added 9/2/2007 by Scott Barzilla
People have been riding Phil Garner and Tim Purpura's tail for most of the season. On Monday of last week, Drayton McLane made their day by firing the two. Cecil Cooper and Tal Smith took over for the remainder of the season, but the future of the club is unset. Now, all we have to do is pick up the pieces and do the autopsy on the two.
Every manager knows he is most likely hired to be fired. When you look back on baseball history, you can only name a few prominent managers that got the privaledge to leave on their own terms. Phil Garner handled the dismissal as well as could be expected. You got the impression that it was almost liberating for him. Now, he can hang out in Kingwood and play some golf. That has to be better than watching this team play on a daily basis.
XM's morning show (on XM 175) had Buck Martinez and his sidekick speculating about how many games Lou Pinella has been worth to the Cubs this year. The Cubs have had the biggest jump in wins in the big leagues. Obviously, it must have been Pinella and not the additions of Alfonso Soriano, Mark Delerosa, Jason Marquis, and Ted Lilly. Baseball commentators frequently insult our collective intelligence when they extoll managers to that degree. After all, it wasn't too long ago when Dusty Baker was considered a top-tier manager. Did he really become and idiot in that short period?
Baker and Garner are not the same, but they had the same thing happen to them. When rosters go south the manager is the one that gets the blame. Garner was on the bench when the club went 36-10 over the final 46 games in 2004. He was there when they recovered from 15-30 to advance to the World Series. Yet, most people questioned his moves this year. So, which one is it? Idiot or genius?
The simple answer is that he is neither. Garner is definitely among the bottom tier in terms of handling pitchers and making in game decisions, but he was one of the better managers in terms of keeping his team from phoning in the season. Naturally, people will have their own opinions about how a team should be run and how players should be dealt with. Still, a manager's importance to the team is overblown. So, Cecil Cooper might or might not be the guy. Ultimately, the manager's position is well publicized but usually not as important as people think.
This brings us to the general manager's position. Tim Purpura had been under a lot of fire (including from me) about the decisions he made this year. The Jason Jennings trade was largely quoted as the reason he was out, but the bigger problem was the horrible state of the farm system. Baseball America rates the Astros as having the 22nd best farm system in baseball. Follow that up with by far the worst draft in baseball in terms of the number of players signed and you can see why people will consider the depletion of the farm system as Purpura's lasting legacy.
Everyone knew the Biggio and Bagwell era would end. Most observers thought it would end sooner than this, but either way it had to end. If the farm system produced more good players then management wouldn't have to resort to signing the likes of Carlos Lee or trading for Jason Jennings. The Astros do have good pitching, but outside of J.R. Towles they have nothing in terms of position player talent above A ball.
So, the next GM will have to go out and spend some money. Yes, we know the grocer will control a lot of that process, but the new GM should get the grocer to agree to changes in the scouting process more than getting specific free agents. Let him think he is still in control when guys like Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones come calling. It is far more important that this farm system regain its position in the top ten.