Monday, August 10, 2009

Looking at the Rumored GM Candidates: Chuck LaMar

Gordon Edes of Yahoo! Sports reports that the Nats have interviewed Gerry Hunsicker, Jerry DiPoto, Jed Hoyer, and Chuck LaMar for the GM post. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported some sort of mish-mosh about Dipoto being the leading candidate . . . No, Hoyer . . . erm . . . maybe Rizzo after all?

Update 8/11/2009: Chico Harlan says the GM search has narrowed to Hoyer, Dipoto, and Rizzo and that word might come sometime after the August 17 draft signing deadline.

Over the next few days I'm going to see if I can't come up with something interesting to say about these four guys, starting with the easiest one of all, Chuck LaMar.

* * *

That's how Nats fans should react when they hear Chuck LaMar could be the next GM. If you want a situation bad enough to make you nostalgic for the halcyon days of Jim Bowden's toolsy outfielder acquisition program, LaMar's your guy. Others have described LaMar's tenure in Tampa Bay better than I can, but let's just say that things
didn't quite work out and the Friedman regime has been slightly more successful at constructing a winning team. Having spent 1991-1995 as Atlanta's Director of Player Development and 2007 as a special assistant to Bowden, LaMar is familiar to both Kasten and the Lerners. He is currently the Phillies' Assistant General Manager, Player Development & Scouting.

A string of postseason appearances and a couple of World Series rings make LaMar's stints in Atlanta and Philadelphia look good, but you can't tell how much of that was LaMar's doing and how much was everyone above him on the org chart. I can't get much from how the Phillies drafted with LaMar either. Let's suppose LaMar is a premier talent evaluator and terrific at player development -- the answer is still no.

LaMar didn't just tread water with the expansion Devil Rays, he made them worse. He may be able to identify talented players, but once he does, he has no idea how to use them to win. Whether it's trading future All-Stars for veteran peanuts (Bobby Abreu for Kevin Stocker, Dmitri Young for Mike Kelly), sponsoring farewell tours for fading marquee names in a misguided attempt to make a splash by emulating the freespending Diamondbacks of the late '90s (Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff), facilitating a three-way trade that sent Johnny Damon to Oakland while the Devil Rays got Ben Grieve, bad free agent signings (Wilson Alvarez, Greg Vaughn), or drafting poorly despite having the first overall draft pick (as well as high picks in all the subsequent rounds) for ten years in a row, all the evidence shows that Chuck LaMar is a guy who needs a boss to tell him no. He may be a good scout, but he sure as hell was a bad GM (et tu, Rizzo?).

If it's true that LaMar is front office poison, then why are the Nats interested in him? Like so many things with this team, it all comes down to the question of who's really running the Nats. John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus had a tidbit last weekend:
Those close to the Nationals’ situation believe Rizzo will get the job if the decision is left to club president Stan Kasten. However, there is a feeling that the owners of the team, the Lerner family, may want to make a splash by bringing in both a big-name GM and manager.
Assuming a former employee counts as an outsider, hiring Chuck LaMar would certainly make a splash. For all the talk that the Lerners are hands-off owners who merely sign the checks and let Kasten run the show, we know that's not even close to the truth. The Lerners are happy to put Kasten out to the public as the decider, but in private there's a constant tension between what the Lerners think is the best way to run a baseball franchise and what Kasten knows is the best way to run a baseball franchise. Don't forget that it was the Lerners who kept Bowden around until Smileygate made that relationship untenable.

Would LaMar be acceptable to Kasten? Stan seems like a sensible guy, and I hope he would be unable to overlook just how poor LaMar's record as GM really is. Given his relationship with the Lerners, however, what Kasten thinks might not matter.

Why are the Lerners interested in LaMar? It's possible that the owners credit LaMar for laying the foundation for the winning Rays. In that case, the interest in LaMar could also be a sign that the Lerners truly believe the Nats aren't that far away from a similar kind of worst-to-first turnaround.

Bringing in LaMar might also indicate that the Lerners are generally dissatisfied with how the team is being run. Any new GM is going to want to bring in his or her own people, but based on their philosophical differences with LaMar, Rizzo and current Scouting Director Dana Brown would almost certainly be gone.

For all my feeble attempts at Kremlinology, I'm on the outside with no idea what's really behind the Nationals' interest in a retread failure like Chuck LaMar. Maybe the Lerners really miss the way Bowden smarmily sidled up to them back in 2006 and they see a yes-man replacement in LaMar. Maybe Kasten brought LaMar in as a Scared Straight exercise to show the Lerners how bad a bad GM can be. Maybe they think LaMar has learned from his Tampa Bay mistakes. I'm not even sure I care what's behind their interest in LaMar. All I know is that the Nats shouldn't hire Chuck Lamar.


Dave Nichols said...

it could also be that Bowden STILL has Mark Lerner's ear, and he's trying to get an old crony in on his old job.

Andrew Stebbins said...

Yes. Squire Galbreath is still in there, too. Him and Bowden are likethis. Wonder how the Acta firing story got out? Somebody works for Fox Sports now....

Kevin said...

I wonder what kind of relationship Rizzo has with Boone, Galbraith, and the other Bowden holdovers. It will be interesting to see how much turnover there is in the front office if Rizzo gets to keep the job.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to point out that this can't be a complete list of interviewees, simply because IIRC baseball rules specify that at least one nonwhite candidate must be interviewed before filling any GM or field manager vacancy.

Kevin said...

No doubt this won't end up being the complete list, but presumably these are the leading candidates that the Nats were allowed to interview during the season. Names I'd like to see in the mix: Kim Ng, Paul DePodesta.