To get people excited about season two of Oddly Specific Shifts, and because we just generally enjoy writing about baseball, both Jason Gold and Jack Boulia have decided to go where no website has ever gone before (maybe?), and comprehensively rank all 30 front offices in baseball. We’re basing our rankings on a few different criteria including ownership, free agency, trades, player development, analytics, innovation, and organizational strategy. Also taking into account budget restrictions and other things out of the control of the organization (like deaths, unexpected injuries, etc.)
We hope you enjoy. If not, you’re probably a fan of one of the five teams listed. Although, if you are a fan of one of the five teams below, you should have seen this coming.
30.) Baltimore Orioles
Where to begin with this team? From 2012-2016, the Orioles were a very real team, flanked by a decent core of offensive players including Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis, Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, and Chris Davis. Some of those young players are still around and making solid contributions, like Machado and Schoop. They’ve even been joined by other exciting talent like Trey Mancini and Chance Cisco, one of the more intriguing catching prospects in the league.
They’ve also made a litany of successful dumpster dives in recent years, often finding over-the-hill sluggers and extracting every last ounce of baseball talent from them. This includes players such as Nelson Cruz, Pedro Alvarez, Steve Pearce, Delmon Young, and Mark Trumbo. From 2012-2016, the Orioles ranked 9th in baseball in wRC+ as a team, coming out at an exactly league average 100. Given the supposed potency of this offense, one would think this figure would be higher. After all, the Orioles were first in home runs during this period, and by a decent amount.
On the pitching side of things, Zach Britton turned into a top-level closer, and the Orioles were one of the first teams to create some truly dominant bullpens (even if they weren’t always utilized correctly), allowing them to compensate for some poor rotations that ranked a putrid 24th in fWAR from 2012-2016.
So with the fanfare surrounding their offensive performers, why are they dead last on our list of front offices? Because everything behind the scenes is an absolute mess. Perhaps the biggest mark against the Orioles is the absolute refusal by ownership and management to participate in the international player market. Six of the top ten prospects in baseball right now were acquired via the international market, including potentially generational talents Ronald Acuna Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. You’ll find no players of this caliber in the Orioles organization because, unlike the vast majority of MLB franchises, the O’s have a strange aversion to exploring all possible avenues for acquiring the best talent for their team.
In the 2016-2017 international signing period, the O’s signed just 5 players while spending a paltry $226,000. For comparison, during the same period the Chicago Cubs signed 29 players and spent $2,063,100, and the Cubs were among the lowest international spenders during that period. Perhaps the most egregious example of the lack of international participation was not submitting anything to Shohei Ohtani and his agent, immediately bowing out of possibly securing a generational player for close to nothing.
Granted, this still doesn’t mean they would have gotten him. There was a very low possibility of that. But major league front offices shouldn’t be in the business of doing anything less than their best to put the most competitive product possible on the field. Even teams that are rebuilding follow some sort of blueprint, or process, to eventually put their most competitive team on the field.
Take for example, the Cubs (who will obviously feature high on these rankings). They acquired Jake Arrieta from the Orioles for a relative pittance, acquired Anthony Rizzo for Andrew Cashner, and signed Jon Lester to a huge contract a year or two early in anticipation of their contention window. There was intent to proactively create more possibilities, another theme we saw with teams like the Astros finding value while still rebuilding.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing we see with the Orioles is closing the door on these possibilities. Jake Arrieta wasn’t allowed to throw his best pitch in Baltimore, then went to the Cubs who didn’t attempt to restrict his talent, allowing him to become the player he was supposed to be all along.
The root of all the above issues can be found in the constant power struggle at the upper levels of the Orioles organization. Nobody in baseball seems to be able to identify who is actually in charge of this franchise at the moment. They have a general manager who has been seemingly enfeebled by the ownership, and ownership who are more than willing to make uninformed decisions despite the knowledgeable urgings of the more experienced personnel in the front office. We actually didn’t mean uninformed decisions; the Orioles are constantly informed! They’re just informed by Scott Boras.
The Orioles signed Chris Davis to a seven-year, $161 million deal after 2015. It looked bad at the time, and looks even worse now. Davis sits at -1.3 fWAR at the time of this article, running a 34 wRC+. They were bidding against nobody but themselves, and now quickly seem to be saddled with one of the worst contracts in baseball.
They also bid against themselves with other recent signings such as Mark Trumbo (three-years, $37.5 million), and Alex Cobb (four years, $64 million). If you want to know why teams aren’t finding value in free agency anymore, look no further than the Orioles.
The farm system is a mess, headlined by Austin Hays and Chance Sisco. The team also continues to ignore on-base percentage entirely, the largest reason why their offense, even at peak, wasn’t particularly valuable. They held off on trading Zach Britton and Manny Machado for too long and will likely not move either before the deadline. They recently won six games in a row which likely convinced ownership that the Orioles just started slow this year.
If the Orioles franchise is going to start improving, which is difficult to imagine at all right now considering they are less than eight months away from losing the best player their franchise has seen since Cal Ripken Jr. retired, there must be a change at the upper levels of the organization. Whether it is a new general manager less willing to bend to the will of the owners, or a new ownership group willing to trust the baseball expertise of those they’re paying large salaries to, some sort of organizational unity needs to happen before any larger progress can be made.
