When the Los Angeles Dodgers stunned the baseball world last August by acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto at a commitment of about $263 million, they thought their brazen expenditure would buy a spot in the playoffs. It did not. The other day they made a far less expensive move that could produce playoff spots less expensively in the future.
Demonstrating versatility of positive pursuit, the Dodgers’ general manager, Ned Colletti, and president, Stan Kasten, acquired Gerry Hunsicker to be a senior adviser for baseball operations. The Dodgers are unlikely to make a more significant off-season move.
“We went through this year and were able to rebuild the club and farm system and front office to some extent,” Colletti said. “I was looking for someone to help the front office. It’s like when I hired Bill Lajoie. He had walked the walk.”
Lajoie, who died in 2010, built the Detroit Tigers into 1984 World Series champions but tired of being a general manager and went on to work for and contribute significantly to a series of teams, including the Dodgers from 2006 to 2008.
Hunsicker, 62 years old, was the Houston Astros’ general manager from 1995 until he resigned after the 2004 season, having grown tired of the meddling of the owner, Drayton McLane Jr. Hunsicker, however, left a legacy. In 2005 the Astros played in the World Series for the first time in the franchise’s 44-year history.
As if he felt his work in Houston had been completed, Hunsicker took a job with Tampa Bay in November 2005 as senior vice president for baseball operations. His hiring was very likely the most critical personnel move made by the current ownership. He brought to the Rays’ front office baseball experience that the top two executives, Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman, lacked, having come to baseball from Wall Street with the new owner, Stuart Sternberg.
Hunsicker guided the neophytes, providing the expertise that quickly turned the Rays into a contender and a 2008 American League pennant winner.
At this point, Hunsicker could probably have any general manager’s job that was available. Like Lajoie, however, he chose not to jump back into the pressure-cooker world of general managers. Over the last several years, I periodically asked Hunsicker if he wanted to become a general manager again. Some teams had contacted him, he acknowledged, but he preferred to stay where he was, both in the position and with the team.
“Everything was going well,” Hunsicker said of his Tampa Bay job in a telephone interview last Friday. “I was comfortable, I like the players, I like the people, I like the team. It’s been a magical seven years there.”
Hunsicker, however, found that his front-office colleagues had progressed in their baseball education to a point where his input was needed less. “I played more and more of a support role,” he said. “They’re firing on all cylinders right now.”
The Dodgers, then, came calling at the right time.
The previous owner, Frank McCourt, seemingly in constant money trouble, had stripped the front office of a number of staff people, and Kasten, the new president, wanted to bolster baseball operations.
He said he has known Hunsicker since 1991, when the Mets, for whom Hunsicker was working, traded Alejandro Pena to Kasten’s Braves.
“He has so much experience and he can give us a new perspective,” Kasten said. “He will be looking at everything, including international. He’s here to give us his expertise. I thought with his experience he will be very helpful to us.”
The Dodgers especially want Hunsicker to enhance the discovery and development of players in Latin countries, an assignment in which he flourished with the Astros and the Rays.
With the assistance of Andres Reiner, a Venezuelan superscout, he built the Astros’ academy in Venezuela into a model for Latin academies, and with the Rays, he created the first academy in Brazil operated by a major league club.
It’s too soon to talk about major league Brazilian prospects, but products of the Astros’ Venezuelan academy include Johan Santana, Bobby Abreu, Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and Melvin Mora.
“He did a great job for Tampa Bay, too, with the academy,” Colletti said. “He’s going to bring a lot of expertise to us. We’re excited to have him.”
Hunsicker said he looked forward to “working closely with Ned and Stan. I’m there to support them. I’ll be another set of eyes and ears, offer a different perspective. It’s not unlike what I did in Tampa Bay.”
Some, if not most, general managers would be reluctant to hire an executive of Hunsicker’s quality, preferring not to have an experienced general manager in the next office ready to replace them. That’s something Colletti doesn’t have to worry about. Hunsicker doesn’t plan to be in an office at Dodger Stadium very often.
“That was another requirement for this position from my standpoint,” Hunsicker said. “I wasn’t looking to relocate and didn’t want to relocate. They accommodated me on that. I’ll maintain my primary residence in Houston.”
Hunsicker has built a new house in Houston and plans to be married in a couple of weeks. His first wife died about two years ago.
