Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Hart failure

Success has officially dethroned John Hart, who abdicated Tuesday as the general manager of the Texas Rangers.
Gone are the jackpot draft picks (Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome) the astute trades (Joe Carter for Sandy Alomar and Carlos Baerga) and the bullseye bargain free-agent signings (Dennis Martinez, Orel Hershiser).
Gone are the World Series teams. Gone are the playoffs. Heck, gone are the above-.500 records.
Somewhere along the line, Hart became to baseball executives what Jimmy Johnson was to NFL head coaches: wildly successful at his first stop, then wildly overrated at his second.
In four seasons leading the Rangers, Hart's accomplishments included the disastrous signing of Chan Ho Park, trading for John Rocker (again) and one season over .500.
Save for a abberational bogey last year, Texas repeatedly fielded atrocious pitching and murderball offense, similar to his late-'90s teams in Cleveland. And like his Indian teams, controversy followed. This time, Albert Belle's violent antics were replaced with Kenny Rogers and his childish outburst this summer.
And the reason? Maybe it was because Hart had --get this-- too much money to spend.
In the early 1990s, a lack of funds forced Hart to do what his hand-picked successor, Mark Shapiro, is doing for the Indians right now: rely on the farm system both through drafts and trades. It worked. From the Indians' 1995 World Series lineup, only three players (Omar Vizquel, Eddie Murray and Paul Sorrento) never spent a day in the Cleveland minor league system.
Hart was forced to use his superb organizational skills and network of scouts to turn the Indians from eternal dreg to pennant winner. Then the sellouts started mounting, and the urge to replace youth with veterans grew. Young hitters like Jeromy Burnitz, Sean Casey, Brian Giles and Richie Sexson were traded in deals that had varying degrees of success.
The Indians' payroll grew steadily. It kept the Tribe in contention, but it also filled the roster with bloated contracts for aging, underproductive veterans. Hart tried to trim some money by dealing David Justice to the Yankees in June 2000, but the payroll was approaching $90 million.
Then frugality-minded-but-incredibly-rich Dick Jacobs sold the team to frugality-minded-and-less rich Larry Dolan that winter. Payroll-trimming mandates were in the offing, and Hart wanted no part of it.
By the time the epic sellout streak at Jacobs Field ended at 455 in 2001, Hart had announced his plans to leave the Indians after the season, giving control to understudy Shapiro.
The Indians quickly began trimming fat, initating a rebuilding process that has taken four years to bear fruit.
Hart, meanwhile, went to Texas, a team with some cash. A team that still had $252 million man Alex Rodriguez.
All that grunt work of building through the farm system was over, he probably thought. Now, he could spend money like John Schuerholz and Dave Dombrowski, the two GMs who beat him in the World Series.
But it didn't work like that. Instead of having a gold mine to work with, he inherited a team on the verge of finanical dire straits, willing to do just about anything to unload A-Rod and his obscene contract on someone else.
The Rangers are now paying the Yankees $9 million a year just to bear the brunt of A-Rod's deal.
Hart soon tired of having boatloads of money wrapped up in bad deals, like in Cleveland. He might finally be ready to go back to the basics, what he is really good at: farm system enhancement.
Possibly coming soon: John Hart, GM of the Kansas City Royals.

1 comment:

Abrasivist said...

Thus, the fabled John Rocker comeback via Kansas City commences.