December 6, 2009
Jim Beattie won't be in Indianapolis for this year's Winter Meetings, but the erstwhile Expos and Orioles General Manager knows what goes on behind closed doors when his former brethren convene to talk trade. It was at the meetings 12 years ago that Beattie, then in charge of a financially-strapped Expos franchise, reluctantly laid the groundwork for trading Pedro Martinez to the Red Sox.
A graduate of Dartmouth College, Beattie served as the director of player development for the Mariners from 1990-95, the general manager of the Expos from 1995-2001, and the executive vice president and co-GM of the Orioles from 2003-05. Prior to that, the 6'6" right-hander spent nine big-league seasons with the Yankees and Mariners, earning a World Series ring with the Bombers in 1978.
David Laurila: How has the role of a GM evolved from the time you first worked in a front office?
Jim Beattie: Well, I'm not a GM anymore, my last year was 2005, so I couldn't speak to the present day, but when I first started, the organization was primarily baseball people. As a general manager, you're overseeing player development, scouting, and the major-league team, and most of the people that you're involved with, including some in the front office, had played the game. When I started, there were probably at least six or seven GMs that had been players professionally. Nowadays, that's rarer. So, overall, I think there are fewer people that have long histories in baseball, in the front office, but I think there is still a place in baseball for people who have played, or scouted, and have been in the game for 30 or 40 years and have a good eye for talent. As general manager, it's a matter of pulling together a lot of information from different sources. You have to figure out how to make that work, and how you can benefit. It's an information game. The information used to just be scouting reports-now it's stat analysis, and a lot of information from the internet, so you have to be able to filter that well in order to get to where you want to go.
DL: Did your own use of information evolve over your tenure as a GM?
JB: Yes, and we used statistical analysis as well as psychological profiling. With first-round picks, when you're spending three, five, ten million dollars on them, and they don't come through for you-if they don't produce and have long major league careers-you know, that's how organizations struggle and GMs get fired. So, you have to pull in as much information as you can when you're evaluating. If you're going to spend that money, and make your decision that that's your guy, you have to have as complete a picture as you can. The scout gets to know him. He knows what kind of player he is, he knows his family background, he knows him psychologically and emotionally, the whole picture. But you still don't know what he's going to do in a professionally competitive situation. So, in trying to round out as much of that information as possible, I think that some organizations do a better job of that than others.
DL: How involved are most general managers in the draft?
JB: I think that's mostly a function of what their backgrounds are. There are some guys who are former scouts that are pretty involved in the draft, like J.P. Ricciardi. They had some good drafts in Toronto while he was there. Kevin Towers has a scouting background. But there are others who don't have those backgrounds, and they'll have some say, but not as much. The scouting director has to come in and plead his case with the general manager and in many cases the owner, and say, "These are the guys we're taking a look at." Now, if you're in the top two, three, four, or five picks, which we often were, we generally knew who we were going to get by the time they came to us. If you're drafting around 10 or 15, then you have a lot of "what ifs" that you have to play with. General Managers are always involved to the point of saying, "You have to justify to me why we need to spend this money on this guy," and that's especially true with your top pick, because you're spending a lot of money. Personally, I was talking to our scouting director for our first two or three picks, but not necessarily to be heavily involved in the decision. But, I did go out every year and see anywhere from four to eight players that were potential number-one picks for us, so that I could at least get a little comfort level for who this guy was. Maybe I'd even meet him, and his family, to get a feeling of who he is, which helped me work with our scouting director. Some GMs may not do that. I don't know. But for me, it was a comfort factor, because if we were going to spend that kind of money, and make a commitment to a certain player, on my watch-at the end of the day, people are going to ask, "Who did they pick when he was GM?"
