Who the heck is Chris Antonetti?
June 17, 2008 5 Comments
For those of you who were paying attention to this week’s World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable, Eric asked the question of who would be the first GM to be fired. Eric’s got an odd knack for these things. A few weeks ago, he asked the question of who would throw the first no-hitter of the year. The next day, Jon Lester went out and did that. This time, on Monday afternoon, right after the Roundtable came out, Bill Bavasi of the Seattle Mariners was told that he should find an alternate line of work.
The next question is who will be the next General Manager of the Seattle Mariners, and the Mariner faithful over at U.S.S. Mariner seem to have chosen their champion in Chris Antonetti. Now, lest we get ahead of ourselves, no one in the Mariners organization has said anything about him publicly nor has Antonetti said anything about the Seattle job, and this is just one blog’s speculation. But, the guys over at USSM (including previous roundtable guest Dave Cameron) are usually pretty spot-on with these things… and it does kinda make sense. Read on.
Who is Antonetti? He’s an assistant GM in Cleveland, charged mostly with the quantitative analysis and contract negotiations. He’s one of the reasons that the Indians have been so quick to embrace quantitative analysis (i.e. Sabermetrics) in their decision-making process. The exact details of his biography aren’t all that important right now, but the ones of greatest relevance are these. Most GMs are former players. They may not have been major leaguers, but most of them logged some time in the minors. Antonetti did not. In fact, he’s only 32, which makes him younger than some of the players whom he would generally manage. Antonetti, instead, has an academic background, with an advanced degree in sports management. Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro leans on him to work the numbers. Word on the street is that he’s very good at what he does, and would probably make someone an outstanding GM.
If the press reports are to be believed (and I believe everything that the media tells me), Antonetti was heavily considered for the St. Louis Cardinals GM vacancy last winter, as well as the Pittsburgh job (which went to fellow Indians’ assistant GM Neal Huntington, who is also Saber-sympathetic). Reports were that the Indians lured Antonetti away from taking one of those jobs by making him a well-compensated man and promising that he would eventually succeed current Indians GM Mark Shapiro in a few years. But, as Derek over at USS Mariner points out in his plea for Antonetti to come to the Great Northwest, there’s a lot to be said for the Seattle position being a good fit for someone of Antonetti’s ilk. Derek points out that in addition to the lovely Seattle culture (I still have all my Nirvana CDs), he’d be in a relatively low-stress setting media-wise with a big budget and a surrounding community with a lot of high-powered technologically minded people (think: Microsoft lives in Seattle). I don’t know Chris Antonetti personally, and I don’t know if he has any interest in taking the job (speaking as an Indians fan, I hope not…), but he would seem to be a really good candidate. He’s been a big part of the Indians taking a mid-market payroll and turning it into a contending team. Imagine what he could do with a license to rebuild the team from the ground up and ownership that would actually push the payroll into nine digits.
But Antonetti is something more than just a hot assistant GM being mentioned as a possible candidate for a job. What happens with the Seattle situation and whether or not they approach Antonetti is a measuring stick in how far the Sabermetric movement has come in being accepted in the mainstream of baseball culture. Would a team that has had Bavasi, considered to be a traditionalist in his methods, as their GM and has stuck by him for as long as they have turn about and pick a guy who’s much more from the Sabermetric school? It’s not like there aren’t Saber-friendly GMs out there. (I think I read somewhere that Billy Beane was rather amenable to the idea.) But, an Antonetti hire would begin to represent a critical mass of acceptance. Suddenly, there would be a few stat-head GMs around (Beane, Theo Epstein, Shapiro, Huntington) and the last few GM hires in the game would have at least had serious candidates who were statheads.
So, the Sabermetrician in me sees this as a possible defining moment. Maybe it’s just the fact that I was a skinny, nerdy kid who could hit, run, throw, or field. (I think my friends all just thought in unison, “was?”) But does the fact that those of us who weren’t physically gifted persevered in the game we loved by seeing the game through the prism of reason and intellect mean that we can’t have a seat at the decision-making table? More and more the answer is becoming we can have that spot at the table, and I’m happy with how far the movement has come, but this feels like it would be a clincher. The Mariners could actually send the message that baseball is ready for a statistical revolution, that no longer will they be afraid of guys with calculators who might challenge the accepted wisdom. Baseball might actually move into the Enlightenment. An amazing thought.
Whether or not Chris Antonetti gets the job, I hope that the Mariners make a lot of noise about wanting him. It’s up to him whether he would even be receptive to such overtures, but if the Mariners make it a point to pursue him (and loudly), there’s a message in there. The Indians fan in me hopes that Chris Antonetti is happy to stay in Cleveland and enjoy some of that lovely Cleveland culture (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Drew Carey! Midges! Me!), so that he can use the oodles of talent that he has to keep the Indians contending. But maybe, just maybe, for the good of dragging baseball, kicking and whining into something bigger, I can be convinced to let Chris Antonetti go.