1. Dan Duquette
The rule of thumb is that GMs (or Executive Vice-Presidents of Baseball Operations) get five years to prove they can do the job, because it takes at least that long before the team really reflects their moves anyway. For instance, most of the first players drafted by Dan Duquette as an Oriole are in High-A or Double-A right now. Further, it takes that long for the backloaded deals of a GM's predecessor to expire, or for the pre-arb packages bequeathed to him to get expensive enough for hard decisions to be made. What this all means is also that a GM who wins in his third year is often still riding on the moves the guy before him made.
But Dan Duquette's a tinkerer, and a tinkerer can do a lot of tinkering in three years, and what we saw in the AL East this year was a powerhouse that had largely been put together by Dan Duquette. Consider some of "his" guys:
- Selected off waivers: 4.8 WARP
- Free agent signed to one-year deal: 4.2 WARP
- Acquired via trade for platoon player: 1.4 WARP
- Signed to minor-league deal: 1.0 WARP
- Rule 5 pickup: 0.6 WARP
- Acquired in trade for nothing: 0.4 WARP
- Drafted, 2012: 1.9 WARP
- Free agent signed to $4M AAV: 1.8 WARP
- Free agent, signed to the minimum: 0.4 WARP
There are more guys, including a whole bullpen, but those eight players-—Pearce, Cruz, Lough, Delmon Young, Flaherty, Hundley, Gausman, Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez-—combined for more than 16 wins and cost… well, it's a bit of cheating not to include the fact that Gausman "cost" an extremely high draft pick, but even if we exclude him it's 14 wins for around $15 million. That's the sort of bargain hunting that makes it easy to pay Adam Jones (4.0 WARP). Remember, it's only because of Duquette that Jones was on this team, too. Jones would have been a free agent last winter if not for the extension Duquette inked him to in 2012.
2. Rick Hahn
Hahn's White Sox finished miles off the pace in the American League Central but few teams improved more on the field than Chicago in 2014. In one of the bolder signings of last offseason, Hahn gambled that Jose Abreu's strength and instincts at the plate would justify a $68 million contract; Abreu rewarded Hahn's faith by bashing 36 home runs and (probably) winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Hahn further bolstered the offense by acquiring Adam Eaton for spare parts, just in time for the center fielder to quietly emerge as one of the better outfielders in the American League. Hahn also locked up starter Jose Quintana through 2018 for just $26.5 million, a deal that looks particularly prudent after the Colombian's stellar 2014 campaign.
Not to be overlooked, Hahn also has Chicago's long-moribund farm system pointing in the right direction. Previous administrations largely neglected Latin America but the White Sox were aggressive again in 2014, signing infielder Felix Mercedes and Jorge Alfaro's brother Johandro, among others. Many of the club's top domestic farmhands made progress over the last year— including 2013 first-rounder Tim Anderson—and while signing Carlos Rodon precluded the White Sox from adding a ton of impact talents to their system, the southpaw is one of the best prospects the South Siders have had in the past decade. The White Sox aren't quite ready to win yet, but Hahn has positioned his team to become the dominant force in the AL Central once Detroit's window of contention closes. —Brendan Gawlowski
3. A.J. Preller
Preller has been the general manager of the San Diego Padres for a little less than three months, but the brain trust he’s gathered in that time could help one of California’s more woebegone franchises pull itself out of the mire by the time its loaded farm comes to maturity.
Two names in particular stand out among the hires Preller has made: Logan White and Don Welke. White comes in as pro scouting director/senior assistant to the GM after serving as the Dodgers’ assistant general manager. That’s also where he worked with Welke, the Padres’ new VP of scouting operations, who Preller brought with him from the Rangers. (In fact, Welke is a common tie between Preller and White, as he’s regarded as a mentor to both evaluators.) Those two hires alone would be the start of a solid scouting foundation for any organization, but David Post, Chris Kemp, and Sam Geaney each come with their own talent evaluation accolades, as well, giving the Padres a ferocity in the scouting department some felt was previously lacking.
Of course, these minds inherit a farm system—with names such as Hunter Renfroe and Austin Hedges—that isn’t lacking in talent. That could mean that development, rather than scouting, has been San Diego’s problem all this time, as the Padres’ haven’t been able to make use of a farm that has never been extremely lacking in potential. The next few seasons will tell if this front-office reconstruction will actually be able to make the best use of the talent available to the Padres. But sooner than later, more scrutiny—and expectations—may fall upon the (potentially) Swingin’ Friars. —Kate Morrison
4. Jed Hoyer
Hoyer has shown great poise and charisma only three years into the role of general manager of the Cubs. The Cubs have acquired 16 players since 2012 and their average age is just 25 years old. This also includes 89 years of total control for the Cubs moving forward. The reason for this is to continue to get quality young players while developing draft picks at the same time. They have developed one of the thinnest farm systems into one of the highest-ranked by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus.
