Sunday Notes: More from the GM Meetings

Two things stood out when I talked to Miami Marlins president Michael Hill in Phoenix this week. One was the importance of character when building a roster. The other was seemingly contradictory and had to do with the team’s home ballpark.

Hill brought up character after first citing track records, scouts evaluations, and statistical data.

“We look at if a player is a fit for what we are trying to do, and that’s a holistic statement,” Hill told me. “There’s more that goes into it than just the pitching, fielding and hitting. We’re bringing a personality into our clubhouse and put value in how a particular player may fit the context of our club.”

I wasn’t particularly surprised to hear Hill say that. When I visited the Marlins’ clubhouse this summer – technically, the visiting clubhouse in Atlanta – the vibe was positive. I spoke to several players and all were personable. But I did find it notable that Hill brought up character, so I asked just how much of a factor it is.

“I wouldn’t say it’s paramount, but it is part of our decision-making process,” Hill said. “We’re definitely mindful of it. It’s part of the checklist as we go through possibly acquiring a player. We want to try to make sure he fits who we are and who we’re trying to be.”

Part of who the Marlins are trying to be is a team tailored to their home field. Hill said he “wants to try to acquire players who make contact and can take advantage of those spacious gaps in Marlins Park.” That makes sense, as does his desire to have rangy defenders. When I asked about Adeiny Hechavarria, Hill said “it pays for us to have a Gold Glove candidate shortstop (because) if you look the empirical data of batting average on balls on the ground, it was high for us. We have a fast infield and a lot of ground-ball pitchers.”

Hill went on to say the organization likes “tall, power pitchers who can leverage the ball and work downhill, and get more ground balls because of it. Historically, that’s the type of pitcher we draft and develop, and acquire.”

I asked if there was any contradiction in wanting a high-ground-ball-rate pitching staff in a ballpark with arguably the fastest infield in either league.

“It’s just the nature of where we play,” responded Hill. “If there was a way to maybe grow it a little longer, we’d look at that, but it’s a domed facility. You want to make sure you keep your grass healthy.”

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Ben Cherington displayed a healthy sense of humor while fielding questions from a group of Boston-based reporters on Wednesday. There are different ways to say “there’s nothing substantive I can share” – the stock answer at GM meetings – and Cherington came up with a good one.

“Free agent possibilities and trade possibilities are the same ocean,” said the Red Sox GM. “Everyone is swimming in that ocean trying to figure out which fish they can catch. Once you get into the offseason, teams see which fish they want and which ones they can throw in the boat. We’re not close to doing that right now.”

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In an article published here on Friday, several general managers offered views on the current run-scoring environment. My conversations with each went beyond those snapshots. For instance, Dave Dombrowski and John Mozeliak addressed last year’s record strikeout totals and how teams might combat the whiff issue.

Dombrowski’s Tigers and Mozeliak’s Cardinals made more contact than most. Detroit’s 18.4 strikeout rate was fourth lowest among the 30 clubs. St. Louis was fifth lowest at 18.6. For each organization, it’s largely by design.

“We preach using the whole field,” explained Dombrowski. “We preach being a doubles-hitting organization that can also hit the ball out of the ballpark. We teach a two-strike approach. Some other organizations don’t do that, which is one reason strikeouts are up. When you use the whole field, you usually make more contact and strikeouts come down a little bit.”

The Tigers scored the second-most runs in baseball, so there’s little chance they’ll change their approach. The Cardinals, meanwhile, finished in the middle of the pack in the National League in runs scored. They probably aren’t changing either, although Mozeliak – who cautioned he was essentially thinking out loud – suggested a tweak could conceivably be beneficial. Only the Royal went deep fewer times than St. Louis this season.

“We make contact a lot and sometimes I wonder if there’s a tradeoff between maybe swinging and missing more, but hitting a few more home runs,” Mozeliak told me. “Would that be a better balance? I don’t know the answer right now.”

