Baseball's best execs, potential general manager candidates
Jon Daniels and Andrew Friedman are AL Executive of the Year candidates
Atlanta's Frank Wren and Philly's Ruben Amaro are elite NL executives
The top prospective GMs include young stars and front-office legends
Coincidence or not, the respective Executives of the Year choices here represent the two teams involved in the landmark Mark Teixeira trade two years ago, Texas and Atlanta.
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels jump-started his team with that blockbuster trade, then fortified it with many other positive moves. Daniels acquired great young shortstop Elvis Andrus and closer Neftali Feliz in the trade-deadline Teixeira deal that was a key to an incredible Texas turnaround. But Daniels didn't come close to stopping there.
Meanwhile, Braves GM Frank Wren was an assistant to the legendary John Schuerholz at the time of that deal and has recovered from that rare Atlanta overpay for Teixeira by making more good moves than anyone this year while promoting several talented prospects from a continually fertile farm system.
Here are my executives of the year followed by a list of prospective GMs ...
1. Daniels, Rangers. He is a hot name in the game right now, and a perfect fit for the Mets if they're willing to pay for a new GM. More likely, he'll re-sign in Texas, where he has an out in his contract but the faith of new owner Chuck Greenberg, who has said Daniels is a priority. He's taken the lead of predecessor John Hart and put together a workaholic staff that's a nice mix of the young and not quite as young (including Thad Levine, A.J. Preller, Scott Servais, Don Welke, etc.).
Transitioning C.J. Wilson (14-8, 3.35 ERA) from the bullpen to the rotation was the positive internal move this year following last year's then-controversial switch of franchise man Michael Young from shortstop to third base. Returnee Darren Oliver (1-2, 2.52, 65 Ks in 60 2/3 IPs) played a big role in the pen, especially in the first half. And Matt Treanor stabilized their catching situation after coming from Florida.
Ace pitcher Cliff Lee was the most prominent acquisition and will determine in the playoffs whether this year was a grand slam or merely a home run. After a balky back limited him early, he appears to be back to his old dominating self. Plus, he's made a nice impact in a clubhouse that loves his tough persona.
The big pickups have been mostly excellent, including Colby Lewis (12-13, 3.72) and Vladimir Guerrero (29 HRs, 112 RBIs, .301 BA). But the biggest plus has been the development of a farm system and international pipeline that has given them one of the best young nuclei in the game. The trade of Teixeira for Andrus (86 runs, 32 SBs), Feliz (38 of 41 saves) and three others was a game changer. The late pickup of Jeff Francoeur (11 for 33) has provided a needed right-handed fill-in bat. But there have been so many more excellent moves, including the hiring of pitching coach Mike Maddux and hitting coach Clint Hurdle.
2. Andrew Friedman, Rays. They are battling the Yankees head-to-head and neck-and-neck despite a $130-million disadvantage in payroll that promises to get bigger next year. Eyebrows were raised when Friedman, who came from Bear Stearns, was named Executive VP of Baseball Operations in November 2005, but no more, as he has proven to be one of the better executives in the game. The loss of reliever J.P. Howell in spring training looked huge, but the Rays' back-end bullpen duo of Joaquin Benoit (1-2, 1.39, 28 hits, 72 Ks in 58 1/3) and Rafael Soriano (3-2, 1.76, 44 saves in 47 chances) has been the best in the game. Bringing Dan Johnson (seven HRs in 99 ABs) back from Japan was another move that's paid off
Several Rays have slumped offensively this year, but the lineup has so many ways to beat teams that it hasn't hurt the team's overall excellent record. Their original plan to value defense has paid off and become a blueprint for several others.
The erudite and humorous Joe Maddon has proven to be the perfect manager for a young team, as well.
3. Bill Smith, Twins. The Twins are "baseball's best organization,'' according to one competitor. That's not really provable, but they are really quite amazing, taking six division titles in nine years despite being among baseball's lower-spending teams until moving into their new Target Field.
This year they finally spent some money, and it resulted in their best season since the days of Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, etc. What's most remarkable is that they did it all despite a season-ending injury to star closer Joe Nathan, a season-shortening concussion for first baseman Justin Morneau and assorted other ailments.
Carl Pavano (17-11, 3.83), who bombed in New York, has become a rotation stalwart, and Delmon Young (19 HRs, 108 RBIs, .299 BA), who looked for a while like he might never reach his potential, is finally the player he was supposed to be.
New acquisition Matt Capps (2.16 ERA, 15 of 17 saves) and Jon Rauch (21 of 25 saves) filled the closer role well in Nathan's absence. J.J. Hardy (.276) did a nice job at shortstop after coming from Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez. And the pickup of Jim Thome (25 HRs, 59 RBIs, .280 BA) for $1.5 million may be the bargain of the year.
4. Brian Cashman, Yankees. The signing of Teixeira (33 HRs, 107 RBIs, .259 BA) after the 2008 season will continue to pay dividends for years. Of course, only a few teams can afford someone like that. But the Yankees weren't even on the radar for him until Cashman made a late plea to Hal Steinbrenner. Teixeira's presence in New York has also hurt the Angels and Red Sox, who tried to sign him.
On a smaller scale, the late-season pickup of Kerry Wood (2-0, 0.36 ERA, 29 Ks in 25 IP) has been boffo. Wood has been basically untouchable since coming from Cleveland.
1. Wren, Braves. Nobody has made more moves, and a very high percentage of them have worked. Billy Wagner (36 saves, 67 IPs, 36 hits, 99 Ks) has been so unhittable everyone wonders why he's planning to retire. Takashi Saito (2.52 ERA, 69 Ks in 53 2/3 IPs), Troy Glaus (16 HRs, 71 RBIs, .238 BA) and good-luck charm Eric Hinske (11 HRs, 50 RBIs, .259 BA) have worked out from the winter, and Alex Gonzalez (6 HRs, 38 RBIs, .250 BA) and Derrek Lee (2 HRs, 18 RBIs, .270) have helped among the summer moves. Earlier trades for Jair Jurrjens and surprise All-Star Omar Infante (.326) look even better now. Jurrjens came in the Edgar Renteria deal, and Infante was acquired with Will Ohman from the Cubs for Jose Ascanio. Wren also re-signed Tim Hudson (16-9, 2.76) for $27 million over three years, then had to trade either Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez and wasn't burned by the Vazquez deal. Among the organization gems, Jason Heyward may be Rookie of the Year and a star for years to come, Jonny Venters (4-3, 1.78, 56 hits in 81 IPs) has been huge out of the bullpen and Craig Kimbrel (4-0, 0.47, 37 Ks in 19 IPs) has been very impressive, as well.
2. Ruben Amaro, Phillies. Folks second-guessed Amaro when Lee was traded to Seattle, especially when Lee pitched so well there. But Amaro made a huge comeback with the deadline trade for Roy Oswalt (7-1, 1.65), who's been the best pitcher in baseball over the last two months. It doesn't hurt that Philly is doing so well financially and his bosses are committed to winning, but Amaro's moves look excellent so far. Besides Oswalt, Placido Polanco (6 HRs, 52 RBIs, .298 BA) has been an upgrade over Pedro Feliz at third, and he rebuilt the bench, which has proved important in an injury-plagued year. The slick-fielding Wilson Valdez (.257) has been especially vital in Jimmy Rollins' absence.
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