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OC Register: Perry Minasian, Kim Ng offer MLB a familiar yet different breed of executive


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<p>It’s an interesting time to be a general manager of a Major League Baseball team. The Angels’ Perry Minasian and the Marlins’ Kim Ng have been working in MLB in some capacity since the 1990s. They were collecting paychecks from clubs long before Chaim Bloom, the Red Sox’s top executive, wrote his first article for Baseball Prospectus in 1997, or James Click did the same in 2003. Those four – Minasian, Ng, Click and Bloom – were the last four people to be hired to helm a baseball operations department.</p><p>Jed Hoyer is not a recent hire, but he succeeded Theo Epstein on Tuesday when the Cubs’ president of baseball operations resigned with one year left on his contract. Someday, perhaps soon, Oakland’s Billy Beane – the most famous baseball executive since Branch Rickey – will complete his transition from upper management to ownership, a slow burn across two sports from two continents that began eight years ago.</p><p>Somewhere in these facts lies a trend line. From a distance, it looks squiggly and directionless, as if a 2-year-old took a crayon to paper. But it’s the trend line the baseball industry is scrutinizing now and will scrutinize even more five years from now, or however long it takes to decide whether each team chose the right person for the job.</p><p>Former Dodgers general manager Dan Evans has worked closely with both Ng and Minasian. He hired Ng first as an intern with the Chicago White Sox, then later as the Dodgers’ head of scouting and player development. Minasian was in the Blue Jays’ front office when Evans went to Toronto as a scout.</p><p>“Such great blends of scouting, analytics, work ethic,” he said, “and they’re great listeners.”</p><p>It’s useful here to pause and consider the evolution of the job description, and the backgrounds of the (heretofore) men who have succeeded in it. Experience in professional scouting, or professional playing, or both, was a prerequisite for a time. Epstein ushered in a gradual wave of Ivy League-educated GMs. Andrew Friedman demonstrated the value to baseball of having a background in Wall Street and quantitative analytics. By the late 2010s, the scouting/analytics pendulum seemed to have reached an equilibrium. To the older guard, it appeared to favor the “outsiders.”</p><p>Minasian and Ng are quintessential baseball lifers. They were educated far from the Ivy league halls – Minasian at UT-Arlington, Ng at the University of Chicago.</p><p>Ng was arguing arbitration cases for the White Sox in her 20s. She worked in the front offices of the Yankees and Dodgers before she became the senior vice president of baseball operations for MLB, a role that offers perspective on the inner workings of all 30 teams. She waited nearly three decades before becoming the first female GM of a major men’s sport.</p><p>Minasian began as a Texas Rangers bat boy at age 8 before becoming a clubhouse attendant, then a scout, then a coaching assistant, then a front-office assistant in Toronto and Atlanta.</p><p>“I do think my background’s a little different than most,” Minasian said Tuesday. “I’ve been in a big-league clubhouse for 30-plus years of my lifetime. I’ve seen different clubs, different personalities, different players. I think that’s one of the advantages I’ll have. I’ve been around enough to see a lot of different situations, and what makes players tick, and when they need to have a pat on the back or a hug, or when they need to have a serious conversation with somebody. I think that’s a feel component, and me being around as long as I have, I feel that’s one of my strong suits and I think it will come in handy.”</p><p>“The players have a unique perspective for sure, and they can tell you a lot about guys’ character and how they approach their craft every single day,” Ng said Monday. “Sometimes you get too zoomed in and you don’t necessarily see the entire picture. … I think that’s why you need different perspectives in the room. You need someone from the front office, someone from the scouting department, someone from player development, someone from analytics. You need all these people in the room to make good decisions. We all bring certain strengths and expertise to the table, and if you don’t use those resources, shame on you.”</p><p>None of these are unique ideas, yet neither are they coded in the analytical jargon that at first required an interpreter – a language now so common among executives, little interpretation is needed. Ng and Minasian might be focused on financial flexibility, payroll efficiency, roster optimization and decision models as much as the next GM. On Day 1 at least, this was not their message to fans.</p><p>This wasn’t Epstein’s message to fans on his final day with the Cubs, either.</p><p>“(Baseball) is the greatest game in the world,” Epstein told reporters Tuesday, “but there are some threats to it because of the way the game is evolving, and I take some responsibility for that because the executives like me who have spent a lot of time using analytics and other measures to try to optimize individual and team performance have unwittingly had, you know, a negative impact on the aesthetic value of the game and the entertainment value of the game. I mean, clearly, you know the strikeout rate’s a little bit out of control and we need to find a way to get more action in the game, get the ball in play more often, allow players to show their athleticism some more and give the fans more of what they want.”</p><p>Epstein isn’t the first baseball executive to acknowledge the <a href="https://www.ocregister.com/2019/03/13/in-the-war-between-science-and-aesthetics-trying-to-save-baseball-teams-from-themselves/">conflict between analytics and aesthetics</a>. He might be the first to do it so publicly, on the record, with an eye toward effecting change. Some have speculated Epstein will seek an ownership stake in a team, or take a job in the league’s Manhattan office. At least one former Epstein associate I spoke with did not rule out a future in politics. It’s a fascinating turn of events for a sport that just this week crowned Friedman its Executive of the Year. Had the Angels or Marlins hired someone with a similarly analytical orientation, no one would have batted an eyelid.</p><p>Each team’s ownership situation is also special, enough that hiring Ng and Minasian might be more of a fluke than a trend. Derek Jeter, who played for the Yankees during Ng’s time in the Bronx, made the hire in Miami. When the Angels hired manager Joe Maddon a year ago, owner Arte Moreno drew a contrast between “the whole analytical part of the game” and “the fun part of the game.” He’s been keen on effecting the kind of changes Epstein dreamed about Tuesday for some time.</p><p>Yet Moreno has also drawn criticism for his behind-the-scenes cost-cutting, either by furloughing or laying off much of his scouting and player development staff. The logic was obvious: when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped most minor league and amateur baseball games off the North American schedule, the demand for scouts, coaches and support staff lessened. One scout I spoke with couldn’t help but note the irony of Moreno pledging not to cut player payroll while hiring a player-friendly GM in Minasian. Behind the scenes, the Angels were operating with more ruthless efficiency than any major-league franchise.</p><p>The Mets and Phillies have GM vacancies too, so the trend line remains incomplete. Two of the most qualified executives for each job happen to be African-American. Michael Hill preceded Ng in Miami, while De Jon Watson was instrumental in bringing along the Dodgers’ current core as the team’s farm director. Watson also had a hand in assembling the 2019 Nationals championship roster.</p><p>Hill and Watson are both baseball lifers. If the pendulum has swung far enough to overlook gender, and race, and education, they will get more than mere Zoom calls from Philadelphia and Queens. And maybe, possibly, the baseball on the field will look a little different because of them, too.</p>

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