One of the most notable moves has been trading Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. This started the trend of flipping starters on very manageable one-year deals at the deadline for quality young talent. They also traded Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija for Dan Straily, Billy McKinney, and 2012 first-rounder Addison Russell. The Cubs continue to stockpile young position players that have All-Star-level potential. This becomes a very important offseason going forward as the Cubs finally have financial flexibility and look to make a few major acquisitions. After landing Joe Maddon, the Cubs will continue their rebuild and make the necessary steps to keep improving moving forward. —Rob Willer
5. Alex Anthopoulos
You gotta hand it to the Blue Jays. They went for it. They traded some top-shelf talent for a shortstop and a couple starters, including a bona fide ace to head their rotation. They signed a couple of high-risk free agents. They looked and saw that their competitors within the division might be in a down cycle and said "let's go" when they could have stood pat. And it didn't work. Strangely enough, there will be voters for the real executive of the year who will vote for Dayton Moore because the Royals made the World Series. Moore deserves credit. His team went for it too, and their bet came up 7s. Of course, they did it on top of building a good crop of kids as a foundation and trading for a few complementary pieces along the way, but GMDM will get the nod because he made the James Shields trade two years ago. Coincidentally enough, it was the same off-season that AA made his moves. The executives can only make the moves that make sense (and at the time, everyone argued that the Blue Jays' moves made much more sense than the Royals). Sometimes, you get what you hoped for. Sometimes not. If you're going to vote for GMDM based on the fact that he gambled and won, then perhaps your second place vote should go to Alex Anthopoulous for the same reasons.—Russell A. Carleton
6. Ben Cherington
Giving the Executive of the Year award to the GM of a last-place team isn’t typically done. But let’s break it down. The award goes to the GM who made, presumably, the best moves. Those moves should have resulted in the best team on the field. Boston was the sixth worst team on the field by regular old standard record this season, so how can you argue Red Sox GM Ben Cherington should have won the award?
To do that, you have to go back a year. The 2013 Red Sox, you’ll recall, won the World Series. Not only that, but they tied for the best record in baseball with the Cardinals by winning 97 games. That’s the double crown right there. Best record in baseball and World Series champs. Nobody did that this season. Thing is, putting together that team, that perfect team that won more than anyone, had costs. Those costs came in terms of player salary, but also in contract years. For example, the offseason following the 2012 season, Boston signed Jonny Gomes. Gomes was a perfect platoon partner for Daniel Nava in left field and represented a much needed retooling of the clubhouse. Perfect signing, but signing Gomes cost two seasons. That first year was magical, perfect, and Gomes had as large a share in the team’s success as a platoon outfielder can possibly have. But that second year on his contract was part of the deal. Hard to kill Cherington for signing Gomes now after you praised him for doing the exact same deal last season, right?
Same story for Shane Victorino, who was a five-win right fielder in 2013. Victorino’s defense was as good as a right fielder in Fenway Park’s has been since J.D. Drew and maybe better than that. He combined that with well above average offense and was a vita cog on the 2013 World Series champs. Thing is though, signing Victorino required a three year deal. If it was genius in 2013, the very same contract couldn’t be idiocy in 2014. This story is repeated with David Ross, Craig Breslow, Ryan Dempster, and Jake Peavy.
Further, the team could easily have opted to move two veterans in Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester before the season started, but did not. Ellsbury was the subject of trade rumors as he was going to hit the free agent market and the Red Sox weren’t likely to re-sign him. In the end, Boston held on to Ellsbury and he rewarded them with a 4.5 WARP season in center field. Of course, not dealing him meant likely losing him after the season and in fact that is exactly what happened. The 2014 team dearly missed those 4.5 wins, and it would have been nice to have gotten more for him than just a draft pick, but had Cherington dealt him, it’s quite possible the 2013 Red Sox don’t win the Series.
Lester was equally important to the 2013 team’s success. Rumors were the Royals were willing to give up Wil Myers for him, but Boston decided against making the deal and the Royals dealt Myers to Tampa for James Shields instead.
All these deals and non-deals perfectly set the 2013 Red Sox up for success in 2013. They also perfectly ruined the 2014 team. Gomes was mediocre, Victorino was hurt and a non-factor, Ross was awful, Breslow was awful, Ellsbury was a Yankee, Peavy was terrible, and Dempster retired. Only Lester was as good or better. But that’s a trade you should make, right? Winning the World Series at the cost of one last place finish? Heck yeah you make that trade every time. Cherington took the chance by signing the right guys even if it meant giving them an extra year to get them to come to Boston in the first place. It was a gamble that paid off when the team posted the best record in baseball and won the World Series in 2013. It further paid off when Cherington was named the 2013 Executive of the Year by the Sporting News. Cherington was so good in 2013, it should pay off again right now. —Matthew Kory
7. …and, of course, Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans, Dick Tidrow, and the rest of the crew at the helm of the Giants.