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July 22, 2011

On the Beat

Calling Cooperstown

by John Perrotto

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There are few jobs inside or outside baseball more demanding, challenging, and rewarding than being a general manager.

The toughest part, though, is that no matter what a GM winds up doing, he is not going to satisfy everyone. Just ask Pat Gillick, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday in Cooperstown after serving as GM for four franchises—the Blue Jays (1978-94), the Orioles (1996-98), the Mariners (2000-03), and the Phillies (2003-06)—in a 28-year span.

Gillick remembers back to the 2001 season, when his Mariners tied the major-league record for regular-season victories while finishing 116-46. Yet he wasn't always able to keep manager Lou Piniella happy.

"We would win 10 in a row, then lose one, and Lou would say, 'I need a left-handed hitter,'" Gillick said with a laugh. "It's a tough job."

However, it was a job Gillick did well after serving as the farm director for the Astros and Yankees before becoming the Blue Jays' vice president of baseball operations as an expansion franchise in 1977. With Gillick as GM, all four franchises qualified for the postseason, and he was the architect of three World Series-winning teams, the 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays and the 2008 Phillies.

 The easygoing Gillick was never a front-and-center figure during his successful years. He always preferred to deflect credit to others, and he remains that way despite being elected to the Hall of Fame. Thus, it is no surprise that when Gillick is asked about being immortalized in Cooperstown, he doesn't talk about himself.

"It's an honor on behalf of all the people I worked with over the years," said Gillick, who retired as GM following the '08 season but remains with the Phillies as a consultant to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. "I feel this honor is for the owners, the scouts, the manager, the players, they all share in this award. You can't do this job alone. It's a difficult job anyway, but you've got to have help. The fortunate thing about it is, over the years, I've had great help from all three groups."

Gillick was a star pitcher at the University of Southern California. He topped out at Triple-A as a professional, then went into scouting upon his retirement as a player. Thus, he has a fondness for scouts and believes they are an integral part of any organization.

"I think really the job of the general manager is not to select good players but to select the correct people to select the correct players," Gillick said. "I think that's really the job of the general manager, to select the correct evaluators."

Gillick admittedly didn't use a lot of sabermetrics in his work as GM. He started his front office career before the term existed, and advanced statistical analysis was far from the mainstream when Gillick became a GM. Thus, he believes the best way to build a team is on talent and character.

Gillick feels those attributes were most on display with his 2001 Mariners, even though they were upended by the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The Mariners racked up 116 wins despite losing Ken Griffey Jr. after the 1999 season and Alex Rodriguez the following winter, two players who seem destined to join Gillick in Cooperstown one day.

"It was just one of those years where we had a good group of people, and that's one thing I think is very important, character," Gillick said. "When I started out in this game, I thought it was 70 percent ability and 30 percent character. The longer I've been in it, I think it is 60 percent character and 40 percent ability."

GMs must be able to make a fair number of good trades in order to have the staying power of Gillick. He made his share, but the best was probably the blockbuster he pulled off at the 1990 winter meetings while with the Blue Jays, when he shipped Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to the Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter.

Both Alomar and Carter helped the Blue Jays win those back-to-back World Series titles, with Carter hitting the series-ending home run against the Phillies in '93. Alomar, just 21 at the time of the trade, went on to have a great career. Appropriately, he will also be inducted into the Hall on Sunday along with Bert Blyleven.

"It was a good trade for both clubs at that time and, looking back, it was a trade that went down fairly easy," Gillick said. "(Padres GM) Joe McIlvaine and I were on the same wavelength. It was a good old baseball trade. We needed a right-handed hitter in Joe Carter, and they wanted a left-handed hitter to play first base in McGriff. We bickered some but not too much."

Alomar could not be happier that he and Gillick are going into the Hall together. Gillick also signed Alomar as a free agent when he was the Orioles' GM.

"Pat has been a very important person in my life and a very good friend," Alomar said. "He is still close with me and my family. He's a good man, and he was a great GM. He deserves this honor very much."

Gillick, too, is excited to see Alomar enter the Hall in his second year of eligibility after just missing on his first try.

"He's probably the best second baseman I've seen all-around, defensively and offensively, in the last 20 years," Gillick said.