JB: Well, why it happened is that we had to trade Pedro. I talked to Pedro and he said, "I'm not going to sign an extension with the club unless you can sign some other players to support me." And we couldn't. We could afford-maybe-Pedro, but we couldn't afford other players, so we decided that we were going to trade him, and now was the time to trade him. We did some prospecting to see who was available, and the idea for us was that we wanted the best young pitching that was not arbitration eligible. We wanted players who would give us a couple of years before arbitration. It was either one year in the big leagues, or on the verge of being in the big leagues; the best young pitching in the minor leagues. We had some position players coming along, we thought, so we wanted to add some promising young pitching to our roster. Now, there were a couple of guys that we asked about who were totally off limits, who ended up having little or no career, but they were potentially huge stars at the point when we were trying to make the trade. It was a fascinating exercise to go through, to talk to other general managers about, "Who would you trade for Pedro Martinez?" Pedro had just won the Cy Young, he was a terrific young pitcher, and he had a long career ahead of him, but we just couldn't afford him. The one thing that I did was to not allow teams to talk to him about an extension. And to be honest, and I don't know if Pedro ever said this, but he wasn't excited about coming to Boston. He was hoping that he was going to go to, maybe, New York, or to some other clubs. Boston was not something that he was all that excited about, although it certainly did prove to be a big step in his career.
DL: Was ownership involved with the deal?
JB: No, it was mostly baseball, and it was mostly baseball people. Ownership knew that we needed to trade him, of course. Even Felipe [Alou], our manager, said, "If we're going to do this, you've got to trade him now." So, we ended up trading Pedro.
DL: According to Dan Duquette, who was the Red Sox GM at the time, he talked to you about that deal for two and a half months. Is that accurate?
JB: Yes. We made it at the time of the expansion draft, which was after the GM meetings that year, so I believe it would have been mid to late November. With that situation, with Pedro, once again, he had a year left on his contract, and I'd had conversations with him about an extension, and Pedro is pretty direct. He said he couldn't re-sign with us if we could only afford him, and I understood that. It sounds pretty similar to what Roy Halladay is going through right now, really, although Pedro didn't have a no-trade [clause], so he didn't have the option of vetoing anything like Halladay does. Halladay's no-trade is an extra hurdle for the Blue Jays to deal with right now, as it is for Halladay himself, and any other team that wants to deal with him. So we knew, near the latter part of that year, that we were going to be looking to trade Pedro during the offseason. The discussions were ongoing for awhile. I know that I went to the middle three games of the World Series, which a fair number of GMs went to that year, so that gave me a chance to sit down with several of them. Then there were the GM meetings, so prior to making the deal we had been laying the groundwork for about two, two and a half months, as he said. And Dan, because of his background with Pedro in Montreal, was one of the more aggressive guys toward making a deal.
DL: What about the relationship you had with Duquette at the time? Are the relationships GMs have with one another a factor in trade discussions?
JB: I think good relationships are helpful. I don't know if they're a necessity. I certainly had better relationships with some general managers, even on a personal level, than other general managers. I had been a minor league director for six years, and some of the general managers had also been minor league directors, so I knew them from those meetings. So yes, I think it plays a part. Dan and I are both New Englanders, and our backgrounds are fairly similar outside of the fact that I had played and Dan didn't, and he had been in a baseball front office for longer than I had. I just kind of called Dan up to check in with him occasionally to see where he stood. Like most general managers, he was playing things fairly close to the vest as to what he was open to doing, and not doing.
DL: When the Winter Meetings get under way next week, will some GMs be less likely to pursue deals with certain teams because of interpersonal relationships?
JB: No, I don't think you take it that far. I don't think any general manager, because he doesn't like another general manager personally… if that's the case, he's not doing his job, really, because he has to explore as many opportunities with other teams as he can.
DL: What about reputations beyond personal relationships? Some GMs are presumably more difficult to make deals with than others.
JB: Oh yeah, but you just have to try to work around that. I mean, if it's a general manager, maybe there's a… you use all of your resources. You might have an assistant, or a minor-league director, or scouting director, or your assistant general manager; someone who knows someone with that organization and can kind of make it work a little more easily. But I don't think that you cross any team off if you're trying to explore opportunities. You usually cross teams off because you don't think that they're going to be good trading partners for you. They don't have the players, and aren't looking to do the type of things that fit.
Yet, if I'm looking for good young pitching, and a team doesn't have good young pitching, but they have good young position players, that doesn't necessarily mean you can't get them involved, because you might be able to include them in a three-way deal. So, you really try to match up according to need, and some teams aren't really looking to trade at certain times of the year, either. Those are teams that might not be involved in your discussions, and with 30 teams, you have to narrow it down. We narrowed it down to about six or eight teams, fairly quickly, that we thought would be good trading partners for us in an easy, clean two-team trade. One, they showed a lot of interest in Pedro, and they also had the good young pitching we were looking for.
