2) Theo Epstein, Boston Red Sox – Boston’s immense payroll notwithstanding, he’s accumulated more hardware than anyone since 2003 (5 playoff appearances and two World Championships). Has enjoyed unbridled success going against the grain of sentimentality (see trades of Garciaparra, Nomar and Ramirez, Manny) while delivering on his promise to transform the organization into a “player development machine.”
3) Doug Melvin, Milwaukee Brewers – Surprised? Don’t be. He led Texas to that organization’s only three postseason appearances then laid the groundwork for the Brewers’ first playoff game in 26 years. Last July’s trade for C.C. Sabathia was a master stroke. It won’t get any easier following the departures of Sabathia, Ben Sheets and all-world scouting director Jack Zduriencik.
Knocking on the Door
4) Kenny Williams, Chicago White Sox – Williams changes his spots more than a chameleon. He successfully added veterans prior to the ChiSox’ World Series run in 2005 then shortly thereafter started building for the long term by adding young talent in Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Carlos Quentin and Tyler Flowers. Regardless of the strategy, he just wins.
5) Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay Rays – Though Chuck Lamar’s regime deserves some credit for laying some of the groundwork, it’s Friedman who assembled the final – and most important – pieces for the Rays’ dramatic run in ’08. His trade for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett was especially brilliant, as was his signing of Pat Burrell at a deep discount. Don’t be shocked if Friedman’s machinations enable Tampa to hold off the resurgent Yankees in ’09.
6) David Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers – Despite a disastrous ’08, Dombrowski’s 20-year track record speaks for itself. He laid the foundation for the pre-strike juggernaut in Montreal then put together a World Series winner in Florida. And he had righted the ship in Detroit prior to last year’s debacle. But after a winter filled with under-the-radar transactions, the Tigers should be poised to contend again in ’09.
7) Walt Jocketty, Cincinnati Reds – Jocketty has been the Reds’ GM for under a year, however, his 13-year record with the Cardinals speaks for itself – six division titles, two National League Championships and one World Series Championship. He’s had a tough offseason thus far, but with most of the mid-tier free agents still unsigned we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
8) Andy MacPhail, Baltimore Orioles – He’s been with the Orioles for just 18 months but has already made his mark in player procurement/development. The organization has also refrained from the senseless trades and signings that had plagued it in the past. A first-rate GM while with Minnesota, as evidenced by World Championships in 1987 and 1991.
9) Mark Shapiro, Cleveland Indians – Had the unenviable task of taking over for John Hart after the Tribe’s revenue streams had maxed out earlier this decade. His Bartolo Colon for Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips deal in 2002 ranks as one of the top ten trades of all time. Has done an excellent job repairing the Indians’ bullpen this winter, putting the club in a strong position to contend in ’09.
10) Kevin Towers, San Diego Padres – Has been GM since 1996 – the longest tenure in baseball – and guided the club to four postseason appearances, including the 1998 World Series. Very adept at salvaging useful relievers from the trash heap. Owner John Moores’ current divorce saga has left him hamstrung.
11) Brian Sabean, San Francisco Giants – If this list were complied in 2005, when the Giants were in the midst of eight consecutive winning seasons with four playoff appearances interspersed among them, Sabean would have likely been in the top five. However, life without Barry Bonds isn’t easy. After four straight losing seasons, Sabean’s Giants might finally be ready to rebound with an excellent starting rotation and the farm system in the best shape it’s been in years.
12) Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers – If there was a “Most Improved” award he’d probably win it. He’s recovered nicely from trading away Alfonso Soriano, Chris Young, Adrian Gonzalez and John Danks. Josh Hamilton was a very fair return for Edinson Volquez, while the bumper crop of prospects Daniels received in the Mark Teixeira and Eric Gagne trades has left the farm system in excellent shape. The Rangers could very well become the Rays of 2010.
13) Josh Byrnes, Arizona Diamondbacks – He inherited a team already stacked with young talent. His decisions to grant Eric Byrnes (no relation) a pricy extension and practically give away Carlos Quention have been much maligned. However, Byrnes’ trade for Dan Haren significantly bolstered the club’s pitching.
