Earlier this week, the Reds joined the growing host of teams with a bifurcated front office structure when they relieved Walt Jocketty of his GM duties and made him President of Baseball Operations, promoting Dick Williams (not THE Dick Williams, but a different Dick Williams) to the General Manager spot. Williams is going to work under Jocketty for a year before the long-time executive presumably retires.
We are seeing this more and more, as teams are hoarding GM-level talent by moving their chief decision maker into that President position, and elevating an Assistant General Manager to the GM spot. The bleeding edge of this innovation are the clubs you would typically associate with bucking trends and finding new ways to operate. The Cubs, Dodgers, and the A's in particular. They've been followed by the Red Sox, Phillies, Blue Jays, and Reds, and I'm probably missing a couple.
A lot about this new practice, especially as it relates to team building, is still unclear. How are the responsibilities divided? How much autonomy does the GM actually have? Is it really different from what we had before or are teams just shifting titles around? Different teams are likely going to have very different answers to those questions, adapting their organizational flow charts to match their specific strengths.
The idea behind it is presumably a good one: It's better to have more good baseball minds lying around than fewer, and this represents a way for clubs to hold on to their best and brightest, who might otherwise be seeking an opportunity elsewhere. As Aaron Gleeman has pointed out, GMs used to be the Final Boss. But by pushing the Final Boss back, these clubs have extended their game by another level. We should also take note of the teams leading the way, clubs who are generally perceived as forward thinking, smart organizations, and who have had success in recent years.
We should welcome the experimentation that brought this new paradigm about. That doesn't mean that this new way (What is it? A new way?) is inherently better, however. It potentially adds another degree of difficulty, for instance, if the President and the GM can't find a way to coexist. In theory, this shouldn't be a problem, as the President hires the GM and finds someone philosophically and socially attuned to the Prez's wavelength. But human beings are complicated. Disagreements happen. Sometimes, people are shoehorned together against their wishes, like the Blue Jays tried to do with Mark Shapiro and Alex Anthopolous.
This year, just two of the ten teams in the postseason had implemented this new leadership structure. The Blue Jays followed suit after they were eliminated. Both World Series teams were examples of the old system, in which a GM maintained final authority over the roster. This isn't to say that the new method won't work. It will likely take a couple more years before its effect is truly reflected in the outcomes on the field, one way or the other. Still, if we're being open minded, it's important for us not to buy in fully. To observe the trend and see whether having so many cooks ultimately makes the soup better, or spoils it outright.