The Seattle Mariners hired Bill Bavasi as their new general manager Nov. 7, replacing Pat Gillick. Bavasi spent 19 years with the Angels, working his way up from his first job as a minor league administrator. As general manager from 1994 to 1999, the team finished below .500 in four of six seasons. But the farm system that Bavasi presided over during that time would generate much of the core for the Angels' 2002 championship team, including Troy Glaus, Troy Percival, Darin Erstad and others.
Bavasi spent the last two years overseeing the Dodgers' farm system as director of player development. He takes over the Mariners coming off four straight years of 90+ wins, with Gillick staying on as a consultant. BP spoke to Bavasi about the team's off-season signings, the risk of long-term contracts, the changing nature of major league talent and more.
Baseball Prospectus: How do you try to assimilate the Mariners' existing organizational philosophy while also moving forward with your own ideas? What type of freedom did you see the Mariners giving you as you came into the job?
Bill Bavasi: The way I took it was that the new GM would be afforded the latitude to make changes as he saw fit. Of course the hope would be that the GM would take into consideration what had already been done–and rightly so, considering the Mariners have more wins the last four years than anybody. They're properly proud of what they have done, but if they were going to bring in a new GM, from the inside or the outside, they wanted to make sure that the person be given free rein to make the changes he felt were important, within reason.
From my point of view, I've seen the success they'd had here. Having the respect that I do for Pat, as well as for Benny Looper, Roger Jongewaard, and Lee Pelekoudas, you'd like to try to make the change as seamless as possible. As time goes by, we'll make our evaluations as a group as to what we might want to do differently.
BP: How do your team-building philosophies differ from Pat Gillick's and the previous regime's? What changes should we expect to see as a result?
Bavasi: Anybody that goes into any situation adhering to specific philosophies has a good chance to get burned. You have to make adjustments on the fly and be willing to adjust your plan. That said, the biggest difference in operations, more so than philosophy, would be that Pat is an accomplished talent evaluator on his own. He played the game, and he scouted the game with great success. My background is more in player development, and I didn't play the game. Because of that, I have to and I want to embrace the idea of having strong professional coverage by the scouting staff, and be able to apply the appropriate analyses to each situation.
BP: What, precisely, is Pat Gillick's role in the organization?
Bavasi: That's exactly what his role will NOT be…precise. Pat has already been a great help to guys like me, Bob Fontaine, Bob Engle. Our goal is to keep him involved in everything baseball and hope he has a good enough time doing it that he blows off the GM offers he'll continue to get.
BP: What were some of the positives and some of the negatives you felt you took out of your stint as GM with the Angels?
Bavasi: I can safely say my view of my complete experience in Anaheim is very positive. Conveniently and thankfully, I seem to only remember the good times. I worked for and with really terrific people and was given great opportunities along the way. I consider myself very lucky for my time in Anaheim. If you're asking what I learned there, I'd have to say everything. I learned the business of baseball management from the ground up. If you're asking what I would do different, I would probably say I will operate more with my head than my heart this time around.
BP: What were some of the positives and some of the negatives you felt you took out of your stint working with the Dodgers?
Bavasi: As a farm director I should have only learned new techniques for doing the same job I did for many years in Anaheim. But, luckily, I had the chance to work closely with Dan Evans, Dave Wallace and Kim Ng. I really enjoyed working for and reporting to all three of them. It was helpful for me to see different, and very good, approaches to baseball management.
BP: The Mariners have done a good job in recent years in the area of player acquisition, in the draft somewhat but also with international signings, landing players like (Rafael) Soriano and (Julio) Mateo. What have been the key factors in the Mariners' acquisition and development of talent, especially with quality arms?
Bavasi: It's either not easy to pinpoint, or it's real simple–they just outscout. Obviously they're not just looking for one kind of pitcher. Guys have had success here as soft-tossers, hard throwers, a little of everything, and with pitchers from all over the world. Bob Engle does a tremendous job in the Latin countries as a scout and scouting administrator. Ted Heid, director of Pacific Rim organizations, has taken the torch from Jim Colborn–who's now with the Dodgers. He has great contacts, and he's been able to identify the better Asian players. We have a lot of contacts in Australia…really all over the world.
BP: What type of approach do you plan to bring to the team in terms of the draft?
Bavasi: We are real similar to a lot of organizations, in that we'll look for opportunities to get the best possible talent however we can. We're on the verge of seeing pitching possibly dominate the game in the near future. It's hard to find quality amateur position players that you'd to pursue. Ten or 15 years ago if you would have asked me the same question I'd have said that about pitching. When Bob Fontaine and I were in Anaheim, we were given the chance to draft arms, knowing there were plenty of position players out there. Now, most of what seems to be attractive are arms. I came from an organization that had drafted well and found an abundance of pitchers with the Dodgers. This organization is similar.
BP: Will your focus be on high school or college talent?
Bavasi: I'm not sure I have a clear-cut answer. If everything were equal, you're probably going to go with the college guy, since there's less risk involved. But in a day and age when a lot of high school players have tremendous deliveries or tremendous swings–look at Greg Miller and James Loney with the Dodgers–when those kids slip to you, and so many college guys are drafted elsewhere, it's hard to pass those guys up. Obviously there are concerns with the risks involved with a high school player. That's where scouting comes in.
