The Apprentice

added 11/17/2004 by Scott Barzilla

It seems that the Astros are making more news off the field this off-season than on the field. When Gerry Hunsicker resigned we thought there would be a new assistant hired to replace Purpura. That seems simple enough, but the Astros have used this as an opportunity to reshape their entire organization. The Astros announced three new hires this week. The most notable of those were former Astro first baseman Enos Cabell and former interim Diamondbacks manager Al Pedrique.

Pedrique will be a liaison with the new assistant general manager when dealing with the farm system. Cabell’s role is a little murkier. He was hired this summer to be a special assistant to Gerry Hunsicker. This week, the Astros hired him full-time. When he was hired, it was said that he would help bring more minority participation in the game throughout the inner city. Now, we can only surmise that he will have a similar role within the organization.

Neither Pedrique nor Cabell have any experience in the management side of the game. Pedrique served as a minor league instructor and manager with the Astros before he moved onto the Diamondback organization. Cabell once served as a special announcer on home TV games back in the late 1980s. Cabell’s stint didn’t last very long (it was probably comments like, “Mike Scott is a pitcher of great statue” that did him in) and he fell away from the game. Obviously, it can be questioned exactly what he brings to the table.

Well, there is one obvious reason why both were hired. Enos Cabell is an African-American and Al Pedrique is Hispanic. If this seems grossly simplistic and unfair to the two men to dwell on that then we need to decide where to place the blame. Pedrique and Cabell are good baseball people, but they are miscast in their roles as special assistants to the general manager. Of course, they won’t necessarily get in the way, but they are superfluous. If they are superfluous then why were they hired?

Perhaps it is only on a subconscious level, but the Astros are reacting to criticism from the press about their lack of diversity. Perhaps, Cabell is a good candidate to address these issues. The Astros are one of the few teams in the game not to have a prominent African-American player on their team. Carl Everett was the last player and he was traded following the 1999 season. That is very noticeable to the African-American community and to those at the Chronicle that harp on those issues.

Jose de Jesus Ortiz and John P. Lopez in particular (and Richard Justice more generally) have called out the Astros for their lack of success in minority hiring. When Tim Pupura was hired, Ortiz made a huge stink that experienced, minority candidates were not interviewed. They have all but said they will look at any non-minority hiring with a lot of skepticism. So, will the hiring of Enos Cabell and Al Pedrique stem the tide in the press? Let me be the first to say I don’t know and I don’t care.

Personally, I would like to see someone well-versed in sabermetrics get the job. If you look at the trend in baseball you will see several teams that have moved this direction with a great deal of success (Red Sox, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Athletics, Twins). It is always disconcerting to see teams continue to hire the old guard when the new way has proven to be successful. Also, it is frustrating to see teams make moves that are clearly foolish in the eyes of simply sabermetrical analysis. This is no more frustrating than when your own team does it.

Now, where does minority hiring fit into this? It all depends on how you phrase the question. Are you looking for the best possible candidate that fits what you are looking for (sabermetrical knowledge, experience with farm system, up and comer) or are you looking for the best possible minority candidate? The Astros can give into the pressure from the press or they can hire the best candidate they can find.

Why is the assistant general manager’s position important? We should probably start with a rundown of what Purpura did as the assistant. He was personally responsible for the farm system. This is a farm system that produced the likes of Chris Burke, Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane, Richard Hidalgo, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller, Tim Redding, and Brad Lidge. He also handled the financial portion of the contracts. In other words, he is the mastermind behind the back-loaded contract. Purpura can continue to negotiate the financials, but someone needs to be there to keep prospects coming up through the system.

The Astros must find someone to fill those shoes. This is no time to be filling quotas. If the Astros play their cards right they may find someone that can fill those holes and provide a good mind for the new trends in sabermetrics. If they give into public pressure now they will still have a hole their management team for quite some time. This is where the other half of the dilemma comes into play. Does hiring a minority candidate that isn’t qualified further the interest of diversifying the game? I think we know the answer to that question.

Consider the case of Pedrique himself. Yes, he was given an opportunity to manage at the big league level, but it was in a situation where he was destined to fail. Will he get another opportunity after his disastrous record in Arizona? It doesn’t help the cause to hire anyone into a situation where they can’t possibly succeed. The same will be true if a token minority candidate is hired to be the new assistant general manager. In America, we all hope can get to a day where the most qualified candidate will get every job regardless of race, color, creed, or gender. We don’t get there by blindly looking past qualified candidates to appease those in the community that would question the Astros hiring practices of the past.

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