During the post-season we were lucky enough to land an interview with Dean Taylor. His current job title is Assistant General Manager of the Kansas City Royals, but in the past he served as Milwaukee Brewers General Manager and before that Assistant General Manager in Atlanta where his scouting abilities were highly regarded.
As you will see the focus of the interview was to answer some of the nagging general questions involving the world of baseball operations. Basically this will serve as a primer to the off-season moves from a front office perspective, hopefully proving worthy of future reference across these here internets.
Those questions and answers are after the jump.
(Ed note: questions are in bold, answers are in regular text)
Can you describe the winter meetings for those who have yet to attend? A lot of the more extravagant rumors come out during those few days, how much of that is fluff and how much of it is serious conversation?
The most interesting aspect of the Winter Meetings is that trade conversations take place on several levels and in several different locations. For instance, major league scouts from the various clubs usually "lobby sit" and have face-to-face conversations in the main lobby of the headquarters hotel. GM's and assistant GM's may exchange ideas while at the GM meeting there, and even farm directors and scouting directors may be involved in conversations. As you would expect, cell phones are constantly ringing. Each club has an operations suite that is a gathering place to hold internal discussions on potential deals that are being considered (as well as a location to meet with agents who are shopping free agent players). When two clubs feel they may have a match for a potential deal, it's not usual for two or three representatives from each club to meet in one of the suites to see if it's possible consummate the trade.
Some of the conversations are more serious than others, but it's important to remember that only a very small percentage of the deals that are originally discuss are actually completed. Many of the conversations and proposals have a short shelf life because they aren't a good fit for one party or the other. Because of the high volume of conversations at the Winter Meetings, there usually are a large number of trade rumors circulated by the media that turn out to be false.
On a personal level, how much off-time do general managers get? Did you ever get to take a vacation, and if so, what time of the year? Along the same lines how many hours per week were you in your office during the season?
I'm not familiar with that word "vacation" (did I spell it correctly?). Typically, the only real down time we have is between Christmas and New Year's Day. In the past, I've actually had conversations with agents on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve. During the season, we're usually in the office by 9:00 - 9:30 AM and don't leave until well after the end of the game. After a night game, it's very unusual to get home before 11:00 PM.
From your experiences do non-contending teams begin planning for the off-season even before the regular season ends?
Sure, no question about it. That's why you see so many non-contending clubs make deals prior to the July 31 trade deadline (and in August) to acquire younger players to help fulfill their future needs.
How does a trade occur? Do you call another team up and ask, "What would it take to get X?" or is there a constant back-and-forth between most GMs?
Typically most conversations begin by trying to find out the needs of each club as well as what surpluses they may have to trade. Based on these preliminary conversations, most clubs are readily aware if they have a potential match on a deal with another club, and if so, conversations will progress from that point. Occasionally, we will get call from another club asking, "What will it take from us to get player X?", but that's the exception rather than the rule.
Are teams usually forthright in the player they want in a trade, or do you get a lot of smokescreen tactics attempting to devalue the guy they want?
As you might expect, different GM's have different negotiating styles. Some are more forthcoming with their thoughts than others, and so it's always wise to remember the style of person you are dealing with. In the end, you usually have to give fair value to get fair value in return.
What is the actual process of the Rule 5 draft? How do you determine who you want, or what team is willing to trade for the pick?
Early in the year, we alert our pro scouts to those players who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft so we can gather scouting judgments on them during their minor league seasons. After the 40-man rosters are determined on November 20, we prioritize all of the players we like that are left unprotected and then make final decisions at the Winter Meetings on the player(s) we want to draft. If we have a high pick in the Rule 5 and don't have a player we want to draft, we will consider requests from other clubs who want us to draft a player for them in exchange for another player from their organization who we feel can help us in the future. Clubs that have lower picks typically will contact clubs that have higher picks to see if such a deal can be made. In most cases, the name of the player to be drafted isn't revealed to the selecting club until just prior to the draft.
The Athletics are known for their huge whiteboard of player names and the Indians for their computer database. Do all teams have a somewhat similar system of tracking players they like? A "watchlist", so to speak?
Most of the clubs I am familiar with use a combination of approaches to organize data. Here at the Royals, we use magnetic boards as well as printed lists, but our extensive computer data base is obviously the most important tool we have and serves as the primary mechanism for developing the other working lists we utilize.
Part Two, tomorrow, same time.