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Dombrowski and Mozeliak – as did most of the GMs I spoke to – brought up bullpen strength. The lack thereof torpedoed the former’s club in October, but across both leagues, power arms were plentiful in late innings.

“Everybody talks about – and they’re right – how the back ends of bullpens are really good,” said Dombrowski (with a stiff lip and nary a tear in either eye). “We keep getting more and more good arms into the game. The farther away you get from expansion – which has been a long time – pitching builds up a little bit. Now we’re in a spot where, against a lot of teams, you don’t face guys who are below average in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. That contributes a great deal (to scoring being down).”

I asked Mozeliak if deep bullpens lessen the value of working counts and getting starters out of games early.

“We talk about that all the time, internally,” responded the Cards’ GM. “It used to be such an advantage, but now, with bullpen strengths, it’s not the best thing in the world to have (the opposition) bring in a guy throwing 99 in the sixth. I think there’s something to be said for being aggressive earlier in the game.”

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The Minnesota Twins have been anything but aggressive when it comes to making changes within their organization. General manager Terry Ryan believes in loyalty and continuity, but four consecutive season with 90-plus losses proved too much. After 13 seasons at the helm, Ron Gardenhire was replaced by Paul Molitor.

Two years ago, Ryan told me the organization hasn’t remained stale. He explained that while they haven’t typically “changed human beings,” they’ve made scouts into field coordinators and managers into scouts.

Six weeks ago, the Twins did change a human being, while at the same time turning a coach into a manager. It was hardly a surprise that they stayed in-house. When I talked to him this week, it was clear that only so much has changed. Ryan remains reluctant to stray far from his principles.

“We made a change for the first time in a long time,” Ryan told me. “We’ve had a tough time here for four years, so we’re in a transition period. Ultimately it’s a huge change for us, because we don’t do it very often.”

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In 1988, the Red Sox fired John McNamara and hired “Walpole Joe” Morgan as their interim manager. The team won their first 12 games after the change – the streak is known as “Morgan Magic” – and went on to win the American League East. According to the late Lou Gorman, Boston’s general manager at the time, the plan was to hire Joe Torre if Morgan didn’t work out. At the time, Torre was a color commentator for the Angels.

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A few of the GMs I spoke to in Phoenix were reluctant to address the subject of PEDS. Others were willing. Based on these conversation – as well as ones I had with coaches during the season – the amphetamine ban has been especially impactful. Exploring new ways to legally optimize endurance has become a focal point for many teams.

“The fatigue factor is something you to have to look at,” said Mozeliak. “Take this past year, for example. Runs were at their peak in April and at their lowest in September. I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation (with the amphetamine ban) but it certainly feels like there might be. Creating a way for players to have energy and stay fresh seems like a good strategy. There has to be some science behind how to optimize that. One thing to study might be sleep cycles.”

The Pirates have studied what won in the 1970s and 1980s, and they are likewise looking to improve performance through better endurance.

“With advanced nutrition and advanced workouts, today’s players should be stronger and healthier,” said Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington. “But if you look at the offensive environment, we are kind of back to where we were before artificial enhancements seemed to be so prevalent. There’s no question amphetamines had a significant impact on player performance and the number of games players were able to play.”

I asked Huntington if he sees platooning as a viable way to keep players fresher.

“We have attempted to platoon over the past three or four years, whether it was at first base or in right field,” replied Huntington. “But it’s more challenging to do that in the National League, because you use your bench more frequently, particularly hitting for the pitcher. A true platoon is going to be easier in the other league.”

Rick Hahn heads an A.L. Squad, so I asked him the same question.

“It really could be something we see more of,” responded the White Sox GM. “You have seen some teams drift toward that. Part of it can be need – the inability to find the right full-time player – but resting players has a role in it as well. It makes sense.”

Does he see a possible financial benefit? Might a pair of players with strong platoon splits cost less than a higher-profile player at the same position?

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily easier economically or not,” said Hahn. “You would be a little better diversified. It depends on the players, but you could conceivably get that same production for equal or less dollars.”

