Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Meet Tony LaCava

Federal Baseball got confirmation from three anonymous sources for a rumor that I too had heard--that the Nationals are preparing to hire Blue Jays AGM Tony LaCava to replace Jim Bowden. LaCava worked for Kasten briefly in Atlanta and has been rumored to be a top candidate for pretty much every GM opening the last few years, including the Mariners, Cardinals, and Pirates.

At the risk of jumping the gun, I thought I'd look around to see what I could find on the would-be new mayor of NatsTown.

First, I pinged honorary Natmosphere blogger Keith Law about LaCava, and though he couldn't confirm the rumor, he said, "going from Jim Bowden to Tony LaCava would be like going from Austin Kearns to Albert Pujols." (I'm not sure Austin Kearns deserves the comparison to Jim, but otherwise I like where he's going.)

Nationals Farm Authority re-posted a blurb by Baseball Prospectus's Will Carroll from a column on up-and-coming young MLB executives. Here it is again, in case you missed it:
When you meet Tony La Cava, you learn two things. First, he knows everyone. Second, everyone loves him. La Cava might rightly be known as the nicest guy in baseball, and his extensive connections will be among his biggest asset when a team finally decides to give him his shot. With a scouting background, La Cava is known as one of the most savvy talent evaluators in the game, making him a perfect candidate for a team that needs to build through development. Most of the questions with LaCava focus on his team. Teams tend to hire from success, picking off the underlings of winning teams rather than the best of a mediocre bunch. At 46, LaCava is both young enough to have the energy to take on a rebuilding project and the experience to handle any situation. He'd be perfect for a team coming off a disappointment, says one insider. "He's a guy that can find a bright side in any thing," one journalist noted. "He could probably get more leeway on a cold start than any guy this side of Omar Minaya." It's a different style of charisma, but LaCava has "it."
Jake at Bucco Blog was a booster of LaCava's when the Pirates were looking for a replacement for Dave Littlefield in 2007. He quotes John Perrotto writing in the Beaver County Times and unnamed baseball sources:
I'm not typically a John Perrotto fan but I was surprised by his article today where he said:

"If Nutting really wants to make the Pirates competitive again, though, one man he should consider calling is Toronto Blue Jays player personnel director Tony LaCava."

Over the last sixteen days I have polled scouts, executives and others around the game, and baseball writers asking them two questions -- name the top three CEO and GM candidates for Pittsburgh.

Tony LaCava's name was in 57% of the 38 responses, more than any other person. That surprised me so I started asking more questions.

One highly respected upper echelon executive in the game today who was a member of the Pirates front office in 1979 recently told me:

"I would hope that the new Nutting ownership will be a step in the right direction. From my background, especially at the club level, leadership is the single most important element in the longer-term success of any business..

[LaCava] is a quality person and hard working. I have to suspect that he has grown considerably in his overall management capabilities in the roles that he's worked in player development. My further impression is that he's a loyal guy in his business relationships and very trustworthy, which can have a salubrious impact in an organization."
Not everything out there is unequivocally positive, however. When the Mariners were conducting their GM search, the nonpareil team blog U.S.S. Mariner did a whole series of excellent posts, starting with this "gigantic post" listing a wide range of options. LaCava was an early leading candidate and drew praise from the USM crew, but Derek Zumsteg raised a concern that LaCava might be too safe, too vanilla:
Here’s my worry, though — take LaCava or (Arizona AGM Peter) Woodfork. They may be good, but is that enough? I don’t want to be disparaging, but the AL West already has a lot of good and well-funded competition. A GM who’s on the top of the traditional, good-interview, gets-along, knows everyone pile might keep the team’s head above water but that’s not going to win championships. What makes them potentially one of the best GMs in the game, not just now but in a few years when the next crop of super-hybrid GMs arise, along with the next batch of best-of-the-old ones?
Finally, I found this two-part interview from 2006 with the Jays blog Batters Box in which LaCava talks about a bunch of issues player development. It's hard to separate out which ideas are LaCava's and which are J.P. Ricciardi's, but there are things haven't gone so well for Toronto in the intervening years, and certainly there are things here you could pick on in hindsight if you were so inclined.

13 comments:

Flavour said...

Sounds like a great potential hire... only thing that leaps to mind is the 1st degree connection to the Ricciardi/Dunn mini drama... awkward...

Rob B said...

How would that be for irony?
The rumors a few months back were that Kasten was headed for the great white north. It would be a huge victory for our club if we flipped the table and grabbed one of Toronto's big FO guys, and at the same time got rid of the most unprofessional executive in all of professional sports.

Steven said...

You know I thought about that Kasten trip to Toronto and was wondering if maybe he was actually there to recruit, not be recruited.

I don't think the Adam Dunn thing would be an issue. LaCava works for Ricciardi. He can't be blamed for dumb things his boss said. Besides, if there's one thing everyone says about Tony it's that he's a good guy and everyone likes him.

miguel said...

another losser,get rizzo in charge look his record in arizona,you want nice get merry popins,you need a true evaluator not a nice guy

GM-Carson said...

