Every year at certain points of the season, Mike Bates runs a GM confidence poll in which fans of every major league team are asked—in very simple terms—how confident they are in their favorite team’s front office.
The 2016 midseason results just went up, and finding trends has become the new market inefficiency around our front office. From last season, three front offices sit atop—or perhaps abottom—the list of teams by their difference in approval from last year’s poll. Put more simply, these teams have fallen in approval more than any other team in the last calendar year. They are the Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, and Tampa Bay Rays.
Falling the furthest, the Dodgers have gone from a 92 percent approval, to a 68 percent approval. Not only are the new Dodgers brain trust new on the block, they were also considered among the smartest minds in baseball not that long ago. Andrew Friedman was poached from the small market Rays to become the President of Baseball Operations prior to the 2015 season for the largest payroll team in all of baseball. The Dodgers then poached Billy Beane’s right-hand-man in Oakland, Farhan Zaidi, to operate as the team’s general manager. Zaidi is somewhat famous for applying to the Athletics after reading Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. He was originally hired as a sabermetrics analyst for the team and jumped through the ranks. In short, Friedman and Zaidi are champions of forward-thinking brass; the royalty of finding the latest market inefficiency.
Since operating at the helm of the Dodgers then, what has changed? How much has changed in the last calendar year to make fans question their tactics? The Dodgers have gone 99-77 since last year’s trade deadline, so on-field production shouldn’t be an issue, although their exit in the NL Division Series against the New York Mets was likely not what fans were hoping for.
The moves that likely stand out to fans likely revolve around signing injury-prone pitchers. During his first season with the Dodgers, the Brett Anderson signing made Friedman and Zaidi look like geniuses. Since then, Anderson has pitched just one inning. The addition of Mike Bolsinger also looked like it was going to pan out brilliantly for the Dodgers after the 2015 season. However, an early season oblique injury followed by performance struggles saw the swingman traded away to the Toronto Blue Jays for fellow swingman Jesse Chavez.
According to the poll result, many Dodgers’ fans were especially upset at the lack of spending the team has done. Not only did Friedman and Zaidi allow Zack Greinke to walk—which looks to be a success at the moment—they didn’t make an offer on any other high-end starting pitcher such as David Price, with due respect to Scott Kazmir.
In all likelihood, the payroll concerns were likely inherited by the team’s new braintrust. When they were hired, the Dodgers had a payroll of around $260 million. After trading away Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Dee Gordon, the Dodgers have shed roughly $10 million in total payroll—no easy task. It appears then that the small market wisdom of Friedman and Zaidi was brought in for economic reasons as well. Unfortunately for them, cutting payroll also means not ‘winning’ an offseason, and therefore winning over a fanbase.
Meanwhile, the Astros’ Jeff Luhnow is the longest tenured on this list and his approval rating has skipped down 22 percent from a year ago. Amazingly, Luhnow had a near-perfect 4.9 score back then. But a lot can happen in one year.
One year ago, Luhnow’s Astros were one year ahead of schedule of their rebuild and seemed like a legitimate World Series contender. What’s more important though is the fact that they looked like they were going to be perennial contenders for a long time.
After getting beat by the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals in the AL Division Series, the Astros looked like they could afford to spend some money in the offseason—money that they had saved in years past by intentionally fielding bad teams. Instead, the Astros retained Colby Rasmus and added Doug Fister on the cheap.
Then, in an effort to solidify their bullpen, the Astros acquired Ken Giles from the Philadelphia Phillies in what also seemed like a pretty substantial overpay at the time. Fast-forward to now and Vince Velasquez looks like he could be a future star for the Phillies while Giles had a pretty rough first half and is just starting to show his dominant form.
Add in the fact that Carlos Gomez was just designated for assignment and Luhnow has had a rough past 12 months. The Astros gave up another substantial package of prospects for both Gomez and Mike Fiers and it turns out Gomez is no longer even worth a roster spot on their team. Though it was largely unforeseeable, Gomez’ failure to stick in Houston certainly reflects poorly on Luhnow’s abilities.
Lastly, the Rays’ Matthew Silverman is the toughest one to reconcile on this list with his approval dropping 21 percent. While the Rays certainly seem to have fallen out of contention, Silverman doesn’t seem to have hurt their chances all that much. That being said, he doesn’t seem to have helped them all that much either.
Acquiring Steven Souza Jr. will certainly go down as one of the worse deals in recent memory, especially with Wil Myers finally blooming with the San Diego Padres as a first baseman. Other than that though, Silverman couldn’t possibly have seen the regression of Chris Archer coming, however, the resurgence of Evan Longoria is seeming wasted on the team that sits 18 games back.
The Steve Pearce signing appears genius and the Blake Snell call-up has worked well—though the Friedman regime likely deserves most of the credit for drafting Snell.
The fact is, all three of these teams still have futures pointing toward some degree of hope. But what this signals on a macro level is what really seems interesting. Perhaps being the smart, well-educated front office executive isn’t enough to get you the benefit of the doubt anymore. Perhaps fans are becoming more skeptical, or at least need to see regular results before they just ‘trust’ the actions of a front office. It makes you wonder about the teams on the top of the approval ratings currently going through a rebuild. David Stearns of the Milwaukee Brewers ranks fourth, and rightfully so. But no general manager is immune from an occasional bad move. Whether Stearns can elude being mentioned alongside these GMs with shrinking approval could be next season’s trend to watch using our surveys.