DL: Of those six or eight teams, other than Boston, which of them came closest to making a deal for Pedro?
JB: Well, I don't think it does a lot of good for me to say. I mean making any trade with a player as talented as Pedro is not easy, I look at a team like the Twins, who traded Johan Santana and how tough that was. Sometimes… you're looking at young players, and sometimes they don't pan out. I will say that there were, off the top of my head, two other teams that, if I had made deals with-that I would have made deals with before the Red Sox-they both said their players weren't available. And part of that might have been, as I said earlier, that one of the things we didn't do was give teams an opportunity to sign Pedro to a long-term contract. I thought there was enough interest out there that I didn't have to do that.
DL: Are you willing to say who any of the other teams were?
JB: No, I don't think it's fair for me to do that. But I think it's very interesting-like I said, there were a few pitchers who were right on the cusp, and were probably more interesting than Pavano and Armas, and a couple of those guys either got hurt, or they had their one year and that was it. Pavano and Armas had off-and-on major league careers when they were healthy.
DL: How did your Baltimore experience differ from Montreal?
JB: Baltimore was quite a bit different. At different times we were given go-ahead signals, and we signed some major league free agents, but we always seemed to have one foot in trying to compete and one foot in trying to rebuild. And it's kind of difficult to do that, especially in that division, so it was a struggle to try to figure everything out and have a longer-term view. Ownership wanted to compete right away, and we didn't have the young players coming along at that time who were able to supplement our veteran guys. We tried to do that, but we really couldn't. We did have some young players perform very well, though. Brian Roberts developed into an outstanding player, so in that case we kept the right second baseman. We traded Jerry Hairston Jr., and Jerry has had a long career as a developed utility guy, which is part of what we did, because we made him start to play in the outfield, but I think that you can say that Brian's career has proven to be a little more solid than Jerry's.
DL: You shared GM responsibilities in Baltimore with Mike Flanagan. What was that dynamic like?
JB: I was brought in to work with Mike for a period of time, to help him develop as a front-office person. He had been a player, a pitching coach, and a broadcaster for the Orioles, and Peter Angelos wanted him to be the general manager, but he had no experience in the front office. So, they asked me if I would come in and be the co-general manager with him, and kind of let him see how things are done without necessarily having to learn by putting his feet to the fire right away. He and I worked together, but many of the decisions were still made by Peter, especially with respect to the financial decisions. Because Mike had Peter's trust, to a certain extent, it was helpful to get a few things accomplished, but in the end I was just going to be there for a short period of time anyway. Even after the three years were up, I was kept on as a consultant for another year while Mike was the general manager, just in case they needed another person to throw some ideas by.
JB: Oh yeah. By the time the book gets written, the horse has been out of the barn, and other organizations understood that. It's a terrific way to evaluate, whatever you're going to take a look at. How do you evaluate something, whether it be a professional player, or… it even goes from evaluation to actual competition. That was the next thing. How do you make your decisions, in the game, based on probabilities of outcome? So, initially it might have been, "How do we find undervalued assets in young players who are going to be good major league players, or other major league players who are going to help you win baseball games?" Now that statistical analysis has gone into actually how you manage games. For instance, it was, "Nobody liked to bunt." Sacrifice bunting, giving up an out, is not a good thing unless you're playing for one run instead of three, or four, or five. It's gotten over into the game.
So, as a general manager, to go back to the original question, you need to have a better understanding of what the numbers mean. And then, it's how you work with your coaching staff to put those numbers into use. Some of those managers could be old school and not really appreciate them, but I think that nowadays a lot of general managers, and managers, have an understanding and appreciation for how that comes into play, and how using stats like pitcher/batter matchups help you can make those decisions over the course of the game. I learned in Baltimore that Earl Weaver was one of the earliest managers to take advantage of this info, but he had it on filing cards in his pocket in the dugout. His PR guy was his "stat guy."
DL: Do general managers work more closely with managers today than they did in previous generations?
JB: Yes, I think that a few generations ago, a general manger was kind of like the guy who did the shopping, and the manager was the cook. Nowadays, the general manager goes in and shares a lot of information with the manager. For instance, in this situation you might want to pinch hit this guy, because of the numbers. And nowadays, the manager is asking for that information. He's making out a starting lineup, or substitutions later in the game, and the general manager and the statistical analysts, the guys who are bringing the numbers to work in the actual game management-that communication has to be good, so that you can give it to them and let them know how it works.
