About a year and a half ago, Tony Larussa had a Hall of Fame managerial resume, but no Front Office experience. However, that didn’t stop him from somehow landing a job with the Arizona Diamondbacks as Chief of Baseball Operations. Larussa and his choice for General Manager - Dave Stewart - made a series of moves that the public analytical community found dubious, leading to fairly public beef between the team’s leadership and the “math boys“ as Stewart called them.
Things couldn’t have went wrong more quickly for the DBacks’ leadership, and Larussa and Stewart were out of their roles after just one full season. While they were a running joke in analytical circles over the last 18 months, suddenly the Diamondbacks are looking like a serious team. Mike Hazen was hired away from the Red Sox to serve as the team’s new General Manager. Another move the team made was to hire away the Cardinals’ international cross-checker, Ceasar Geronimo, Jr., to serve as the Diamondbacks’ Latin American Scout Director.
Geronimo held his position during a time when the Cardinals’ signed prospects Alex Reyes, Magneuris Sierra, Edmundo Sosa, Sandy Alcantara, and Junior Fernandez. Of course, the jury is still out on how those players end up impacting the major league team, but they collectively make up five reasons to feel optimistic about the Cardinals’ farm system.
Four of them made The Red Baron’s Top Prospects list, and the only one that didn’t, Sandy Alcantara, made the “Just Missed” list. Since then, he’s thrown 132 2/3 innings across Full-season A and High-A with a combined 3.03 FIP. I’d be surprised in he wasn’t on The Baron’s list going forward.
Now, I’m not trying to say it’s time to panic. Geronimo wasn’t the chief decision maker, and from the outside we don’t know his influence on those signings. For all we know, the Cardinals signed these players despite Geronimo having serious reservations about all of them. Or, he was high on all five. Almost certainly, the answer is somewhere in the wide gulf in-between those statements.
Either way, the Cardinals valued him enough to keep him in a relatively high position. And while he served in that position, the Cardinals have seemingly done very well at turning 15 and 16 year old kids into legitimate prospects. So it seems like it should be considered a negative to lose him to one of the last poorly run franchises that is finally trying to get their act together.
And that’s what also bugs me about this situation: teams are getting smarter all the time. The Diamondbacks are just the latest example. The Cardinals were pioneers of sorts for their organizational emphasis on building a strong pipeline of talent. That was crucial for their success in the last six years. Now every team is trying to do that.
The fact that teams are always trying to hire away members of the Cardinals’ operations team should be taken as compliment. The team has been very successful, and with success comes imitation. The hope is that the Cardinals continue to innovate, and maintain their lead over most of the league when it comes to adding amateur talent.
Geronimo may not have been a monumental loss to the team, but he is added to a growing list of departures over the last few years. What we don’t get to see, is the replacement. Perhaps the Cardinals are hiring guys that make the organizational brain trust even stronger, we just don’t know.
Still, I want to renew a suggestion I made last year. That’s to promote John Mozeliak to Chief Baseball Officer, and either hire a new General Manager, or promote assistant General Manager Michael Girsch to General Manager, and find a new AGM. When I called for this last year, there was a lot of criticism that I was worrying too much about specific titles. The title isn’t important. Maybe the Cardinals just add a new Special Assistant to the GM, and keep everyone else with the same title. The point though, is to add a new brain to front office that can help them stay ahead of the competition.
However, I don’t support this all that strongly. The reason I’d like to see this move is because it’s one of the only moves they could make that we would know about. It’s a move that would give me comfort that they are doing everything they can to stay ahead. The best move may be one the Cardinals have been doing throughout this loss of talent: hiring new people that aren’t newsworthy but could help find the next big competitive advantages and market inefficiencies.
The Cardinals’ success has inspired a lot of teams to get smarter. The A’s were innovative for a long time as well, but recent history suggests that maybe they’ve lost a step relative to the rest of the league. The Cardinals’ next test will be how long they can stay ahead. Can they weather these organizational losses and a more competitive landscape? I believe they can, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any concern.