29.) Seattle Mariners
For the official record, when we did our preliminary rankings, I wanted the Seattle Mariners to be dead last. Jack eventually talked me out of it with glorious tales of the Orioles’ incompetence, but there are plenty of valid reasons why you could look at the floundering franchise in the Emerald City and think they were the worst in baseball.
Just like the Orioles, however, we’ll start with the positives. The Mariners have been one of the better teams in the league at finding talent in the domestic draft and taking advantage of lesser-utilized international talent pools like Brazil, from where they plucked former top prospect Luiz Gohara. Domestically, the team has drafted solid, talented players like Mike Zunino and Taijuan Walker. Once those players are actually a part of the organization however, everything changes, and the root of most problems can be traced to the man who is possibly the worst single executive in the entire league, Jerry Dipoto.
To give some credit to Dipoto, he inherited an absolute mess when he took over from former GM Jack Zduriencik in 2015. Following scathing professional attacks on his predecessor’s reputation that tainted the credibility of the entire Mariners organization, Dipoto was tasked with the difficult job of righting the ship. He does occasionally make some decent deals. The trade in which he sent Taijuan Walker to the Diamondbacks for a package that included Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger is a definite win.
Despite this, there’s a reason that r/FormerMs exists. The list of players that Dipoto has traded away that have become solid contributors elsewhere is both a testament to his own incompetence as a general manager and to the inability of the Mariners organization to develop these talents into players who could contribute in Seattle.
This list of names include Dodgers’ breakout star Chris Taylor, Cubs’ swingman Mike Montgomery, and the aforementioned Luiz Gohara, who after being traded to the Braves, very quickly became a top pitching prospect and is already contributing for the Braves at the major league level. Dipoto’s front office has shown a consistent inability to develop talent, and it is apparent when you look at the state of the Mariners’ minor league system right now, which features oft-injured outfielder Kyle Lewis as the top talent in the system.
Trading high ceiling players for high floor guys hasn’t really panned out well so far. In addition, the Mariners payroll is bloated and the Felix Hernandez contract is one of the worst in baseball (with Robinson Cano likely to follow quickly). With many holes to be filled at the major league level, one of the worst farm systems in baseball, as well as one of the worst track records of developing players (and keeping them healthy) to date, the Mariners front office is bloated and their window is closing rapidly.
28.) Texas Rangers
It’d be nice if we could positively judge a franchise based on one move. The Rangers, of course, have gotten more value out of Adrian Beltre than perhaps any other free agent in recent memory and it is likely he will go into the Hall of Fame as a Ranger.
In addition, the Rangers are getting a beautiful new ballpark in 2020, always a plus for a front office as they’ll be able to attract larger crowds and be a more attractive destination for future free agents. This is a nice contribution from an ownership group that has shown a willingness to spend somewhat freely.
Unfortunately, not everything has been sunshine and roses for the Rangers.
Texas is another franchise that gets dinged a little bit for their Shohei Ohtani signing shenanigans. They made a big deal in the offseason about their grand plans to recruit Ohtani, even going so far as to recruit former franchise superstar and Ohtani’s role model, Yu Darvish. They made multiple moves to acquire extra international pool money to make a competitive run at the two-way superstar. In the end, according to Ohtani himself, the Rangers proposal was “disappointing.” For a front office to make such a heavily concerted effort to go after a single player and by all accounts fail so badly, it reflects poorly on the overall attractiveness of that team.
Player development is perhaps the biggest weakness of this front office. Since 2012, the Rangers have had a multitude of top prospects come through their system, with little to show for it. The most significant performers from these prospects are likely Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor who…well I guess this depends on how you feel about the word “significance”.
Nomar Mazara looks interesting still, but it’s been taking awhile for a prospect who looked like he was a finished major league product, and proved us right in his first half season. He’s having a good season so far, but I’m not sold he ever taps in to the offensive upside he possesses, which is massive. Even then, he’s still a butcher on defense, limiting his ultimate upside to provide value for the Rangers.
Now, the good news for the Rangers is that they don’t have much money committed moving forward. They could pick up Cole Hamels’ $20 million option for next year (if he is not traded); otherwise, they have Elvis Andrus locked up for $73.75 million through 2022 (with a $15 million vesting option for 2023), and Shin-Soo Choo is locked up for another two years after this with Rougned Odor making a relatively small amount until 2022.
While this may seem inconsequential moving forward, during the Rangers’ window (we’ll consider this 2009-2016), they were significantly hamstrung by some poor financial decisions and trades, specifically the Shin-Soo Choo signing, and trading Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder. The approach to the roster during this time was a very “stars and scrubs”-esque approach, which obviously worked. However, they haven’t evolved much since then in terms of organizational philosophy. It still seems like the front office is constantly trying to compete, and hasn’t made the jump over to analytics like everyone else has.
With a lack of talent at the big league level, few tradable assets, little talent at the minor league level, and a front office in need of a total rehaul when it comes to development and evaluation, it could be a long time before we see a competitive Rangers team.
