What makes a great general manager?

There’s been a lot of talk this week about Alex Anthapololololololoussssssss (or however you spell his name). I’ll clear the air early and say I like the hire, but that’s not the point of my musings.

Since the Anthopoulos hiring was announced, the old hot take machines of Twitter have started grinding away at trade scenarios, free agent targets, yada yada yada.

I enjoy a nice unreasonable session of guessing about things that I have no control over as much as the next person. But at the end of the day I think sometimes us fans get a bit wrapped up in the glitz and glamour of movement of any kind (especially after this long period of stagnation). And because of this, we tend to see any movement as progress.

However, let’s take a moment and look at what defines a great GM.  I believe most general managers tend to be defined by three main things:

  1. Did they cause a scandal?

Seriously, this might feel a bit raw considering the circumstances. But I’m not simply cherry-picking here.

Most GM’s that are remembered for bad reasons are committed to memory because they enabled disaster to occur on their watch. Whether said disasters be character problems, rule breaking, or downright cheating. What’s interesting is the fan-base usually doesn’t care much that he engaged in said cheating. What they usually care about is whether or not he got caught.

In this sense, Anthopoulos is pristine. Clean as a whistle. He’s never been caught, yet has cherry picked some of the best talent available through drafts and on the international market.

I could sit here and pretend to spin the idea that this guy is a saint and is the one really good guy in baseball who just wins without bending any of the rules, but let’s not be naive here. Let’s not pretend that he (more than likely) hasn’t done all of the same things other GMs around baseball have done and are doing. On the bright side, he has been smart enough to not get caught. And, let’s be clear… possession of evidence is nine tenths of the law.

Anthopoulos is obviously fantastic at covering his tracks, and without a doubt the Braves need a lot of tracks covered.

  1. Bad free agent deals.

The clamouring for big free agent signings has never been louder.  “Get Donaldson” “Trade for Archer” “What about Happ!”

No matter where you turn someone is yelling that the brand new GM should try and clear the bad taste out of Braves’ fans’ mouths by making a big splash. However, when I mention Frank Wren’s name, I am certain that most of you instantly think of BJ Upton, Dan Uggla, and of course THE MARK TEXEIRA TRAIIIIDDDDDD!

The pressure to make a big move is huge right now, but I believe it’s the wrong move.

John Schuerholz was the master of Free Agent moves. But he almost never made those moves out of desperation or pressure. In fact signing Maddux is one of the few GIANT free agent deals he made.

I’m sure some of you are screaming, “Ken! Hang on. He made a bunch of free agent deals!” But when you really get down to it, Schuerholz didn’t go after the big splashy free agent guy.

Sure, the Braves might have moved at the trade deadline and picked up a key piece during some of their biggest runs. And, I’m sure over his extended tenure you can find a bad deal or two, but there are not a lot of them that really make you shake your head.

More often than not the splashy Free Agent deal is too late. It’s rare to make that huge splash and it not bite you in the butt.

  1. Finding the diamonds in the rough.

Justin Turner, Josh Donaldson, Rich Hill, Adrian Beltre… These are guys who seemed liked average players at one point in their careers, some even scrap heap bound (Hi. This is Josh. Congrats on making it this far in the article. I was actually tasked with editing this thing and I have no idea what “scrap heap bound” means. Ken’s a redneck.) but at a certain point something clicked and all four figured it out.  

Anthopoulos made the genius move of grabbing Donaldson when he was just starting to chip off some rough edges and he watched him blossom into a superstar. But the key wasn’t in acquiring Donaldson once he was great, it was in finding him before he became great.

Maybe it’s all luck, but some GM’s have a knack for finding that “guy”. Daniel Murphy’s insane turnaround, Jake Arrieta’s ascension from a 5th starter to a Cy Young winner.

It’s the stories of the guys who weren’t supposed to be stars that define amazing teams, and more importantly – amazing general managers. It’s the guys you draft in the late rounds who no one gave much of a chance. It’s not missing on your early draft picks. It’s the stuff that most people take for granted. Because of Alex’ history of finding the gems it gives me great hope that he’s the right guy for the Braves.

So sure, take a moment and enjoy the thrill of TRAAAAIIIIDDDD takes. Let your mind run wild with the possibilities, but then realize at the end of the day that at least 95% of those ideas are probably terrible trade ideas and it’s the guys you keep, the diamonds in the rough, and the free agents you don’t sign that make a huge impact and define your legacy as a GM.

Some Food for thought: As much as we want to be twitter GM’s and armchair geniuses, how are we at managing our own lives? Are we always trying to buy the next great thing, or find the little things that make a big difference in our lives? Are we searching for a way to make a big splash and change the flavor of our lives from the sour taste we might have left for others in the past? Are we consistently developing the relationships with those still in the rough? Looking for value in places that maybe other people have given up?  Maybe if we nail those things in our own life we might get a little better perspective on how to judge a general manager for our favorite baseball team.

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