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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Mozeliak ranks #18 in SI’s general manager rankings

The St. Louis Cardinals’ GM isn’t considered by a Sports Illustrated writer to be among the top half in his field.

It takes a lot of guts to write an article ranking Major League Baseball’s general managers. Tim Marchman at Sports Illustrated apparently is not afraid of the inevitable criticism as he has undertaken such an endeavor.

Unfortunately without much of a defined process to seemingly guide him, what we get is Marchman’s assessment of potential more than anything that can be truly analyzed. Yet because of what it is and where it is, the article is bound to get a lot of attention as people like me all over cyberspace write about their concerns over ‘So-and-so GM being only ranked xxth.’

Tony La Russa and John Mozeliak (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)As a St. Louis Cardinals watcher, I am actually less concerned about where the club’s leader stacks up numerically as I am about some of those ahead of him.

Still, I have to admit that I was initially a bit surprised that John Mozeliak is considered a second-division player, sitting at #18 of 30. Mo seems to be shrugged off as riding the coattails of some combination of Albert Pujols, Tony La Russa and Walt Jocketty’s leftovers. No mention was made of the moves to lock up young talent like Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina cheaply, for example.

Then again, realizing Mo has only two years in the job, one of which was a playoff miss and the other a quick exit, I guess I could see it. That seemingly obvious point was not made in the article, however.

That is, I thought I could accept it until I noticed Marchman placed Mo two spots lower than Jim Hendry of the Cubs! I guess Mo needs to make a boatload of bad signings like Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, Milton Bradley, etc. while blowing millions so he can move up the list.

There seems to be a major difference between us in how we gauge a top general manager. I am a believer in recognizing results, though Marchman seems more enamored with improving bad situations, giving credit for perceived progress.

He mentions his criteria include “success”, though not necessarily winning. Go figure. Other factors include “not doing stupid things”, “efficiency”, and “tenure”. He “spares” us by not sharing his formula, though he apparently at least has one for efficiency. Further, the period of time considered is not divulged.

I buy that progress is good, but no one should care if a team improves from last place to second to last, for example. Boatloads of prospects are only beneficial if they eventually deliver championships. After all, this isn’t a sport where style points are awarded for good form.

So many baseball wonks these days are in love with Jack Zduriencik in Seattle, including Marchman ranking him #5. Yet that team still hasn’t won anything. I guess they value paper improvement because one Jack Z. move never mentioned, the simple addition of the well-known hothead Bradley, could single-handedly destroy the Mariners this season before they break their eight-year playoff drought.

Whiz kids Jon Daniels of Texas (#7) and Arizona’s Josh Byrnes (#11) score points for talent collection and for supposedly showing progress. Daniels has neither won a division nor even made the playoffs as a wild card. The Diamondbacks struggled to a total of just 70 victories last season, a slide of a dozen wins from the year prior and 20 fewer than two years ago, while finishing in last place in the NL West in 2009. Now that’s success! (Edit: Count Baseball Prospectus among those unimpressed by the supposed level of talent assembled by Byrnes, as Arizona’s farm system was just ranked #29, only ahead of the Cardinals.)

Then there is Doug Melvin in Milwaukee at #6. #6? The guy is running a franchise that most recently finished in first place 27 years ago and has won a grand total of one playoff game in their only appearance since. His 2009 Brewers finished below .500 in a soft NL Central.

Saying Theo Epstein and the Red Sox (#2) “deserve more hype than they get” sounds like something read straight off an ESPN studio cue card. The Cardinals have made hay picking up a number of Theo’s mistakes in recent years, though I can’t argue with his pair of titles. At least he made much of the money spent pay off.

There are also what I think are good, underrated choices in the top ten like Larry Beinfest of Florida (#4) and Dan O’Dowd of Colorado (#7), GMs who have done quite a bit with less to work with.

Between #10 and #14, Marchman gives curtain calls to GMs that once were hot, but now are not. These rankings seem to be lifetime achievement awards for the likes of Oakland’s Billy Beane (#10), Andy MacPhail of Baltimore (#12), Dave Dombrowski of Detroit (#13) and our old friend, Cincinnati’s Jocketty (#14).

Other than the Tigers’ World Series run in 2006, the moves these teams have been making in recent years have yet to translate into anything tangible. Even Detroit has fallen on harder times since. Then we have Beane, with one playoff team in his last six and a last-place finish in 2009. I guess because he is a genius, he gets to stay in the top ten for old-times sake, because he sure hasn’t done anything lately to justify it.

I realize that spring is the time for baseball optimism, but I will take a winning GM every time over one living off past successes or a supposed up-and-comer who has yet to achieve anything but looks stylish in trying.

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