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Jack Zduriencik knows a lot about dollars. The Mariners GM got the go-ahead to sign Robinson Cano to a $240-million contract one year ago, but in other seasons he’s been burdened by budget constraints. When I talked to him Phoenix, he made clear money is just one obstacle when it comes to acquiring talent, especially in the free-agent market.

“A lot of it ties into budget and availability,” Zduriencik explained. “Part of it is who wants to play on your ball club and in your city. There are a lot more factors than just saying ‘This is how we’re going to do it.’ I don’t think you ever lock your heels. You have to be fluid and flexible.”

As for what he’s looking for in the market, let’s just say Jack Z. is pretty straightforward when it comes to putting together a team.

“Every strength has an impact and every shortcoming has an impact,” said Zduriencik. “When you look at where your strengths are, you try to take advantage of that. When you look at your shortcomings, you try to make them better. This isn’t rocket science. It’s about trying to protect your investments and fill your needs accordingly.”

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Based on what Doug Melvin said at the GM meetings, you shouldn’t expect the Brewers to do much this off-season. Milwaukee finished 82-80 after a strong start, and the man at the top seems fairly pleased with the pieces in place.

“We’re pretty well set with our team at every position right now,” Melvin told a small group of reporters. “We could play tomorrow. If somebody wanted to play that game tomorrow, we’re okay to play. We don’t have any holes.”

Melvin did qualify his statement by saying the team needs to get better. He also said they could use some depth in the bullpen and “maybe some depth positional-wise.” He sounded quite satisfied with his rotation, saying they have six starters they like.

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In 1997, when Dan Duquette was running the Red Sox, he pulled off one of the great trade-deadline heists of all time. Duquette had been talking trade with Woody Woodward, the Mariners GM at the time, Woodward wanted Heathcliffe Slocumb, and Duquette wanted prospects Jason Varitek and Ken Cloude. Seattle wouldn’t part with Cloud – they offered Derek Lowe, who Red Sox scouts didn’t rate as highly — and the deal appeared dead.

Less than an hour before the clock struck midnight on deadline day, Duquette decided to relent. He called Woodward, planning to do Slocum straight up for Varitek. Before he could make that offer, Woodward told him “if you take Lowe, we’ll do it.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

On this date in 1966, Roberto Clemente was named National League MVP. His slash line was .317/.360/.536 and he had 29 home runs and 8.2 WAR. Sandy Koufax, who finished second in the balloting, was 27-9, 1.73 with 317 strikeouts and 9.8 WAR,

In 1967, Carl Yastrzemski received 19 of the 20 first place votes in American League MVP balloting. His slash line was .326/.418/.622 and he had 44 home runs and 12.4 WAR. Yaz won the triple crown. The only other first place vote went to Cesar Tovar, whose slash line was .267/.325/.365. Tovar had 6 home runs and 2.4 WAR.

Per Bill Chuck of Gammons Daily, there were 69 walk-off home runs hit in 2014. There were three walk-off triples, 20 walk-off doubles, 97 walk-off singles, 12 walk-off sacrifice flies, four walk-off walks, three walk-off HBP, and eight walk-off errors. Somewhat remarkably, 90 different batters accounted for the 97 walk-off singles.

Jose Abreu was the 24th foreign-born player, and fourth Cuban, to win the Rookie of- the Year award. Luis Aparicio (Venezuela) was the first foreign-born player to catpture the honor. On a related note, this year’s Opening Day rosters included 224 players born outside of the United States.

If you live in the New England area, you might be interested in attending the Granite State Baseball Dinner in Manchester, New Hampshire on Saturday, November 22. The event has been held since 2007 and has generated over $1 million for charitable causes. This year’s guest list includes Chris Carpenter, Dwight Gooden, Brock Holt, Jake McGee, Denny McLain and Luis Tiant.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Brian

Oops! Stupid phone! Great article as always, however the Red Sox didn’t win the 88 pennant, they only won the east