Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Terry Ryan Gets Crossed off Jim's Holiday Card List

San Diego Union-Tribune sportswriter Tim Sullivan had a piece Sunday profiling Padres GM Kevin Towers. The article goes into quite a bit of detail about the clubby relationships among MLB GMs and the importance of personal relationships and trust in making deals.

The article gives a bunch of examples of why trust is a good thing, and then, to drive home the point, uses our man JimBo as the example of the GM that can't be trusted, quoting Twins GM Terry Ryan.

It's worth quoting at length to get the full context:
Sometimes, you have to go with your gut and your sense for the seller's relative rectitude. The art of the deal, Towers says, is based on building relationships and understanding your potential trading partners.

“Guys that you've got good relationships with, usually there's less cat-and-mouse games,” Towers said before leaving San Diego for baseball's winter meetings. “Certain guys deal differently. Jim Hendry with the Cubs is very open, up-front, has a good feeling for value. Like with (Jake) Peavy, (Hendry's) not going to embarrass you and say, well, 'This guy's not available, this guy's not available, this guy's not available.' It's more, 'If I'm going to be in the running for Peavy, everybody's available.' ”

If Towers trades his pitching ace to the Cubs this winter, it will be partially the product of the personal relationship he has forged with his Cubs'contemporary.

Hendry has already told Towers to be cautious about a particular Cubs' prospect because of medical issues that might not otherwise have come to light. In a business where such information is precious and is often considered proprietary, establishing trust and cultivating candor are critical to getting deals done.

Now in his 14th year as the Padres' deal-maker, Towers has become baseball's longest-tenured general manager through unusually productive people skills and a knack for recognizing needs and evaluating talent.

Like any baseball executive of long-standing, Towers has come to cringe about some of the deals he's done. (Ominously, his deepest regrets involve his most recent trading partner, the St. Louis Cardinals.) Yet despite swapping Woody Williams for Ray Lankford and the difficulties posed by the Padres'finances and farm system, Towers' transactions have been sufficiently fruitful that the club has extended his contract through 2010.

Towers loves the process of making trades and is typically the party initiating talks. He is constantly analyzing the potential surpluses and shortages of 29 other major league operations, probing for potential matches, gathering information, dangling names.

On Dec. 14, 1996, awaiting his cue to take his place for his wedding, Towers negotiated a four-player swap with one of his groomsmen, Detroit GM Randy Smith. In keeping with baseball's lubricated traditions, Towers once framed a deal with Lou Piniella on a cocktail napkin. The Khalil Greene trade Towers consummated Thursday with St. Louis GM John Mozeliak was arranged in a span of about three hours.

“Basically he called me about 2 o'clock and left a message,” Towers said. “I called him back and said we need to expedite this process. We had another ballclub that wanted a decision and we were at the point of almost doing a deal.”

Towers liked the Cardinals' proposed package better than he liked the alternative trade, but he felt bound by an offer he had made earlier to another club searching for a shortstop. (Believed to be the Baltimore Orioles, who have no shortstop on their 40-man roster).

“Even if the Cardinal deal happened to be better, from an integrity standpoint, I would probably have had to do it,” Towers said. “When I talked to the Cardinals, we were still in the middle of discussing (names), and Team A calls me again.

“I didn't want to leave them hanging. I could have kind of blown them off and not returned the call. That would have helped me to hold them off a little bit to find out exactly what I had from the Cardinals, and I thought about that: 'Should I do what's in the best interest of the club and blow this club off?' But my reputation (for) integrity and credibility is everything to me.”

If the story sounds slightly self-serving, it is also consistent with Towers' image within his industry. He is a man who makes friends easily and, more importantly, who keeps them. Some baseball executives have difficulty making deals because they do not inspire trust.

In researching a story on Jim Bowden, then the controversial general manager of the Cincinnati Reds (now with the Washington Nationals), I called Minnesota's Terry Ryan to solicit an opinion.

“No good can come of this,” Ryan said, hanging up the phone.

Towers says Bowden is the most persistent of his peers, and a go-to guy if you happen to have a former No. 1 draft choice you no longer like.
As I've written before, even if you believe that Jim has done a minimally ok job here or that he has enough redeeming qualities to make him an adequate MLB GM, his widely reported reputation for dishonest dealing should be enough to throw him overboard.

UPDATE: If you're still not sure why Terry Ryan and Kevin Towers hate dealing with JimBo so much, we get this today from Bill Ladson in an article about the Rockies' interest in trading for Tim Redding:
The Rockies have had interest in Redding since before the July 31 Trade Deadline, but nothing came of it because the Nationals were asking for outfielder Dexter Fowler, Colorado's top prospect, in return.
Are you joking? Bowden really asked for Dexter Fowler for Tim Redding? In case you haven't heard of him, here's Baseball Prospectus on Fowler (and this is typical):
The Good: This is one of those special players who catches your eye the moment he takes the field, and then backs it up with his performance. There's really nothing he can't do: he has a pro approach at the plate, makes consistent hard contact with gap power and projection for more, is a plus-plus runner, and he's an outstanding center fielder with a good arm. As if all of that isn't enough, you can add that he has outstanding makeup and intelligence.
The Bad: Finding things wrong with Fowler requires nitpicking. There is debate about his ultimate power ceiling, and he'll need to learn how to turn on balls and extend his arms more in order to reach it. He could be a better basestealer, but he is tentative at times and needs to improve his jumps.
Perfect World Projection: He's an impact center fielder with speed and power, but more of the former than the latter.
Glass Half Empty: He settles for being more of a Devon White type than a true superstar.
What did Dan O'Dowd say, do you think, when Jim asked for Fowler for Redding? OK, so in fairness maybe Jim offered more than Redding--we don't know. Maybe Ladson is just getting the story wrong. But if this is true, I'm just embarrassed for ya, Jim.


Hendo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hendo said...

(Trying to retype with fewer mistakes...)

I absolutely love Towers' line about #1 guys you no longer like. Sean Avery couldn't have said it better.

JayB said...


Jimbo has his job because Stan has no power and Little Lerner thinks he is cool. Nothing will ever change that dynamic. I think he is headed to the Big Office when Stan leaves as President. It is going to be a long ugly time to be a Nationals fan. Keep trying but nothing is news anymore with Jimbo and nothing is going to change Lerner’s view of Jimbo. Sad but true.

An Briosca Mor said...

Stan Kasten is not leaving as Nationals president. Mark it down. Not happening.

Susan said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Hendo said...

@ABM: Wrong. Stan is leaving. It might be 25 years from now, and it might be feet first, but he's leaving.

And then JayB's prediction will be vindicated.

JayB said...

25 years Hendo.......why would he throw away his name and Braves reputation?

Steven said...

Whether Stan is here or not, does it matter all that much if he's not having influence in the direction of the team? For two years, we had Stan setting the direction, and now it seems clear that the balance of power has shifted back to Jim.

JayB said...

That is the point Steven.....he is having no influence and his vision is in the toilet…customer service is a joke, fan experience at an all time low and old leather pants is making him look bad. That is why he will leave sooner than later