or what else in the Mets organization Phillips was responsible for, the bottom line is the results.

If conversations are critical to making deals, then relationships too are important. It takes time, effort and willingness to cultivate the relationships necessary to close big deals. This means that general managers have to make and receive call with other GMs and agents on a daily basis.

I will repeat myself. Steve Phillips says NOBODY REALLY UNDERSTANDS WHAT A GENERAL MANAGER'S JOB REALLY ENTAILS, yet he lists parts of the job that are the basis of the fan criticism towards a general obviously fans know the general manager does this, they just don't always like how he goes about doing this part of the job.

Here's the part Steve Phillips leaves out. General managers have pretty much all day to get this job done. It is not like a general manager has to play baseball, he can do his job while his team is playing a game. What I am saying is there is time for all these parts of a general manager's job to get done. He usually isn't trying to squeeze it into his day, and contrary to the impression given here, he does have help running the team.

The reality is that being a general manager really isn't a job; it is a lifestyle.

I think fans know it is a lifestyle, but this still doesn't explain why the job being a lifestyle should prevent a general manager from criticism. Many jobs are lifestyles, but it doesn't mean a person has permission to suck at that job.

The most amazing part of it is that after a 162-game schedule finishes, the work really starts. That is when the GM and his staff are working to rebuild and reconstruct their team for the following season.

I'm frustrated. I don't get what this article was supposed to be about. Does Steve Phillips really think fans don't understand a team undergoes personnel changes in the offseason? I refuse to accept one of the reasons fans shouldn't criticize a general manager is because they don't understand every aspect of the job.

So despite what you might believe know this -- not everyone can be a general manager.

Anyone can be a general manager, but like every other job in the world, not everyone can do the job successfully.

In fact, there are very few that are capable.

We will include Steve Phillips among the group that isn't capable.

Simply because the job is difficult shouldn't shield a general manager from criticism. The fans who complain don't want the GMs job, they want a competent GM.


KentAllard said...

I shouldn't pretend to really understand the GM job, but there's nothing Philips describes that truly surprises me, those are all things I figure a GM does. He might have gotten some credit by talking about how hard it is to put together the right team under the constraints of a tight budget, but he didn't bring that up. Actually, I think I understand a GMs job well enough. Now the NASA scientist who spent twenty minutes explaining his job to me at a cocktail party last year? Not a clue.

FormerPhD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FormerPhD said...

If the club is not playing well, then the scouts need to be deployed to watch minor-league players who might be part of a package coming back in a deal for a veteran player.

I think it was Bill Plaschke who wrote in an article a few years back about how the Dodgers decided to traded for Andre Ethier at the insistence of a scout. Now ignoring that Ethier was the A's minor league player of the year (and thus should have been known to the Dodger's GM immediately)... it shows that GMs don't need to stay current with minor leaguers because they have people telling them who to look at.

Making a trade? Just tell your scouts/assistant GMs to come up with a list of 10-15 guys in the teams farm system and evaluate them. Most likely you'll have heard of most of them before hand. You think Mark Shapiro didn't know about Donald, Marson, Carrasco and Knapp before they were offered by the Phillies?

he must also manage the people above him. In most organizations that means the owners, but it could also include a team president or a board of directors.

I think this only becomes a problem when: A. Your team constantly sucks and/or B. You keep making bizarre trades.

If you making any transaction, I'd certainly hope you could tell your boss (whose money you're spending)exactly why you're doing it. This is why Strasburg would never get traded for Oswalt.

Owner: Why did you trade the best prospect we've ever had for a beat up pitcher with a ton of money left on his contract?

Philips: Well you see, Oswalt helps us win now. I mean...

O: But we're not really in a position where winning now means anything.

P: Right, but in three years our winning now will..

O: Shut up, you're fired.

The general manager is the primary spokesman for the team.

Abandon ship!

He communicates the personnel and business decisions of the organization.

Prospects suck, trade them for the 1972 NL All-Star team.

He can humanize the players.

"Harder David, harder!"

As far as the 25-man roster is concerned there is a lot to manage on a daily basis.

The thing about baseball is it's relatively stagnant. Sure you have to keep tabs on how players are performing, but that doesn't take that long. How often does the 25 man roster change? Once a week?

Sure when injuries happen there are things to be done, but usually teams have a pretty good idea who they should call up in case an injury happens.

I mean the Phillies have had the same 25 man roster for about a month now. I don't think Ruben Amaro, Jr. spends too much time thinking about how to manage it... because that's why you have a manager.

the GM must evaluate his own personnel against that of his competition.

Even the laziest GM can figure this out. Pick up a copy of "The Sporting News," "Sports Illustrated," or a baseball preview magazine and you'll have a rough idea.

The thing is most fans know most of this stuff, they just don't have the inside information that an actual GM would.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, exactly. You bring up good points. That was one of my favorite FJM posts about Andre Ethier and the scout who discovered him. I'm not saying the GMs job is easy, quite the contrary, but there isn't too much about the job that I don't know about. So maybe the average person couldn't do the job, but it isn't because they don't understand the position, it is because they aren't smart enough to do the job.

The average roster doesn't change that much. Granted, GMs do have to worry about trades and all of that, but like you said and I said in my post, much of the information is laid out for them already. There's not an incredible amount of research to do and most of the work involves keeping the manager and owner notified of changes and pulling the trigger on a trade.

Steve Phillips comes at this from the wrong angle, he tries to pretend there is more to the job than the public knows, when he should explain why some decisions are hard to make. Though after some of his moves, I don't know if he knows why the decisions are hard.

Kent, even if you don't understand the GM job, what he does shouldn't surprise you. The constraints of a tight budget would have been a good point and explaining how hard it is to add payroll. I would like to hear the NASA scientist explain his job to me, that would be confusing/interesting.

The Braves roster doesn't change all that much and many times when it does, it is due to injuries. There is some movement involved with a 25-man roster, but I am not sure it is as time-draining as Phillips wants us to believe it is.

pedros rooster said...

As Mets fan, I don't consider Phillips to be a particularly bad GM. His ego and his life choices are high comedy, but his tenure is what you say: some good trades, some bad.

I might suggest you avoid linking to that "Top Ten Worst Moves" page moving forward, tho: it's badly dated (originally written during his stint as GM, I think) and in hindsight, many of its assertions fall flat (damning Phillips for letting Edgardo Alfonzo walk, not signing Mike Hampton up for over $138 million long-term, praising Terrence Long (!), trading a nearly 37-yo Rick Reed who was out of baseball two years later, etc.). It was crafted while the wounds were fresh, and the author utterly lacked objectivity and analytical skills.

Can we get a Steve Phillips reality show going?

Bengoodfella said...

Phillips did do some good things as GM. The Mets did make the WS one year when he was there after all. I think the bad overshadows the good because it seems like he tended to make mistakes with veteran players that fell completely flat with the Mets.

I think that was the 1st and only time I would link that page. I did have some questions about it, because I noticed that some of his reasoning seemed sort of confusing (like criticizing a move that later led to a better move), but I wanted to show everyone some of the moves he had made during his tenure. Your probably right I shouldn't have linked it though because he criticized the Hampton trade in a way and that was a good signing. So he walked in a run in the NLCS, that doesn't overshadow how well he pitched prior to that.

Now that you have pointed it out, I am afraid my linking that may cause me to lose some of my point. It was a good move to not trade Hampton long-term and Terrence Long really was just an average player. I was trying to show the moves he had made and I hope it doesn't ruin what point I was trying to make.