DL: Defense has recently been called "the new OBP." What are your thoughts on that?
JB: Well, they don't pay as well for defense, so you can get some wins out of defense without spending as much of your payroll to get them… if you get five wins out of pitching, or five more wins out of an offensive statistic, it's pretty well documented, and pretty well paid for in arbitration. But defense hasn't been something that you can put a dollar figure on, at least in regard to statistics. Maybe it has with a Gold Glove, to a certain extent, but Gold Gloves don't necessarily match up well with some of the defensive stats that are out there these days. Part of it is reputation, and part of it is the stage. So, defense now… on-base percentage is on-base percentage. You know what it is. It's a very objective stat. Defensive statistics aren't all in line with each other, and I think people are still trying to come up with-and I'm not up on the latest approaches to measuring defense-but you're trying to quantify something that's a bit more subjective than some of the other statistics in baseball. That being the case, the people who do the best job of developing a metric for defense may be able to find themselves some extra wins without necessarily having to pay as much for them.
DL: If your phone rings tomorrow, and someone offers you a GM position, what do you say?
JB: Well, I'm kind of like Bart Giamatti there-I don't answer rhetorical questions. At any rate, I don't see that happening.
DL: If it were to happen, what might you do differently than in Montreal and Baltimore?
JB: There are probably many but since we have been talking about statistical analyisi, I would certainly incorporate as much of the new statistical analysis that is available out there, including the defensive stuff that is available, quantitatively, these days. Also, I think that in making trades, one thing I learned is that if you're going to get two or three young players in a deal, instead of going for all pitching, it would probably behoove you to trade for at least one position player to cover your bases a little bit better. The positions I was in usually had me trading veteran players for younger players, and trying to build organizations. But, in the course of making deals, I usually tried to diversify my risk a little, if you will. If you're getting a couple of players for one guy, or if you're giving up a couple you want to get a couple, so if one player doesn't get there, possibly another one will. You're never going to be 100 percent on your trades, and if you are, you probably got lucky.
DL: You didn't exactly go into optimal situations in Montreal and Baltimore.
JB: I recognized that. When I went to Montreal, the organization was just coming off of some extremely good times, 1994 in particular. And in 1996, my first year there, we were in the wild card until the very last day of the year. But, after that it started to be… they fought for a stadium and couldn't get a stadium. They did that for a year or two, then it was just cutting budget, and it wasn't just cutting major-league budget, it was cutting budgets across the board. If I had to compete with a lower major-league budget, which some teams obviously do… I think that if you look at their player development and scouting budgets, they still hold up there and spend some money to try to get some good young players, because you can't get rid of veteran major-league talent and not use that money to develop your own players. If you do that, you're not running a team that's going to be competitive. At the end, I was just trying to save our good young players, so that if, or when, we moved to a new city, there would be a good young base to build from. And I think it's proven that we had some good young players in Montreal. You take a look at Grady Sizemore, you look at Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips-three guys who were traded to Cleveland. Those guys were there, as was Vladimir [Guerrero], Jose Vidro, and Orlando Cabrera, so we had a pretty good core group, Had we been able to keep all of those guys to together, and they had gone to Washington, I think you'd see that some of Washington's struggles would be completely different.
DL: Any final thoughts?
JB: Well, because I was a former player, a lot of people maybe looked at me as being more old-school and not forward-thinking, but that wasn't necessarily true. A big part of the job is to evaluate talent, and use statistical analysis-and we didn't have the resources to use it in some cases-but I'm kind of an information guy. Baseball is an information business when it comes to building organizations, and if you discard any information that you have, I think that you're just not doing the job right. Whether it's scouts, taking a look at stats, and any way that you can look at those stats, or psychological profiles, any of that stuff-if you can build it to where you have some confidence in a measurement system, some sort of metric in all of those different situations, and use that information to your best benefit, you have a good chance of being successful. I enjoyed building organizations, not just teams, by bringing together talented people together with good information, and letting them do their jobs.
DL: What are you doing now that you're out of the game?
JB: I am a vice president, financial advisor for Bernstein Global Wealth Management, in Boston. I work with high-net-worth individuals and their families, and help them with investment and financial planning, so I guess the tie-in to this discussion is that I am still working with people to find "undervalued assets" by utilizing analytical methodology.