Over the next few weeks WSBGM's will be breaking down each of the NL East teams' rosters. Last week we previewed the infield, with the Phils winning the poll by a large margin. Today we take a step backwards, to the outfield. Future installments include rotation and bullpen.

Link: http://pabaseball.blogspot.com/2009/02/nl-east-outfields.html

Give it a plug if you like it...thanks!

Groundskeeper Willie said...

What are you going to rename your blog once your mission is accomplished?

Steve Shoup said...

Miguel,

While I respect Rizzo and recongize what he did in Arizona with the draft I do question his baseball decisions here. While its hard to know his impact on moves and seperate him from Bowden, I do think we can assume some of the moves involing former Diamonbacks were at his urging. Did anyone else other than the Nats think that Rauch was worth only Bonifacio?? Or that trading Nunez for Alberto Gonzalez was a good idea?? In both instances we gave up the more valuable commodity for a singular former Diamondbacks prospect. I have to imagine that thats Rizzo evaluating those deals and not Bowden, Brown, Katsen (why would he) or anyone else. While I'm ok with with Livan deal for Mock and Chico I highly question the other two deals. The one time you dump salary you actually get two semi valuable pieces. But when trading cost controlled talent you get hoodwinked??

Anyways I would be quite happy with someone like LaCava, anyone who is at least well thought of around the league is a good thing in my book.

Hendo said...

It's hard to see how this wouldn't be a win-win. The Nats would get a decent, stand-up guy and a hard worker, and LaCava would get out from under Ricciardi. (One wonders how each would do without the other.)

miguel said...

i respect your opinion,but no one want rauch and also where is bonifacio now?what did get for bonifacio?nunez still ways to go with good potencial but you think you going to get all star player for him,alberto gonzalez is young also back up infielder who can play,this is a businees you get you trade and trade and get,but first you have to be a scout a evaluator,arizona dbacks was build by him rizzo throu draft and internationals no question,and since he left the dbacks they went from top organization to midle of pack by baseball america,you can not judge a carrear becaused of two trades

Fool'sErrandBoy said...

Keith Law hates Austin Kearns this year and has decided that he's completely finished. From Keith's blog: "Dunn, Dukes, and Milledge in the outfield puts the expensive and utterly useless Austin Kearns -- who has forgotten how to do anything good with a bat in his hands -- on the bench; I can't imagine they'd waive or demote him given his friendship with Dunn, now the highest-paid member of the team."

For someone who is usually on the ball about small sample sizes, I think his dismissal is pretty preposterous. No one's claiming Austin was ever close to healthy last year.

I don't see why LaCava is such a hot guy after spending years in a terribly-run organization like the Jays. While LaCava's been there, the Blue Jays have committed nearly every cardinal sin of building a franchise:
1) overpaying for a closer -- BJ Ryan got over $10 million a year based on one year as a closer, then missed a year for tommy John surgery
2) signing dead weight - the Eckstein signing never made sense -- no-tool players don't seem to fit the Moneyball philosophy that Ricciardi was supposed to bring.
3) overpaying to retain players - Vernon Wells' contract is probably one of the 10 or 20 worst albatrosses in baseball. He's not an Adam Eaton type who's done nothing for a contract, but he's getting paid like someone who's hitting 20 more homers and OPSing around 1.000. They gave Frank Thomas a 2 year, $18 million deal and dumped him just over a year in.
4) overpaying for damaged goods - The Jays paid A.J. Burnett a ton of money for a guy who's never had two straight decent seasons. He pitched 2 of the 3 years he was signed for (he missed about a little under half a season in 2006 and 2007) in Toronto. He was better than average those years, but not meaningfully so.
5) illusory contracts -- the A.J. Burnett wasn't the first opt-out deal, but it's one of the more egregious ones.

It's hard to tell which of those things came as a result of LaCava, but it gives you cause to be concerned about him.

Then again, Jim Bowden is the GM, so long as they don't hire Wayne Krivsky, Jim Duquette, or (it appears) Ruben Amaro Jr., they'll be better off.

Dusto Magnifico said...

Getting rid of Jim might be the best thing for this organization. Riccardi seems like the best fit, though there are other names out there that would be better than LaCalva. Logan White/ Kim Ng? Who else is there?

districtboy said...

Anyone (except for Jim Duquette) would be better than Jimbo, but Jed Hoyer or Thad Levine are way better options. Or possibly even Mike Chernoff.

Due to extreme boredom, I've spent a lot of time on this, trust me.

My dream front office:

GM: Jed Hoyer (BOS)
AGM: Mike Chernoff (CLE)
Operations- Farhan Zaidi (OAK
Player Dvlpmnt: Chris Haydock (LAD)
Scouting: John Kremer (NYY)

Wednesday's said...

knowing the nats and their front office dysfunction, i wouldnt be all that surprised if they hire Ricciardi in all his idiocy instead