Two-Headed GM, "BeatAgan," is better than Syd Thrift - Scott Christ
We continue our general manager series with the most unique situation in baseball. The Orioles are run by two men, Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie. While we were fairly certain "Beatagan" would not qualify as 'the best,' we wanted to get the opinion of an Orioles fan as to how the duo are doing. So, we asked Scott Christ, author of Camden Chat to weigh in.
Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie aren't quite general managers, at least not in title. They're vice presidents or something. I think one of them might be an executive vice president. I'm too lazy to and it is too inconsequential for me to look this up.
So how are they doing, in my silly opinion? I'll ignore what they got rid of (Hargrove, the director of scouting, etc.) when they came in, and focus more on what they've done sinced they've shaped and molded this team more to their liking.
It's worth starting on a good note, and the last two Oriole teams that BeatAgan have put on the field (counting this year's club) have been, sadly, the two best Oriole teams since 1999. Since those two were the ones where their influence was really a part of the team makeup, those are the ones I'll count. I will also go ahead and ignore Beattie's past with the Expos, because I don't think it's all that relevant to anything given how the Expos were operated. And to be totally fair to them both, the 2003 club was going to be hopeless no matter what, there was nothing they could have done about that one.
The 1998-99 teams and the 2004 team had a lot in common. All three of them had Pythagorean W-L records of 84-78 (real finishes 79-83, 78-84, 78-84) and some hitters. Names like Eric Davis and Albert Belle and Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora. The 1998 and 2004 teams both had Rafael Palmeiro and BJ Surhoff, as well as Sidney Ponson, which is quite unfortunate.
Flanagan and Beattie brought in Tejada and Javy Lopez as free agents, and brought Old Man Viagra back to Charm City at age 39. The team was marketed as something of a return to the glory days: hit some homers, excite fans, do something right. After four years of absolutely terrible teams under Mike Hargrove's watch (though none of it was really Hargrove's fault, as everything went wrong and the team just got more and more pathetic as the years went by), I think the O's fans were desperate to believe it. This lineup would be fantastic!
Their homer hitting was rather lackluster, finishing in the middle of the pack in the American League, but they were just behind Boston in team batting average and led the league in hits, so that was nice. Plus, 78-84 just looked nicer than usual. It was almost 80, which is almost 82, which is .500, and from there you can only get better, am I right?
Flanagan and Beattie made one big, stupid decision, though, trading Denny Bautista for Jason freaking Grimsley in a horrid and ill-fated attempt to win some games after it turns out that Mike DeJean stinks. Nevermind that Grimsley was a pretty average reliever, apparently he was going to help. Well, he didn't, and now he's had Tommy John surgery. Even if Bautista never becomes anything, that was a bad trade. The same goes for the recent Matt Riley-for-Ramon Nivar deal.
They also brought back Sidney Ponson at ace-type money, which Ponson had never earned even once for 10 minutes. If Ponson was going on the market for that, they should've let someone else have him. Their original Ponson deal with the Giants netted them Kurt Ainsworth, Damian Moss and Ryan Hannaman, something of a fleecing at the time although Ainsworth and Hannaman have both been injured and Moss is just a pretty awful pitcher. Ponson came back, at too much money, and was a big, fat symbol of the bad (read: realistic) side of the 2004 Orioles: a bit gluttonous, and some really bad pitching.
So what did Flanagan and Beattie do to solve this problem in their second offseason? Get some pitchers? Nah, let's make a coy pass at Carl Pavano, another one at Richie Sexson, a third at Troy Glaus, how about a fourth at Carlos Delgado! The Orioles barely even went after pitching except for Pavano, whom they were destined to lose out on, and adding what have come to be known as The Arsonists Steve, Reed and Kline, to the bullpen.
They did get Sammy Sosa for infielders they didn't need and a pitcher that stinks, but this was, as anyone with half a brain could figure out, a last-ditch effort to salvage a putrid stinker of an offseason for us, where the Red Sox lost players but replaced them well and the Yankees added Randy Johnson and Pavano, while Baltimore simply sat on its hands, adding relievers and literally nothing else worth any note. The other half was that (apparently) the Cubs really didn't want Sosa back. So how can you put much stock into that deal? It figures to be a one-year rental of Sosa. It was easy to get caught up in Sammy Mania for a few moments there, but if you really thought about it, what good was adding a declining slugger (in addition to a re-signing of Palmeiro, a one-month wonder in 2004 and another year older) really going to do for our team?
That all doesn't seem like it's been good news, but this team is better off now than it was before. The farm system is very slowly approaching something resembling respectability, and Flangan and Beattie have easily been an upgrade on the horrific Syd Thrift era which nearly destroyed Baltimore baseball. Sosa has generated some excitement while still plying his trade at solo homers and chokejob grounders when anyone is on with an out or two. Tejada, Mora and the homegrown Brian Roberts have taken the lead of the team, supported by a bullpen anchored by menacing lefty closer BJ Ryan.
That said, how many of these guys will be on the next Orioles playoff team? How will the guys drafted under Flanagan and Beattie turn out? These are all things that remain to be seen. It's a pivotal season, and after the mess Thrift made, and his newfound desperate nature, Peter Angelos may not give these guys much time. Baltimore's GM situation is unique in more ways than there are two guys instead of one. I think Flanagan and Beattie are under a lot of pressure to win, and they're in a tough spot to do so, but if history has taught us anything, it's that Angelos will spend money if he deems it worthy, and with the Nats in place in DC and things starting right this season, who knows?
I'd be lying if I said I had great trust in Flanagan and Beattie. I've seen nothing from them that truly required any great skill, as their biggest moves have been trading young arms (Bautista, Riley) for spare parts, a pretty standard deadline deal with a contender (Ponson) and the desperation Sosa move. For the moment, it's not really bothering me, because the Orioles are arguably baseball's hottest team. And their tenure simply hasn't been long enough or meaningful enough at this point to really pass any judgment on them, either.
The hard thing is, the rebuilding is over for Baltimore thanks to the hot start this season, and, again, the DC team. This is a veteran team, there's really no one that takes the field for the Orioles that doesn't have some experience and hasn't been a regular at some point. The likelihood of this franchise becoming a spender again is pretty good, I'd have to think. They're going to want to win, both for the desire to stop losing and to not lose more fans to the Nationals. Flanagan and Beattie will have to to have at least some control over the players that the team acquires, or they could become a two-headed Brian Cashman, mostly negotiating the deals for the players that their boss wants to see on the team.
If I were to cheat and judge now instead of being a kind and gentle fan and waiting to see how their decisions really play out even in the short-term, I'm optimistically uneasy with the job they've done. If the Orioles start making some moves to win this season, we'll probably have a better idea of just how good or bad they are. For now, there's just not enough evidence that they're great or that they suck. I am pretty certain that they are not the best GM in baseball, however.