The Tampa Bay Rays recently bestowed a new contract and a new title on their baseball operations leader, Erik Neander. He began the season with dueling corporate epaulets — senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager — and is now president of baseball operations. This was not, however, an elevation in rank.
“This position is the same as it was yesterday, it just happens to have a different title,” the Rays’ team president, Matt Silverman, said. “It’s not a promotion — he’s been leading the department for years. But the title change itself is really just to make it more consistent with how the industry currently titles the department.”
A week after Neander’s title change, the Kansas City Royals installed their own president of baseball operations, only their news release included the word “promoted” to describe Dayton Moore’s ascension from general manager to president as well as J.J. Piccolo’s move from assistant general manager to general manager.
While the Rays indicated no plans to find a replacement for the general manager post, the Royals now have a front office structure with two leaders, an increasingly common one across Major League Baseball. It’s akin to Fortune 500 companies that employ both a chief executive and a president, and it is largely in recognition of the growing size of baseball operations departments.
Among the many byproducts of “Moneyball,” both the Michael Lewis book and the film it inspired, has been the lionization of general managers. But that position — well, that title at least — has been devalued. Of the 30 M.L.B. franchises, only 16 still have a baseball operations department led by a general manager, with the rest now directed by people with titles like president of baseball operations or chief baseball officer. Even Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics general manager that Moneyball centered on, is now his team’s executive vice president of baseball operations.
Three teams — the Chicago Cubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers and now the Rays — don’t even have a general manager or interim general manager even as two of those clubs — the Cubs and the Dodgers — still list assistant general managers in their directory. (The Cubs have signaled an interest in adding a general manager this winter under Jed Hoyer, the team’s, you guessed it, president of baseball operations.)
It was just this past off-season that Kim Ng broke through baseball’s glass ceiling for front office executives by being hired as the general manager of the Miami Marlins. Ng remains her club’s top baseball executive, but she seems to have gotten to general manager just in time for that title to slowly fade away.
While the trend toward reclassifying job duties, and changing executive titles, has picked up steam this season, it is not the first time the Rays’ de facto general manager office has sat vacant. After Stu Sternberg bought the franchise in late 2005, he and Silverman replaced the general manager at the time, Chuck LaMar, with Andrew Friedman — but with a title befitting the new owners’ shared Wall Street heritage.
“When Andrew was named executive vice president of baseball operations back in 2005, people were wondering why we’d stray from the general manager title,” Silverman said. “It felt like we were on an island in going more corporate.”
All but four of the 16 general managers currently leading baseball decisions also have a corporate officer title, such as president or vice president. That stems not only from the influx of owners with backgrounds in finance but also to the reality of managing much larger front offices.
Both the Rays’ Neander and the Royals’ Moore remarked that their groups had grown three- or fourfold in the last decade and a half, with Moore having done the math: Kansas City’s had 85 employees in 2006 and 266 in 2021. Internally, the Rays joke about their “westward expansion,” a reference to the geography of the baseball operations department’s creep along the fourth floor of Tropicana Field’s offices.
There’s “more information than there’s ever been, there’s more perspective, there’s more training methods and greater understanding of how we do everything, from how we evaluate to how we develop, to how we support — it’s so much to stay on top of,” Neander said.
Referring to his entry level position with the club in 2007, Neander added: “When I started, it wasn’t a very big group. But you look at it today, if you’re doing it that way, you’re going to get swallowed up and chewed out and passed in a hurry. And so I think just the sheer size of it, and how much coverage you have to have to do this well. It’s not enough to just be analytical. It’s not enough to just treat people right. It’s not enough to develop players well. You have to do all of these things really, really well to be successful. And the demands have just grown exponentially.”
Entire departments didn’t exist or were much leaner earlier in the 21st century, most notably analytics and performance, or sports science. “Once major market teams started to build out their front offices that way and deploy dollars that way, then other teams were more apt to do it,” Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins said. “It just raised the floor significantly and the ceiling of dollars spent on talent in front offices.”
Front office mastheads are swollen with key executives. The Dodgers, for instance, have seven vice presidents reporting into Friedman, their president of baseball operations, and 11 members of the department with a director title. Others have followed suit.
“You’re collecting intellectual horsepower that you can leverage to make better decisions,” said the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, John Mozeliak. “And I think the trick of all this is to keeping that executive team or leadership team engaged because, in the end, you really have one person having to make a decision. But ultimately, you’re having people feel like they do have a voice on that decision tree.”
Clubs are all assembling a cadre of executives, akin to a politician’s cabinet. The common shorthand around the game is to refer to these key decision makers as being “in the room” during deliberations.
“The titles are kind of funny, and they are unique to each organization,” said Red Sox General Manager Brian O’Halloran, who reports to Chaim Bloom, the team’s chief baseball officer. “And honestly, I think to some degree, it doesn’t matter what you call these positions. It’s more about how you operate and how you handle things.”
He added: “Nothing is done unilaterally. It’s all done collaboratively.”
Perhaps the earliest use of the president of baseball operations title came in September 2007 when Larry Beinfest assumed that role with the Marlins, with Michael Hill serving under him as his general manager. The president title’s prevalence accelerated after Theo Epstein left his general manager post with the Red Sox and joined the Cubs as president of baseball operations.
Technically, Epstein was traded for three minor leaguers, but the sport maintains a professional courtesy to allow executives to pursue job openings at other clubs if it involves a promotion. Privately, executives acknowledge that has led to a bit of titular chicanery in which roles are given elevated titles to pry talented executives from rivals or to play defense against such poaching.
The Colorado Rockies made one of the first attempts at the modern two-executive leadership team in 2012 when General Manager Dan O’Dowd handed many of the day-to-day responsibilities for the big league club to Bill Geivett, a senior vice president. O’Dowd said in an interview that he remained involved in big transactions — trades and free agency — while relinquishing tasks like waiver claims and minor league options. He felt his personal strengths in scouting and player development had been muted.
“There’s no way one person anymore can maintain a 30,000-foot view and handle the minutiae of information that now crosses your desk — not when you oversee multiple departments,” said O’Dowd, now an M.L.B. Network analyst and the chairman of baseball virtual reality program WIN Reality.
It’s not just the size of the departments that have grown but the “level of information and resources,” Atkins said, referring to the technology, data, coaching feedback,…
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