Strip Club With Stanton contacted yours truly and Ted Hill of Marlins Diehards for a roundtable discussion on some of the more important aspects of the Miami Marlins heading into 2013 and beyond. These topics, as SCWS himself said, are serious bidness, and we here at Fish Stripes take our serious business seriously. So our roundtable continues, and the topic of the day is Larry Beinfest.
To: SCWS, Ted Hill
From: Michael Jong
RE: Larry Beinfest: Bumbling Idiot or Extremely Unlucky?
SCWS, in your article regarding Beinfest (linked above), you mention quite a few of Beinfest's various moves, in particular a couple of his trades and his checkered history in the draft. And I agree that, as you mentioned, one move or one draft pick cannot be the sole determiner of whether Beinfest was a success or a failure in the Marlins organization as its player personnel leader.
But in the aggregate, when you sum up his contributions, I think a case can be made for his job to at least merit review and even deserve a dismissal, even if each individual move was, as you said, a coin flip. Beinfest has been the leader of the team's baseball operations since 2002. Since then, he has made a number of draft picks, a few signings, and a number of trades. Those individual moves are certainly subject to blind luck, but when looked at as a whole, a general manager that continually gets the "bad luck" side of things must be doing something wrong on an evaluation level.
So let's look back and grade Beinfest (and Michael Hill and the rest of Beinfest's camp) on the moves they have made since their tenure here began. I have already examined a number of trades and signings here, here, and here. We should also consider the draft status of the team.
Best Signing: Hanley Ramirez (six years, $72 million)
Worst Signing: Heath Bell (three years, $27 million)
I disagree with SCWS here on the concept of Beinfest's various contracts. Aside from Bell, no contract appeared to be a clunker at the time of the deal. That aspect is critical in analysis of these deals, because Beinfest and the Marlins should only be charged with the results of what they had seen thus far. When Ramirez signed his six-year extension, he was coming off of a Rookie of the Year season and an MVP-caliber offensive campaign. Had he signed for fair-market value, the Marlins would have had to pay a lot more than $15.5 million a season over his three free agent seasons. What happened to Ramirez was a part of the risk of an extension: the player signs for less than what he is worth now so that he is secure in his salary, and you get him for what you believe will be a bargain in return for committing more years. In Ramirez's case, the Marlins gambled and inexplicably lost, but the gamble itself was smart.
The same could be said for the other long-term extension of Josh Johnson. Like Ramirez, he received free agent years at a discount price in return for assurance in case of injury or ineffectiveness. For Johnson, the 2011 injury would have hurt his stock severely had he been entering free agency; he likely would have received just a one-year deal. The Marlins gave him guaranteed years to rebuild his stock, but in return they got discount prices for his services.
The two free agent signings before 2012 were also fine. In Delgado, the Marlins knew what they were doing and what would happen to Delgado if the club did not get a stadium deal. The team backloaded his contract badly for this very reason. With regards to Ivan Rodriguez, no one could argue against the Pudge signing before or after he helped the team to a World Series.
Best Trade: Marlins trade Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston Red Sox for Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Guzman, and Harvey Garcia
Worst Trade: Marlins trade Brad Penny, Hee Seop Choi, and Bill Murphy to Los Angeles Dodgers for Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota, and Juan Encarnacion
Yes, yes, I think most fans would want the Miguel Cabrera trade listed as the team's worst trade, and the argument is certainly there based on the results of the trade. But from a strict non-retroactive perspective, that trade looked like a decent haul with two top 20 prospects headlining the package. Only in hindsight (and this again goes towards bad luck for Beinfest and company as well) did the players look awful after failing in the majors.
With the Brad Penny deal, the players involved looked wrong from the start, as Choi had a stellar first half and was being traded for a reliever and Juan Encarnacion. Lo Duca and Penny were just being swapped as even players, so maybe the Marlins gained some by acquiring Lo Duca to fill a hole from a position of strength, but trading a promising player (who eventually flamed out, but he was still promising at the time) for a reliever and a mediocre outfielder was a silly move.
This does not get into a number of other trades the Marlins made throughout that time that were poor in part because they were forced due to a fire sale. Beinfest made a number of trades that yielded very little in the way of prospects, and other trades were at best pushes. In the later years, Beinfest's moves were highlighted by things such as trading Josh WIllingham for Emilio Bonifacio. He has made more mistakes than he has fleeced other teams, and for that, his trades are now at a net negative for the franchise. And that's when you consider the Cabrera deal a push.
Draft and Player Development
Best Pick: Giancarlo Stanton, 2nd round (76th pick)
Worst Pick: Take your pick, there are plenty to choose from
Evaluating drafts and player development may be the most crapshoot aspect of looking at a general manager's resume. By all accounts, Beinfest has failed the Marlins in terms of producing prospects. In a later piece, I'll discuss that some more. But as SCWS said, part of that is not on Beinfest.
Of those fifteen first round selections in those ten years, only one was a top-10 pick and only eight were even top-20. The bottom half of the first round isn't exactly where GMs make their mark. And if you take an even closer look at some of their picks, the line that separates skill from luck becomes even thinner. Jeremy Hermida (2002) and Chris Volstad (2005) were highly rated prospects that just never panned out. Jeffrey Allison (2003) became a heroin addict after his rookie season. These aren't exactly things a GM can predict.
But again, the problem is not Hermida or Volstad or Jeff Allison individually. It is the sum of all of Beinfest's drafts that has to be alarming. Hermida may have not panned out, and that may not be all Beinfest's and the Marlins' faults. But Volstad did not either. Neither did Brett Sinkbeil. Nor did Matt Dominguez. Nor did Aaron Thompson.
No, a player here and there is allowed to fail. But as SCWS says, when all of your draft picks bust, then much like the 2012 Marlins, perhaps the process should also be examined. Because as much as the 2012 Fish were sunk by bad luck, part of it could very well have been overestimation on everyone's part, including the front office. If every draft pick except for Stanton fails, then Beinfest should be questioned for his role in making those moves.
SCWS said that, even if all of it was bad luck for Beinfest, he deserves to be looked at more carefully and his job should be on the line, because:
Larry Beinfest has been flipping that coin for a decade and it keeps landing on tails. What we're witnessing might be the unluckiest streak in the history of unlucky streaks. Problem is, when you're playing with someone else's money, why the coin keeps landing on tails is irrelevant; there's eventually going to come a time when you lose the right to flip that coin.
I think it goes further than that. When you add everything up, it seems like Beinfest has been a net negative for the franchise in terms of his moves. If that's the case over more than 10 years, you have to figure some of that is skill, enough to at least merit further evaluation by the organization. The track record for mistakes is there, and while every one mistake may be subject to bad luck, an overall negative performance over ten years and numerous decisions could be the sign that Beinfest should not be at the top of the organization. When you also consider that he and his staff are less cognizant of the advanced statistics that are more and more pervasive in front offices in the majors, it makes his surprising job security up until now all the more puzzling.
Larry Beinfest should not be fired because of 2012. He should not be fired because of Jeremy Hermida. He should not be fired because of the Miguel Cabrera trade. But if you are considering whether or not he should be fired, all of those problems combined make for a compelling case. So I agree with you SCWS. Even if it's blind luck, Loriacannot consider letting Beinfest indefinitely flip that coin on his money. But worse yet, because the coin keeps landing tails, I think it is enough to evidence to consider that Beinfest is actually palming the coin into the tails position more often than not.