by Chris Hadorn
on December 11, 2006 @ 16:00:00
It sure helps a job candidate when the boss of the position happens to be your best friend. Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane was looking for a new manager this fall after firing Ken Macha from the position in October. Beane interviewed several candidates that included Ron Washington, Trey Hillman, Bud Black, Jamie Quirk and Orel Hershiser, but Oakland bench coach Bob Geren was the guy who just happened to be Beane's best man at his wedding. After a lengthy managerial search, the Athletics promoted Geren to skipper on Nov. 17. Geren, a former journeyman catcher, was hired primarily because of his communication skills with players. Many of the players endorsed Geren's promotion, but there were skeptics who wondered if the decision was made on favoritism.
Although they weren't friends at the time, Geren and Beane were both high school baseball stars at San Diego area high schools in the late 1970s. The San Diego Padres selected Geren with their first-round draft pick in 1979, but it would take the catcher nine seasons to reach The Show as he debuted with the New York Yankees in 1988. Geren played four seasons with the Yankees from 1988-1991 and then ended his big league career with his hometown San Diego Padres in 1993. Geren finished his big league career with a .233 batting average in 765 plate appearances.
Geren has never managed in the major leagues, but he has an impressive minor league resume. Geren holds a 452-390 career record as a minor league manager with four different clubs. His most recent managerial position was with Oakland's Triple-A club in Sacramento from 2000-02, and he led the club to consecutive first place finishes during his initial two seasons as skipper. Geren also has additional winter league manager and coaching experience in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Australia.
Style and Strategy
Despite leading the Athletics to their only postseason series triumph during the decade, Macha was fired because his relationship with both Billy Beane and the players had deteriorated. The players felt Macha was aloof and insensitive to their concerns and injuries. Geren's hiring immediately lifts the morale of the clubhouse. Geren called every player on the day he was promoted to let them know there was an open line of communication and that he supported them. Players such as second baseman Mark Ellis and catcher Jason Kendall went on record to show their support of the hiring. Keep in mind, some skeptics felt Washington was the players' ideal choice for the position, and he was hired by their division rival in the Texas Rangers. There were grumblings that 2006 offensive standout Frank Thomas was disappointed by the team's decision not to promote Washington. Thomas later signed with the Toronto Blue Jays.
During Beane's era, Oakland skippers have arguably implemented the most conservative managerial strategy in the majors. Macha always ranked amongst the bottom in the American League in sacrifice bunt attempts, stolen base tries and hit-and-run attempts. The strategy in Oakland has been a low-risk approach to wait for the three-run homer, Earl Weaver-style baseball. Baseball observers have often felt this passive strategy was encouraged by Beane, who has been the focal point of new-age baseball thinking often referred to as “Moneyball”. However, Geren characterized himself as an “aggressive manager” during the press conference that announced his hiring. Geren also indicated that Beane is giving him the autonomy to manage the team in whatever style he chooses and that he was encouraged to bunt and hit-and-run if the situation called for it. Geren certainly won't be an extreme little ball manager like Mike Scioscia, but he will take more chances than Art Howe and Macha did in previous seasons. This is encouraging news for fantasy players who have often been turned off by the dearth of stolen bases in Oakland. Oakland by no means has an abundance of burners, but outfielder Milton Bradley and Kendall could improve their stolen base numbers from the low-teens to the mid-teens. Shortstop Bobby Crosby and outfielder Mark Kotsay could notch double digits in thefts if Geren sticks to his word.
Geren inherits a team that won 93 ballgames last season and was the runner-up in the American League. The loss of Thomas and eventual departure of Barry Zito will hurt, but this franchise has overcome many personnel losses over the decade and has maintained their status as a perennial contender. If fireballer Rich Harden stays healthy for an entire season, the Athletics won't miss Zito as much since they employ three other capable starters in Dan Haren, Esteban Loaiza and Joe Blanton. All three reached double digits in victories last season. Geren will also have the luxury of utilizing a fine bullpen that is among baseball's best and headlined by the likes of Huston Street, Justin Duchscherer and Kiko Calero. The Athletics won't be able to find a duplicate to replace Thomas' 39-home run, 119-RBI production but can make up some of the loss offense if Eric Chavez and Crosby rebound from their injury plagued seasons. Oakland also added designated hitter/catcher Mike Piazza, who smashed 22 home runs in 399 plate appearances with San Diego last season. First baseman Dan Johnson is also due for a turnaround after a prolonged slump sent him packing down the road to Triple-A Sacramento.
Geren has the talent in Oakland to challenge for the American League West crown again. It will be interesting to see if Geren lives up to his word and deviates from hardcore Earl Weaver baseball to take more chances. Geren is a player's manager who will implement a laid-back approach that allows the guys to concentrate on playing the game without worrying about if their hair is too long or if their uniform pant legs are too low.
About Chris Hadorn
Chris Hadorn has covered minor league and amateur prospects for more than a decade. He writes for San Diego's North County Times and has been a KFFL fantasy baseball contributor since 2006.
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