Another reason Hunsicker took the Los Angeles job is that for the first time in a long time he will work for a club that has money to spend. The new ownership made its intentions clear with the trade with the Red Sox last August.
“You have to go back to the Mets days working for an organization that had resources to put a competitive team on the field,” he said. “I’ve spent the majority of my career with limited resources. Unlimited resources are no guarantee to success, but when you have backing from ownership, which they do in L.A., the sky’s the limit. There’s no reason why the Dodgers can’t be a perennially strong contender.”
The Red Sox trade didn’t do what the Dodgers thought it would. The day of the deal the Dodgers had a 68-58 record and were in second place in the division, three games behind San Francisco, and third in the wild-card standings, two behind second-place St. Louis. Their record the rest of the season was 18-18, and they finished eight games behind the Giants and two games behind the Cardinals.
The failure to make the playoffs intensifies the off-season efforts of the new ownership and Kasten to make moves to change the outcome a year from now. Hunsicker is the first move.
“The next one will be noteworthy,” Kasten said, declining to offer any hints of what it will be but adding, “You’ll be calling me about it.”
HOW TIGERS SHUT DOWN YANKEES
Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer are the Detroit pitchers who shut down the Yankees last week in the American League Championship Series, limiting them to two runs (earned) in 27 innings.
Those figures compute to an infinitesimal 0.67 earned run average, or in plain English, two-thirds of an earned run for nine innings. Adding the performances of the Tigers’ relievers, the pitching staff had a 1.38 E.R.A., also absurdly low.
But there are two other people whose names should be included with Fister, Sanchez, Verlander and Scherzer: Scott Pleis and Jeff Wetherby.
Pleis, the Tigers’ director of amateur scouting, and Wetherby, a major league scout, were the Tigers’ advance team that scouted the Yankees in the final weeks of the season and in the division series against Baltimore.
“Our advance scouts did a great job, and Jeff Jones, our pitching coach, did a great job putting the plan together and our pitchers executed very well,” Manager Jim Leyland said by telephone from Detroit.
“We caught them at the right time,” he added. “We were lucky as well as good. It’s never going to happen again that people are going to get Robinson Cano out like that again. He’s too great a hitter. That’s never going to happen again. He’s one of my favorite players.”
Cano had one hit in 18 times at bat against Leyland’s pitchers, Curtis Granderson had nary a hit in 11 at-bats, Alex Rodriguez was 1-for-9 and Russell Martin was 2-for-14.
“We didn’t do anything fancy,” Leyland said. “We sped it up and slowed their bats down. Nothing tricky to it.”
For the Yankees, though, the baseballs the Detroit pitchers threw were very tricky. They kept disappearing.
In the Yankees’ two post-season series, Cano was 3-for-40 (.075), Granderson 3-for-30 (.100) with 16 strikeouts, Rodriguez 3-for-25 (.120) with 12 strikeouts, Martin 5-for-31 (.161) and Nick Swisher 5-for-30 (.167). Eric Chavez didn’t get a hit in 8 at-bats in each series.
POST-SEASON PRODUCES NO CELEBRATION INJURIES
It’s promising to see that the first 30 games of the post-season were played without some dumb player hurting himself in celebration of a game-winning (a.k.a. walk-off) hit.
Jayson Werth tried to do damage to himself when he hit a ninth-inning home run for a 2-1 Washington victory over St. Louis that tied their division series at two games each.
As he neared home plate, the 6-foot-5 Werth leaped high into the air and descended safely onto the plate.
The scene was reminiscent of a similar flight the Angels’ Kendrys Morales took on May 29, 2010 when he hit a game-winning grand slam against Seattle. Instead of landing squarely on his feet on the plate, Morales fell to the ground and broke his lower left leg. He missed the rest of that season and all of the 2011 season following two operations.
There was a pre-playoff injury this year. Amid the Tigers’ division-clinching celebration Oct. 1, Max Scherzer twisted his right ankle when someone stepped on it.
Initially the Tigers thought he would have to miss his scheduled start two days hence in which he was to test his sore right shoulder, which caused him to miss his previous start. But Scherzer’s ankle rebounded quickly, and he made start, pitching four innings without allowing a run.
He went on to pitch 5 1/3 innings, allowing only an unearned run, in the Tigers’ 4-3 loss to Oakland in Game 4 of the division series. He next pitched against the Yankees, giving up one run in 5 2/3 innings in the game that completed the Tigers’ sweep of the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.