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Yikes! Bob Geren?!

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The latest news in the manager search raises some questions, but gives us some very firm answers about the qualities the front office seeks.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

If you know me at all then you know that I always open up Twitter dot com while holding a cup of tea so that my monocle has something to fall into when I see a bad tweet. Folks, let me tell you that the monocle jumped off my face and tried to drown itself in my Earl Grey before I could even finish this tweet from The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly:

If you (rightfully) have Twitter blocked (good for you), the tweet from Baggarly says the Giants interviewed former A’s manager and current Dodgers bench coach for the manager job. On the one hand, it underscores the point made yesterday in the Kapler news post: the Giants are playing this really close to the vest.

We knew the Giants were looking to interview 8-10 candidates (6-8 from outside the organization) and after all the talk over the past week about Joe Espada having a phone interview and one in-person interview with another schedule for after the World Series, we — or, at least, I — figured the candidate pool was fully known:

  1. Hensley Meulens
  2. Ron Wotus
  3. Mark Kotsay
  4. Pedro Grifol
  5. Gabe Kapler
  6. Will Venable
  7. Matt Quatraro
  8. Joe Espada

And, as Baggarly notes, Espada and Kapler are the only publicly known finalists. This news about Geren indicates there’s a nonzero chance that he could be one as well. Which would be a shock. Because Bob Geren would be, on paper, a terrible hire.

Why is that the case? Let’s work backwards, using former SB Nation contributor Grant Brisbee’s response tweet to the news:

Now, an industry source could be anyone, especially people who don’t actually know what’s happening behind the scenes, but by way of proximity do tend to know about things before the rest of us. On the other hand, it’s not like the baseball industry is a vast network of discrete organizations, values, and news coverage. People talk and word gets around fast.

Geren last managed in 2011 for the Oakland A’s, which means in eight year’s time the perception of him hasn’t risen above his on-paper managerial accomplishments. From 2007-2011, Billy Beane’s Best Man went 334-376 over the five years following the Moneyball-era A’s.

We could chalk that up to simply not having the talent, but consider this: he was fired 63 games into the 2011 season after the team started 27-36. It was the ninth game of a 10-game losing streak and part of a 5-17 stretch that included a three game sweep by the Giants in San Francisco.

I didn’t remember the particulars of that series, but I still remember the feeling I took away from it: that Bob Geren was in way over his head. To that point, here’s a snippet from Athletics Nation’s recap of the A’s first loss of that series:

Trevor Cahill fired a one-hitter over 6 IP, but was lifted after 83 pitches for not one, but two, pinch-hitters -- Hideki Matsui, who was immediately lifted for Conor Jackson -- with two outs and the potential go-ahead run at 3B. So Cahill went 6 innings instead of 8, Matsui did nothing and was not available in the late innings, Jackson batted once and left the game, and a parade of relievers, forced to pitch 4 shutout innings just to keep the game tied, ran out of steam when Brian Fuentes served up a game-winning hit to Aubrey Huff.

What else should I mention? Let’s see. Wuertz was ordered to walk Huff with the go-ahead run on 2B in the 8th inning, to pitch to Buster Posey, challenging the old “Hey let’s have Fuentes pitch to Miguel Cabrera instead of leaving Balfour in for one more hitter” as bone-headed move of the year. It worked, probably leading Bob Geren to double underline “Always walk guys to pitch to the other team’s best hitter!!!” in his notebook.

Ah, but that’s just one game among hundreds. Sure, those are a lot of mistakes stacked on top of each other which strongly point to the reason the A’s lost 2-1 in extra innings, but anyone can have an off night.

Four reporters approached, and Fuentes immediately ripped Geren’s communication skills and in-game managing, and admitted he wasn’t speaking only for himself. “I don’t think anybody knows what direction he is headed,” Fuentes said.

Other players weighed in on and off the record, none refuting Fuentes’ stance, and former A’s reliever Huston Street chimed in long distance with his alarming statement to The Chronicle that Geren is the “least favorite person I have ever encountered in sports.”

Ah! Well! That’s really something. What was it about him that drew Billy Beane to him, I wonder?

“A great baseball man,” Beane said Thursday.

A great baseball man . . . to manipulate?? Boy howdy, it sure seems that way, and being the bench coach for an Andrew Friedman-led franchise doesn’t alter that perception. That Beane’s protege would have interest in him really shouldn’t be a surprise, then.

I considered him a candidate back in February, not only because of the Dodgers link but because of that A’s link. Jon Heyman even suggested this in September:

Zaidi more or less confirmed his candidacy in the wrap-up:

The other part of the managerial search is that the team is both comfortable hiring someone who has never done it before (Zaidi name-dropped Dave Roberts more than once) and someone with experience. Bob Geren jumped to mind given the way Zaidi expounded on the idea: “guys who better and have more traction the second time around because of all the lessons they’ve learned.”

It’s possible Geren isn’t the only candidate to go through the process without it being known right away, but for now, let’s just consider the list of known names:

  1. Hensley Meulens
  2. Ron Wotus
  3. Mark Kotsay
  4. Pedro Grifol
  5. Gabe Kapler
  6. Will Venable
  7. Matt Quatraro
  8. Joe Espada
  9. Bob Geren

Again, Wotus is out. Meulens is currently out of the country managing the Netherlands National Team (he’s not out of baseball — I mean, he is physically out of the country) which he might not have done if he had a job lined up a la Joe Girardi dropping out of managing the US National Team for the WBC to be available for the Phillies job.

Look at the rest of that list. The only two candidates with prior major league managerial experience (Kapler and Geren) are widely regarded as tools of the front office. We live in cynical times and it’s tough to see baseball nakedly embracing it, but it’s impossible to see Geren and the full candidacy list as anything other than a sign the Giants want an avatar for Baseball Operations in the dugout.

In practice, that looks like lineup decisions and pre-game pitching change decisions decided by proprietary data. It looks like the manager’s input being a much smaller fraction in the decision-making process. It looks like a manager explaining and (if necessary) defending someone else’s choices without looking like it was made without their consultation, approval, or knowledge. Ultimately, it’s up to the players to produce, but I’m willing to be the people who crow about managers having very little influence in a team’s success feel the exact opposite about the front office being more in control.

That’s what’s cynical about this. It comes from a place of not trusting the people you hire to do the jobs they’re hired to do. It’s about not trusting that you’ve assembled the best talent available and trusting the experienced people to use the tools that have been provided to them to make the best decisions and then evaluating them based on their choices. It’s about not leaving anything to chance by generally assuming that their numbers are better than any one person’s mind.

Sure, managers have always been some kind of extension of an organization’s philosophies or desires, but the typical view of a baseball manager’s relationship with his team and players has been, historically, that he sets the tone. Now it’s the front office micromanaging that tone. It’s baseball manager as middle manager, putting a face to a computer-driven corporate message. If you don’t get what I mean, here’s a scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation to help explain it:

So, yeah, baseball front offices are the Borg, absorbing unique identities into a homogenized collective for the stated purpose of bettering itself, when in reality it’s erasing individuality. Farhan Zaidi might not actually say to the winning candidate

Your archaic cultures are authority-driven. To facilitate our introduction into your societies, it has been decided that a human voice will speak for us in all communications. You have been chosen to be that voice.

But the intention behind the hire will be the same.