by Steve Mancuso

How to avoid geographic myopia and get the search to replace Dick Williams right

This morning, the baseball press reported out a new name as a possible candidate to replace Dick Williams as President of Baseball Operations (PBO) for the Reds. Back to that in a second. 

Will there be a search?

It needs to be stressed that we don’t know if there even will be a search.

Buried in the reporting from the day Williams stepped down, you’ll find this nugget from owner Bob Castellini:

“We are going to take a closer at the structure of our baseball operations before making any decisions about replacing him.”

That comment is sufficiently cryptic it could mean a number of things. Included in the range of possibilities is that Castellini could shrink his organizational chart and simply go without a PBO. The Reds didn’t have that position until 2015 when it was given to Walt Jocketty. Dick Williams became PBO in 2017.

If that’s what the Reds decide to do, Nick Krall would continue to run the club from the GM position. That approach would save money and maximize continuity of a sort. It would also leave the Reds shorthanded. 

Hiring an external voice

Assuming Castellini does stick with the current structure of a PBO and a GM, he could promote Krall and find a new GM from outside the organization. He could promote Krall and fill the GM internally. Or he could hire a new President of Baseball Operations from another organization and leave Krall at GM. 

I wrote a few days ago that whatever the Reds do, they should add a strong external voice to the mix. Promoting from within or just holding pat creates the impression of continuity. But in reality, it’s a big subtraction of the large contribution of Williams himself. While Krall and Williams may have been in alignment on most important principles and decisions the past couple years, you have to assume that each of them had their own ideas and strengths. If Castellini doesn’t add a person, the Reds will have to do without replacing the time, effort, ideas and judgment Williams provided. 

That’s why adding a new, powerful voice, either at the #1 or #2 position is crucial. Under that scenario, if Castellini favors continuity, he could bump Krall up and hire a new second-in-command. If Castellini wants to shake things up a bit, he could go with a new top guy and keep Krall where he is. 

The morning news

That brings us back to the morning news. Ken Rosenthal from The Athletic reported the Miami Marlins failed to reach contract agreement with their long-time executive Michael Hill. Hill became the Marlins GM in 2007 and the Marlins PBO in 2013. Less than ten minutes later, Mark Sheldon, Reds beat writer at MLB.com noted this additional fact about Hill:

A few minutes later, Rosenthal added this: 

Again, we don’t know yet if there is or will be a search. But it seems like Michael Hill’s hat could be in the on deck circle. 

Geographic myopia

If there is a search, we have to hope geographic myopia is more important to media narrative creation than it is to Reds decision makers.

There’s ample reason to be skeptical. It’s doubt borne from a long pattern of Castellini preferring or settling for insiders or family attachments. Walt Jocketty didn’t have a Cincinnati connection per se, but he and Castellini were long-time pals when the latter was part of the Cardinals ownership group and the former was the organization’s GM. The Reds interviewed exactly one person — Bryan Price — to replace Dusty Baker. Price had been with the Reds four years and stayed on another four seasons as manager. Top executives on the baseball side of the organization — Krall and Sam Grossman — are basically Reds lifers. Dick Williams was family and promoted from inside. 

Williams though, with his business background, did conduct a thorough search to find the club’s current manager. David Bell was more than qualified to be hired without considering his ties to Cincinnati. But it’s hard to know the role his previous stint as a Reds minor league skipper and family connections played in selling ownership on Bell.

With Dick Williams gone, how far will the Reds cast their net for his replacement? 

Michael Hill

The Marlins had nothing but losing seasons under Michael Hill’s leadership until 2020. The previous four years:

  • (2019) 57-105
  • (2018) 63-98
  • (2017) 77-85
  • (2016) 79-82

I could keep going. You have to go back to 2010 to find an 80-win season and 2009 for a winning record. 

Yes, the Marlins finished 31-29 in 2020, the same record as the Reds. But Miami’s 2020 results should be heavily discounted as an indicator. It goes without saying this season has been random and unprecedented for everyone involved. But it was particularly crazy for Miami. They were hit with a massive COVID outbreak out of the gate. Hill had to replace 17 players to field a team. The Marlins front office acquired whatever players it could piece together from its minor leagues and other teams’ scraps. Their record was a miracle. 

But before you hoist Michael Hill on your shoulders and anoint him Reds President, ask yourself these questions: How important are the skills shown this season by the Marlins front office? Will the next five seasons resemble 2020 randomness? What would the 2020 Marlins record have been over 162 games?

Me, I look at those 2016-2019 seasons as more indicative of how the Marlins front office has done. I look at the decision by Marlins ownership to let Michael Hill walk away as a sign. 

Assigning a share of credit or blame to individuals in an organization can be tricky. The President of Baseball Operations and General Manager are constrained and enabled by ownership to varying degrees. In particular, Marlins ownership — from Jeffrey Loria until 2017 and Derek Jeter since — has been hands on, hands in, hands all over everything. Michael Hill didn’t decide to trade Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich or Luis Castillo. It’s hard to know how much to praise or fault Hill. 

But Hill did approve the returns. For years, the Marlins have been known for questionable trades. Michael Hill was there either as GM or PBO for all of it. In fact, Miami was the butt of jokes over their trade missteps.

Person 1: Suggests a lopsided trade idea

Person 2: No one would be dumb enough to make that trade. But run it by the Marlins. Who knows?

One trade Reds fans know involved Luis Castillo. Michael Hill traded Castillo to the Reds for Dan Straily. Straily started 55 games over two seasons for Miami and put up a 4.82 xFIP or 14% worse than league average. Castillo is one of the league’s best starters and he can pitch here three more seasons. 

I don’t know much about Michael Hill yet, beyond the Marlins’ win-loss records and trade exploits. He might be terrific; a perfect fit for the Reds. Hill might be just what the Reds need. If he’s interested in the job, the Reds should consider Hill seriously and hire him if he’s the best candidate.

But what I don’t want to hear is that Michael Hill’s connection to Cincinnati or his one-off 2020 maneuvers played a role in the decision.

Six principles for hiring Dick Williams’ replacement

Not that anyone is asking me, but this is how the Reds should address the departure of Dick Williams:

  1. Hire Someone New – Replace Dick Williams with a strong external candidate.
  2. National Search – Conduct an aggressive national search for either a new President of Baseball Operations or a new General Manager. 
  3. Winning Teams – Search organizations that have been winning and innovative over several years.
  4. Smart and Up-To-Date – Identify bright, hard-working, up-to-date and creative young executives.
  5. Offer a Step Up – Be willing to offer a step up to improve the pool of interested candidates. If offering the Reds GM job, search through Assistant GMs. If offering the Reds PBO title, search through current GMs. 
  6. Zero Value on Cincinnati Connection – Don’t put any value at all on Cincinnati attachments. None. Zero. Consider a lack of connection a plus. 

The Reds job is a good one. Ownership doesn’t have to rely on hometown nostalgia or settle for guys from losing organizations.

Featured image: https://twitter.com/Reds/status/746790155076304896/photo/1

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.

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[…] of Nick Krall. I want to be as clear as possible that isn’t the case. I’ve expressed on more than one occasion my support for promoting Krall to the job of Reds President of Baseball […]