Let me preface this piece of thought by saying that, yes, a new team leadership has every right to want to choose the people who work in their system. My suggestion, though, is that they not make removing the current and first-year Vice-President of Player Personnel David Bell part of the coming changes to the organization.
The San Francisco Giants do have a lot to fix in their system. There may be organizational flaws in thinking and in practice. A teardown o the organization Brian Sabean built and led for 20 years would be controversial, but easily defensible. Still, the team should not be so too hasty in replacing everyone.
Why not replace Bell? Better yet, why keep him? There are three reasons:
1. 2018 wasn’t his fault in any way
2018 was better than 2017, but it was still a failure. Decisions were made, and their worthiness can be debated. None of those decisions or failures fall on Bell’s shoulders.
Bell’s job, after all, is about developing the minor leaguers. Trading for Evan Longoria or Andrew McCutchen wasn’t his decision. Even the minor leaguers who came up, their failures and their successes, weigh heavily on the decisions made by his predecessors than they do on him, as many of them (such as Derek Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez) played barely a couple of months under his revamped minor league system.
More accurate criticisms and praise might come from the performance of players that spent most of the season under him. How much can one attribute the struggles of Tyler Beede, Aramis Garcia or Heliot Ramos to the system Bell set up? How about the successes around the rehabilitation of Logan Webb, or the successes of players who had struggled like Heath Quinn and Jalen Miller? The 2018 minor league system was a mixed bag of performances… then again, most minor league seasons are.
A fair evaluation of Bell’s work can only truly be done after a few seasons of development. Whether or not the new GM has such patience or time to let that play out is a matter of opinion, but one season is not nearly enough time to fairly grade the progress.
2. Bell made all the right moves coming on board
When the Giants hired Bell, he did not just replace his predecessor, Shane Turner, in the role. He instituted major changes throughout the farm system. The two most visible changes were adding a second team in the Arizona Rookie League to give younger players more playing time, and adding additional coaches at nearly every level — a “Fundamentals Coach” — to provide more coaching within the system.
Underneath those decisions is a farm director who extols the virtue of data in player development. That’s not to say that Bell has lost his love of gritty players with a hard work ethic, but he has done more than just sing the praises of ways to incorporate data and information in developing players.
His interests go beyond launch angles, spin rates, and sabermetric data. The organization also focused on nutrition, biometrics, and even sleep as ways to improve each team. The system focused a lot more on the health of a player, choosing to not leave a player to their own devices the moment they leave the stadium.
A common refrain among the Giants’ loudest critics has been that the team needs to improve the methods used to develop their prospects. I don’t think anyone could dispute that Bell has made significant advances to that end.
3. Bell comes from a trusted background
Sure, Bell is a former Giant, but that’s not what I mean.
As an executive, few come with as much baseball pedigree as David Bell. He is a 3rd generation baseball player, and his father also has been a manager and currently works in the Cincinnati Reds front office. And while Bell bounced around the Majors, his exposure to several different organizations probably gives him a lot of context to approaches that work and don’t.
Bell’s post-player life also has one key bit of experience that is important. He spent three years coaching in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Sure, there’s also experience managing in the Reds organization and coaching with the Cubs, but that Cardinals’ experience matters more. I hate the Cardinals, but it cannot be denied that they are a virtual factory for developing minor league players.
Bell doesn’t have years of experiences as a farm director, but it doesn’t take years of experience to see what works best. Not when you’ve been exposed to St. Louis’ powerhouse development program.
So there you go. Again, a new G.M. might want his own hand-picked farm director, and that’s a fair decision to make. But Bell has the right to get the chance to hang on with the new leadership. After all, Giants third base coach Ron Wotus and former pitching coach Dave Righetti began their careers with the Giants under Dusty Baker. They have stayed very highly-regarded coaches throughout their careers while working under three different Giants managers.
So, Larry Baer, please don’t get trigger happy and fire David Bell in a preemptive move to placate fans who want changes, and want them now, dammit. And consider making Bell’s retention (at least for another year or two) a condition of the new GM’s employment. Give Bell a chance to help lead the farm system into the next generation.