27.) Colorado Rockies
The front office should be commended for one thing immediately; finally developing an actual pitching staff. For years the strategy was to trot out a mediocre offense propped up by Coors Field in addition to basically whatever pitchers they could find. Last year they discovered the merits of having an actual pitching staff, and their relative competence awarded them a Wild Card berth.
Like the Mariners, it’s never been quite apparent when the window of contention is, but after last year’s major improvements to the pitching staff, as well as having two of the best players in baseball in Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, it’s increasingly clear the window is now.
The past decade or so of baseball has been brutal to Rockies fans. Before last year, the last season the Rockies finished above .500 was in 2010 when they finished 83-79. The front office has always been behind everyone else in terms of analytics, despite what has been a pretty decent track record with player development.
It really shouldn’t have taken them a decade to figure out there are other games to play at besides Coors, but we won’t hold that against them. Actually, we will. It’s the very reason we’re writing this.
We really don’t want to make it seem like the Rockies accidentally walked into contention, but due to some of the activity from the front office recently, it’s clear they weren’t (or aren’t) ready. The Ian Desmond signing was confusing at the time and continues to confound. The Gerardo Parra deal was more defensible but still, ultimately, perplexing. What’s even more baffling has been that both of these guys are still in the lineup. Actually, the lineup as a whole is terrible. And the worst part is that the solutions to so many of their offensive problems are already in the organization.
Raimel Tapia, David Dahl, Ryan McMahon, and Tom Murphy are all inexcusably not up with the Rockies right now and would represent a sizable improvement over the current lineup they’re trotting out. It wouldn’t even be defensible for one year; we’re already almost in June. The worst part is this has been happening for what has felt like three years. Perhaps no team in baseball has ruined their window of contention more than the Rockies have.
They continued their torrid streak of confusing spending this offseason, opting to create a “super ‘pen” that seems to be all the rage these days. This is the most modern thing the Rockies have probably done with their money, and I’m still not convinced it was the right way to spend it. Given the volatility of relievers, any money put towards them is inherently risky. The Rockies locked Charlie Blackmon up at a very fair deal; however, with that deal, as well as the money put towards the bullpen, it probably leaves them little to no shot at resigning Nolan Arenado.
Charlie Blackmon is much older than you think, as he’ll be 32 by midseason. Arenado just turned 27. This was the wrong decision in regards to who you want to build around (even if Arenado is substantially more expensive), and made a mid-to-small market team even more restricted in regards to payroll. The Rockies are still not very good and are currently paying overspending for the caliber of their current roster, and the cheapest and easiest solutions seem to be the ones they continue to not make.
26.) Cincinnati Reds
Though there was an article recently written about how much of a mess the Reds’ front office is, they find themselves higher on this list than you might think. The damage of the Walt Jocketty years is still being felt, however the recent regime has done a pretty good job of finding major league talent and building a very good, very deep farm system.
Unfortunately, the Reds having a decent farm system seems like this has been echoed for awhile, though they managed to completely overhaul and restock it after Walt Jocketty. There are some major positive signs in this organization ready to burst through, but unfortunately they seem lost in meddling bureaucracy throughout the ranks of the front office.
Similar to the Rockies, developing pitching has been the major impediment of organizational success for as long as I can remember. Luis Castillo has looked very promising so far in his big league career, however the last few significant pitchers the Reds have developed is a short list of Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and (maybe) Edinson Volquez.
And while the Rockies may have finished last in pitching for many of the years they were mired in mediocrity, they were never literally the worst pitching staff of all time. There’s bad, and then there’s historically bad. The Reds have been historically bad. They have broken time with how bad their pitching has been. On one hand, the front office can be commended for breaking both time and space. On the other hand, they rank low on this list because of it.
So why is this team not last?
The Reds have actually done a really terrific job developing position players. They’ve also never been particularly bad with money; they’re a small market team and have done a really good job keeping that in perspective.
Joey Votto has been worth his contract and continues to produce into his mid-to-late 30s. The Homer Bailey contract is bad, but was definitely justified at the time. Raisel Iglesias has been a relative bargain, as was Aroldis Chapman when he originally signed. They also recently extended both Tucker Barnhart and Eugenio Suarez on extremely team-friendly deals. They acquired both Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler via trade and both have been solid contributors for awhile now. Even Scooter Gennett was plucked off of waivers and has quietly put up 3.4 fWAR since the beginning of last year.
While there are some major strides in progress, there are still definitely roadblocks to success from an organization who seems about twenty years behind everything. Part of this is Cincinnati (the city, not just the team) is obsessed with tenure and nepotism. Remember the guy that kind of ruined this all for the Reds in the first place? Walt Jocketty? He’s actually still with the organization as Executive Advisor to the CEO.
While part of Reds seems to understand what they’re doing, there’s a definite divide between player development and the analytics guys. It’s not just disagreements, either. It’s literally about two decades of knowledge. Unless they plan on completely clearing house, which they aren’t, there is going to need to be significant buy-in from the more archaic parts of the Reds’ organization, which there won’t be.