In an unusual burst of front-office activity in the past year, major league clubs hired a dozen new general managers and hired or promoted three general managers to positions as heads of their baseball operations.
Some of those newly positioned people have had early success in turning their teams’ fortunes around while others are still struggling to achieve that status.
It should be noted, however, that the best off-season acquisition was made by an assistant general manager, Tony LaCava of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Last Nov. 27, six days before the Blue Jays named Ross Atkins their new general manager, LaCava signed free-agent pitcher J.A. Happ to a 3-year, $36 million contract. The 33-year-old left-hander has turned into a big bargain, enjoying the performance of his career with a 17-3 record, best in the majors.
The Blue Jays left negotiations to LaCava because Alex Anthoupolos had resigned as general manager a month earlier, rejecting a contract extension and an invitation to stay under the new club president, Mark Shapiro.
Several years earlier LaCava had rejected an opportunity to become the Baltimore general manager, preferring to stay with the Blue Jays and continue to live in Pittsburgh. Now he was responsible for doing the general manager’s job with an interim title. Besides Happ, the Blue Jays had targeted their own free-agent pitcher, Marco Estrada, and LaCava signed him, too.
“We made a qualifying offer to him,” LaCava said of the 33-year-old Estrada, “and the day before he was able to talk to other teams we were able to do a two-year ($26 million) deal with Marco, who ended up being an all-star.
“With Jay, we were aggressive early on. We had had him in the past” – 2012-13 – “and were familiar with him. His time in Toronto was disrupted. He was hit by a batted ball off his head. It wasn’t so much his head. When he landed he twisted his knee and that wound up taking time to heal. We felt he never hit his stride with us. We knew what was in there.”
When Atkins arrived as general manager, the Blue Jays had their off-season plan well underway.
“It started with what our goals were in the off-season,” LaCava said by telephone last Friday. “We were bringing back the best offense in baseball. We had traded a lot of prospects in trying to put that team together last year. We got Tulowitzki and David Price and the others. Alex did a nice job with brining in players.”
Before this season, LaCava added, “we didn’t want to give up any prospects to bring pitching in and we wanted to hold onto our draft picks. We felt we could do that holding onto Marco and getting Jay and go with shorter term deals and try to get the guys we liked and let the offense do what they did the year before.”
As of game time Saturday, the Blue Jays were in the same place they were when last season ended, leading the American League East. Boston, on the other hand, was …