Thursday, August 13, 2009

Looking at the Rumored GM Candidates: Jerry Dipoto

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? 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, hopefully before I'm overtaken by events. Today: Jerry DiPoto.

You can be forgiven if your first reaction to learning that Jerry Dipoto is a candidate for the Nats GM job was "Who the hell is Jerry Dipoto?" Most people who have heard of Dipoto knew him as a middle reliever who bounced around from Cleveland to the Mets to Colorado before retiring in 2001 because of a bulging disc in his neck. He latched on as a scout with the Red Sox in 2003 and has had a rapid rise, moving to the Rockies as scouting director at the beginning of 2005 and following then-Red Sox exec Josh Byrnes to Arizona at the end of 2005. Dipoto started off as Arizona's director of pro scouting and was promoted to his current position as Director of Player Personnel in 2006.

Often seen on those lists of future general managers, Dipoto was in the running for Seattle's open GM spot after last season.

Dipoto is known for his talent evaluation, and he was an integral part of Arizona's important 2009 draft effort, but it's easier to find complimentary quotes about Dipoto than it is to appraise his impact on the Diamondbacks. Commonly described as "highly regarded," Byrnes says Dipoto is "a central part of every decision that we make." The most insightful quote about Dipoto comes from Dipoto himself:
I believe I'm a baseball fanatic. I've followed the game passionately since I was a kid. One of the things I did was watch trends. What makes a team great? What creates long-term success? The Twins in the early '90s. The Braves in the late '80s and early '90s. The Mets of the mid-to-late '90s. What they had in common was a very high-level minor league system and a sound process, a right way to do things.
In Dipoto, we have a guy who played professionally, is extremely well thought of within the small world of baseball executives for his scouting and talent evaluation prowess, and is a close observer of the game. Other than his age and a better career as a player, what makes Dipoto different from Mike Rizzo?

What separates Dipoto from Rizzo is who Dipoto has worked for -- forward-thinking GMs Theo Epstein and Josh Byrnes. The best-case scenario would have Dipoto the scout using his time in Boston and Arizona to absorb the benefits of running a front office on a hybrid scouting/statistical analysis model, then implementing that knowledge with the Nats (whose use of statistics is a matter of dispute). A different scenario would have Dipoto the scout coming to the Nats but not taking any steps towards trying to make the team another Oakland, Cleveland, or Tampa Bay (not that the Nats are a small-market team, but that's what the Lerners seem to have convinced themselves and what they'd like us to believe).

But that second scenario doesn't have to be all bad. It's telling that Dipoto named the Twins, Braves, and late '90s Mets as teams he admired. The Nats would be doing well if they were as successful on the field as those teams were, even if they weren't necessarily the best-run organizations (I'm looking at you, Steve Phillips).

What Kasten's Braves had -- and what Kasten's Nationals lack -- was a single philosophy that governed how they ran the entire organization, from the major league team down to short-season ball. There is no "Nationals way" like there was a "Braves way." As disappointed as I would be if Dipoto turns out not to be a disciple of Epstein and Byrnes, there would be immense value in having an outsider skilled in player development and talent evaluation come in and force some kind of order and process on the organization (ideally turning over most of the front office along the way).

I can see Kasten and the Lerners trotting Dipoto out at the press conference, crowing about how they made a great hire, a rising star who will further The Plan. And I can see how the Nats' underperforming player development operations could benefit from someone as talented as Dipoto. And I can hope that Dipoto will be a strong executive and that the Nats will finally have a good GM that will allow the team and the fans to put the Bowden years behind them. But I just don't know.

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