BP: Given your experience with both the Angels and Dodgers, obviously you've put together some particular player development philosophies. Take us through your approach to getting players through the minors to the majors.
Bavasi: Well a lot of that is really in the secret sauce. Generally, as far as pitchers or hitters go, the real basic need is to allow the player to develop at his own pace. Every year a player's in the minors and not the majors, that's money wasted in some people's eyes. But if you rush a player, you could hurt him.
BP: What do you make of the trend in recent years to pay close attention to pitcher workloads in the minors? Is that something you try and emphasize too, or do you think pitchers need to learn to stretch themselves out and throw longer?
Bavasi: There definitely has been a backing off on workloads, especially with high school pitchers. In Anaheim, we stayed away from high school pitchers mostly. It wasn't by design, it was just that in those days, they were going higher, and the better kids weren't slipping. So when we went after pitchers, they were often college guys.
But with the Dodgers the last two years, we had to get to know high school pitchers, because Logan (White) wasn't afraid to draft them. You look for clean deliveries, largely. When I was with the Dodgers, one day a bunch of us got together–Dr. Jobe, some of his colleagues and our pitching coaches. We put together a protocol to protect the young arms that it looked like we were going to be able to get. Those pitchers that we did draft have done well since then.
BP: This past off-season, the Mariners signed what you could call a lot of mid-tier, or second-tier free agents. Was there any thought given to signing say, one high-impact free agent, someone like Vladimir Guerrero, instead of several smaller names?
Bavasi: We pursued Miguel Tejada. A lot of the groundwork for the Raul Ibanez deal was done before I got to the Mariners. Pat and Lee had done a lot of work with Ron Shapiro, and it just kind of had to be tipped over the edge. He was a guy we felt real fortunate to get at the contract we got him. After that, we pursued Tejada. We did our best to pursue him as fast as possible, so that if we didn't get him, we could move quickly in another direction. With most any player, going over four years isn't a philosophy we want to go with. It's hard to find a contract over four years that everybody stays happy with. Pat and I talked about this, and he was saying how with a contract that long, either the player's unhappy with it after a while, or the team is, but someone almost always is.
BP: You mentioned the Ibanez contract. Obviously the Mariners signed him for more money and more years than some of the other corner outfielders on the market that would seem to fall into his class–guys like Jose Cruz, Reggie Sanders, and Carl Everett. Why did you feel Ibanez was worth considerably more than those other players, and what impact do you think he'll have on the team?
Bavasi: You're right that that's pretty much the class of player that we were dealing with. We felt that Raul had the greatest chance in that group to provide the greatest consistent impact in our ballpark. We didn't forget things like left/right numbers in our ballpark–if Raul was right-handed, it might have been be a little different. We didn't think there were any players out there that had the potential to provide production that he did for the deal that we did. We felt he could do a good job of making contact and pulling the ball in Safeco. He's developed into a tremendous hitter too. Our opinion–and we have some numbers to back it up–is that he was the hitter with the greatest impact, and a more consistent hitter than the names you mentioned.
BP: This was a three-year contract for a player going on 32 years old. Was there a concern that you might be signing a player who wouldn't likely improve given what we know about peak ages, who might plateau or actually start to slow down during the course of the deal?
Bavasi: That was not a concern with this player. Roger, Denny, Lee–a lot of people who've been with the club a long time have intimate knowledge of this player, and based on that and what we know, we felt that wasn't a concern.
BP: What type of production are you expecting from Ibanez in 2004? In other words, what's the minimum level of production you'd expect for the money spent?
Bavasi: As with any player, it is fair to expect Raul to perform to the level he has in the recent past.
BP: Given the draft pick compensation required for the Ibanez signing, do the Mariners as an organization believe the money they'd spend on a first-round pick is better spent elsewhere?
Bavasi: Like all clubs, we take up issues like that on a case-by-case basis. But, generally speaking, clubs drafting in the second half of the rotation might be more inclined to forsake that pick for a quality free agent.
BP: What was the thought process and how much do you think you'll lose defensively, moving from Mike Cameron to Randy Winn in center, Winn to Ibanez in left and bringing in Scott Spiezio to play a position he's not all that used to at third base?
Bavasi: If you're absolutely unwilling to lose defense, you won't make those deals. But something's got to give when you go through a period like the team did last year where it couldn't score any runs. But we did not just forsake defense. We used scouting reports and good objective and subjective analysis in making our decisions. We felt that Scott is a good third baseman, with good hands. The switch from Guillen to Aurilia at short, we felt the defense was a push. We had a tremendous upgrade at third base, from no offense, or minus offense, and a plus defender, to a just below plus defender and a plus offensive player.
Raul doesn't have the speed that Randy has, but he can cover ground. We took that left fielder, moved him to center field, and we think we had a real firm upgrade offensively in center. We think people will be real surprised when they see Randy play center field every day. It was the same kind of thing with Darin Erstad in Anaheim. Sometimes you don't really a player's true ability when he's just filling in at a position defensively here and there, the way Darin was doing in the beginning, spelling Jim Edmonds. But often when you give a player like that a chance to prove himself every day, he will look really good. If he swings through a lot less pitches than Mike, the way we expect, you like that too.