14) Brian Cashman, New York Yankees – By far the toughest GM to evaluate. While the Steinbrenners’ deep pockets have masked his many expensive failures (Hideki Irabu, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, just to name just a few), the bottom line is that the Yankees have made it to the postseason in 10 of Cashman’s 11 years at the helm. Cashman should also be commended for his dexterity in dealing with the New York media and various factions within the Yankees’ universe.
15) Omar Minaya, New York Mets – While he has had some good free agent signings (Carlos Beltran sure looks like a bargain now) and made some astute trades (John Maine was a steal), Minaya should be held accountable for the Mets’ last two September swoons. Where was he last year after Billy Wagner went down and the Mets desperately needed bullpen help? With a new stadium generating consistent revenue streams in a mega market, Minaya has run out of excuses.
16) Jim Hendry, Chicago Cubs – Like Cashman, Hendry’s tenure is a tough one to evaluate. While the Cubs have won three division titles during his reign, they’ve also finished in the second division twice – despite an astronomical payroll. He’s made some great trades (Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez), but some clunkers as well (Dontrelle Willis). There’s no doubt that if Kerry Wood and Mark Prior had not missed so much time because of arm trouble Hendry would be much higher on this list.
17) Ned Colletti, Los Angeles Dodgers – Also a very mixed record. He’s blown tens of millions on signing has-beens like Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt, and, of course, Andruw Jones; yet he was able to get the Red Sox to fully underwrite nearly half a season of Manny Ramirez and the Indians to do the same with Casey Blake en route to a division title in last season. And his hiring of Joe Torre offset the Grady Little debacle.
Looking over their shoulders
18) Dan O’Dowd, Colorado Rockies – Aside from the club’s miracle run in ’07, not much has gone right during his ten-year tenure. In fact, at one point the team had posted seven consecutive last place or second-to-last place finishes. The Danny Neagle and Mike Hampton free agent signings rank among the costliest blunders in baseball history.
19) J.P. Ricciardi, Toronto Blue Jays – The Blue Jays have been stuck in neutral throughout his seven-year tenure, with each of his teams seemingly lacking a vital component. In 2008 the missing piece was offense. And with a middling farm system, the result of underwhelming drafts, the Jays will likely be mired in no man’s land for the foreseeable future.
20) Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals – Blame the Royals’ small market status all you want, but Moore simply hasn’t done a good job. Signing Gil Meche to a lucrative long-term deal has been a success, but Jose Guillen’s contract is turning into an albatross. Moore’s managerial hire, Trey Hillman, has also not worked out as the latter lost control of the clubhouse last season. One sliver of hope is the organization’s improving farm system.
21) Jim Bowden, Washington Nationals – He’s developed a strange fetish for outfielders who can’t make contact and underachieving first round picks. And his failure to reach a consensus with top pick Aaron Crow was a huge setback for an organization in desperate need of young mound talent.
Only Time Will Tell
-- Ruben Amaro Jr., Philadelphia Phillies – Huge shoes to fill! He replaces one of the best ever in Pat Gillick following the Phillies first World Championship in 28 years.
-- Michael Hill, Florida Marlins – Has already unloaded Mike Jacobs, Scott Olsen, Josh Willingham and Kevin Gregg in his first offseason. Welcome to Miami, home of the cheapest owner in professional sports.
-- Neil Huntington, Pittsburgh Pirates – He’s got long road ahead of him, but at least he got last year’s draft right.
-- John Mozeliak, St. Louis Cardinals – He must do more to revamp the Cardinals’ beleaguered pitching staff.
-- Tony Reagins, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim –The big market Angels have been strangely quiet after losing Mark Teixeira. Watch this guy over the next month.
-- Bill Smith, Minnesota Twins – He tried to get cute and received a subpar return for Johan Santana. Let’s see if he’ll be able to keep Joe Maurer in the Twin Cities after 2010.
-- Ed Wade, Houston Astros – Ever since the Phillies, his former team, hoisted that World Series trophy he’s looked a lot smarter.
-- Frank Wren, Atlanta Braves – Yet another new GM who has the daunting task of replacing a legend (John Schuerholz). His ability to land an ace will go a long way to determining his ranking next year.
-- Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariners – Tremendous scouting mind could have as many as four picks within the top 34 selections in this June’s draft.