It's not about the name necessarily. Not yet.
The Pirates will hire a new general manager before long. As of Monday evening, based on a couple contacts I made, the interview process hadn't yet begun as Travis Williams and Bob Nutting prepare and pare their list, but it'll be soon. And once that occurs, those names will pop up here, there and everywhere.
From this perspective, there's a small bunch of names I like. Marc DelPiano, Tony LaCava and Mike Berger have long stood out for me in this regard. They're excellent, experienced baseball people, and each has a connection to the Pirates and/or Pittsburgh. Though the latter shouldn't be mandatory, it sure does help. After a dozen years of condescension from the position, let's finally have someone in place who speaks straight the way we do around here.
That's where my mind is, to be candid. It's less about the people, more about the prototype.
Oh, and it's about the posse, too.
Funny thing about prospective GMs is that they can't just sell themselves to a team president. They've got to sell their whole apparatus, everyone they'd bring along, everything they'd plan to do, and that involves having others loyal to them and their philosophies. It means being connected, having a network and, in turn, that means being trusted.
One of the many uninspired elements of the Neal Huntington hire in 2007, other than that the Indians themselves had just demoted him, was that he came with no such thing. He brought one person along, Kyle Stark, a 28-year-old at the time with virtually no baseball background, and he'd wind up solely trusting Stark and shutting out the rest. The only time those two did take others' input was when they were in trouble, which is how DelPiano, Jim Benedict and other veteran baseball executives helped build up the three playoff teams in 2013-15 through outside acquisitions.
(DelPiano himself was the one who strongly recommended, for example, acquiring Russell Martin, A.J. Burnett, Jason Grilli, Michael McKenry and others, all at excellent prices since their previous employers had undervalued them.)
That's what's needed here.
It's a misnomer to suggest, as some do, that a GM has to pick sides in the endless scouting-vs.-analytics debate. The GM needs to guide the operation and, along the way, cull and apply all available data. It's silly to see or to label anyone any other way in baseball these days. This is now everywhere.
But the one trait I'd value above all others, the one I'd choose if only one were available, is this: Recognize talent.
Employees at all levels of the organization can bring all kinds of skill sets. But the one at the very top of baseball ops should be someone who could parachute into the Panamanian jungle, watch a pickup ballgame on a sandlot and identify the next Omar Moreno or Rennie Stennett. That's the tiebreaker, for me. That eye. That ability to see things others don't see.
The public still focuses on payroll as the Pirates' shortcoming, but where would they be now if Huntington could evaluate nothing more than his own in-house talent. Jose Bautista. Charlie Morton. Gerrit Cole. Tyler Glasnow. Austin Meadows. So, so, so many others. It's not so much about whether he couldn't have kept those players, but whether he could've capitalized on them as assets.
I want this GM, the one who can do this. From there, he or she can map out all the rest.
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