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Rumors and Rumblings

The Phillies continue to look for more offense and have zeroed in on outfielders Carlos Beltran of the Mets and Melky Cabrera of the Royals. Beltran is said to prefer the Mets and the Giants as potential trade destinations, though the Braves, Tigers, Brewers and Red Sox also have interest. The Braves have made Beltran their top priority but may have to trade right-hander Derek Lowe to clear payroll room… Brad Lidge, out all season because of arm problems, will not be the Phillies' closer when he returns from the disabled list but will instead be a set-up man for Ryan Madson with left-hander Antonio Bastardo… Beltran is part of a wide net cast by the Red Sox, who have also inquired about Dodgers left-hander Ted Lilly and right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, Padres set-up reliever Mike Adams, and left fielder Ryan Ludwick, Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, infielder Ty Wigginton, and outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez, Athletics first baseman Conor Jackson and left fielder Josh Willingham, Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, Cubs infielder Jeff Baker, Royals right fielder Jeff Francoeur, and Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer… The Brewers are looking for infield depth and have asked about the Astros' Clint Barmes and the Dodgers' Jamey Carroll, and they also have some interest in acquiring a backup center fielder now that Carlos Gomez is likely done for the season after breaking his collarbone on Wednesday. As far as the bullpen, forget the idea of a co-closer arrangement for the Brewers, as it is clear that John Axford remains the closer and recently acquired Francisco Rodriguez is the set-up man.

The player the Orioles are getting asked about the most is reliever Koji Uehara, though they would also trade Guthrie in the right deal and basically give away left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez, first baseman Derrek Lee, and designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero. The Orioles are also leaning toward looking at set-up man Jim Johnson as a starter later in the season… There was thought that the Mariners started infielder Chone Figgins in left field on Thursday in order to showcase him for a trade, particularly since the Reds are interested. The Mariners won't get much of a chance to showcase left-hander Erik Bedard before the trading deadline, though, as he is expected to come off the disabled list only in time to make one start before July 31… Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano is telling friends he would like to move on, but no other club is willing to take on his bloated contract… The Royals want two starting pitchers back in any trade for closer Joakim Soria… Utility infielder Omar Vizquel's playing time has dwindled to the point that the White Sox would accommodate the veteran and trade him should another team be interested.

Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg is making such rapid progress in his recovery from Tommy John surgery that it now looks like he will pitch in the major leagues in September, a proposition that seemed doubtful when the season began… Those who know Rangers CEO and club president Nolan Ryan believe the heart problems he suffered last weekend were at least in part brought on by the death of fan Shannon Stone, who died after falling over a railing at Rangers Ballpark while trying to catch a ball tossed into the stands by Josh Hamilton. Ryan was deeply saddened by the tragic accident and grieved for Stone's family… Considering he was not a stat guy but more of an old-school GM, it was surprising that Gillick picked the Rangers' Jon Daniels when asked which of today's GMs most reminds him of himself… Perhaps Gillick was destined to be a GM from the time he was in high school in Los Angeles, as he was the center on the football team and the quarterback was Bobby Beathard, who went on to become an NFL GM with the Redskins and Chargers. 

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Scouts' views:

Marlins catcher John Buck: "Teams are running wild on the Marlins, and when that happens everyone points the finger at the catcher. Buck hasn't been throwing great by any means, but the Marlins pitching staff is about the worst in the National League when it comes to holding runners.

Dodgers closer Javy Guerra: "The kid is doing a heckuva job closing games. His slider has been a wipeout pitch so far, but he needs to tighten up the command of the fastball to be a truly dominant pitcher in the big leagues."

Padres first baseman Jesus Guzman: "I'm really glad the Padres are giving him a chance to play. It seems like everyone has labeled him a 'Triple-A hitter,' but how do you really know until you let the guy face major-league pitching?' He's swung the bat very well since he got called up. He looks like a major-league hitter to me."

Rockies first baseman Todd Helton: "He's got to be a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. He looked like toast last year, but he's looked like the Todd Helton of old this year. I'm happy for him. He's a class guy and a great ambassador for that franchise."

Twins catcher/first baseman Joe Mauer: "You watch him play first base and it's amazing to think he just started playing the position a few weeks ago. He's making some dazzling, Gold Glove-type plays. He's got really plus range and soft hands. It just shows you how much athletic ability he is blessed with."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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