The job of major league baseball general manager is a pressure-filled position, although those lucky enough to rise to that lofty title are usually given more time than managers to show what they can do. While it's hard to imagine a spate of changes this winter, time may be running short in a couple cases. These 12 GMs are for a variety of reasons at least facing more pressure than most others as they enter the second half.
1. Omar Minaya, Mets: The Mets never could have conceived a first half this horrendous. Not with an NL-high $140-million payroll, five megastars and sky-high expectations. But while Minaya may not be blameless, and the team has looked sloppy in the field and on the base paths, the main issue is all the injuries. When all the aches and pains are added up, the Mets have a spent a baseball-high $15 million (and counting) on disabled-list-player days. "What team could survive the loss of three of your best four hitters, two starting pitchers -- any two -- and the setup man, all at the same time?" one Mets official asked.
While occasional rumblings have been heard about Minaya's job security, word is that Minaya's Mets bosses aren't about to pin this season on him. Mets COO Jeff Wilpon and Minaya have a strong working relationship. But here's another reason Minaya isn't going anywhere: The three-year extension that is believed to pay him about $1.5 million per year begins in 2010. Mets people aren't anxious to eat nearly $5 million. Plus, they just as badly don't want to start over by replacing the entire staff of experienced and accomplished baseball people, most of which Minaya hired.
2. Mike Rizzo, Nationals: According to Nationals president Stan Kasten, they plan to hire a permanent GM soon. Acting man Rizzo appears to be a candidate, though some outside rumblings regarding Rays executive Gerry Hunsicker, White Sox exec Rick Hahn, Marlins scout Dan Jennings and Red Sox exec Jed Hoyer can't make Rizzo feel completely secure. Kasten, who was being virtually ignored for a while, gets to make the call, as he should.
Rizzo is known as a superb judge of talent. But he isn't an experienced administrator, and it's possible he may not have detested Jim Bowden enough for some Nationals people (though they shouldn't hold that as a standard since it was Nationals ownership that allowed Bowden to be GM for several years). The other names are all extremely well-regarded, but at least Hunsicker -- the most experienced of the group and a longtime Kasten friend -- is not believed to be interested in leaving what he considers an excellent and flexible situation in Tampa's brainy front office (he travels between Houston and Tampa Bay). Ultimately, it'll come down to how comfortable Kasten feels with Rizzo.
3. Brian Sabean, Giants: Like some free-agent ballplayers, Sabean saved one of his best years for his walk year. Several weeks ago, he appeared to be in major trouble. However, the Giants' recent play (and especially their pitching) has been excellent.
Sabean's put together one of baseball's best pitching staffs (it's good enough to overcome their lack of offense), and the Giants' farm system suddenly looks solid or better for position players as well as pitchers for the first time in a long while, with slugger Angel Villalona, catcher Buster Posey and shortstop Brandon Crawford among the young studs.
Hey, timing's everything. Sabean was downright abysmal for three or four years after a string of excellent seasons to start his tenure. But now the Giants look like a contender again, and even big-salaried players that looked like complete mistakes (especially Aaron Rowand) are performing. What's more, the team that seemed especially creaky for years now appears downright youthful.
Club president Larry Baer has always been a Sabean supporter, and new owner Bill Neukom has to be impressed -- at least by what he's seen while he's been in charge.
4. Dayton Moore, Royals: Kansas City has been beset by debilitating injuries at a time where improvement seemed possible. Moore has acquired several nice pitching pieces, and was wise to lock up burgeoning star Zack Greinke. But the offense seems nonexistent lately, and there have been a couple free-agent misses (Jose Guillen, Kyle Farnsworth). Things seem slightly tense in K.C. Still, the guess is, the highly-regarded Moore gets more time.
5. Frank Wren, Braves: He had the wildest winter, spring and early summer of anyone, acquiring Javier Vazquez, Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, Nate McLouth and Ryan Church while missing on Jake Peavy, A.J. Burnett, Ken Griffey Jr. and Rafael Furcal, letting John Smoltz leave, releasing Tom Glavine and trading hometown guy Jeff Francoeur. A lot of money was spent and the roster was improved, but the record is only slightly better than last year so far.
Frankly, this team should be better than this, and with Tommy Hanson now in the rotation, perhaps it will rally. The Braves, winners of 14 straight division championships through 2005, aren't used to losing, so it'll be interesting to see how Braves higher-ups will react if they don't. They've discarded legendary players without regard to sentiment, but manager Bobby Cox seems to have a lifetime pass based on past deeds. Hard to say where Wren falls on the security spectrum. The guess is he gets a little more time even if the team continues to underachieve.
6. Mark Shapiro, Indians: The plan all along was for Shapiro at some point to move up to become team president while bright young assistant GM Chris Antonetti settled into the GM job. But Shapiro seems unlikely to get a promotion off this atrocious season, nor will he want to end a mostly impressive tenure on this note. His GM contract runs through 2012, and he's the type to see it through. He's a two-time Executive of the Year who nearly made it to the World Series in 2007. But while injuries have killed them this year (Grady Sizemore and several pitchers have gone down at one time or another), it's fair to point out he hasn't exactly built very good bullpens in recent years -- or in this case a decent overall pitching staff.
7. J.P. Ricciardi, Blue Jays: His very talented team was undone by an absurd number of injuries to their pitching staff, the usual unbalanced schedule and spot in the impossible AL East. Ricciardi's contract goes through 2010, and there's no reason to think he won't return. But there's still pressure, anyway, as all eyes are on the continuing sale of superstar pitcher Roy Halladay.
8. Neal Huntington, Pirates: His two years of trading Pirates veterans hasn't exactly pleased the remaining veterans. Nonetheless, it is likely to continue, as Pittsburgh continues to try to build for the future. By trading Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and McLouth, Huntington certainly has shown the fortitude to do what he thinks is right in the face of criticism. So far he's brought in talented players with question marks attached (Lastings Milledge, Jose Tabata and Andy LaRoche). With 2008 draftee Pedro Alvarez, they could have the makings of a decent lineup to go with decent young pitching. They haven't won since Barry Bonds left, and when that happens the issue may be with ownership. The wait may not end in the next year or two.
9. Jim Hendry, Cubs: He's probably built up enough good will with past deeds, including a superb 2008 regular season. Injuries have not helped this year (they've spent more money on players on the disabled list than anyone but the Mets), but the abject underperformance of the offense has been another factor. The acquisition of Milton Bradley was not Hendry's best idea. With a supremely talented pitching staff and star third baseman Aramis Ramirez on the way back, they certainly still have a chance despite all their difficulties. An uncertain ownership situation has curtailed any desire to make a midseason splash (Hendry was prevented from adding Pedro Martinez), but it also probably eliminates any small chance of a change in the baseball department.
10. Josh Byrnes, Diamondbacks: Hard to believe he makes the list. The D-backs are built around pitching and youth and appear to have as solid a plan as anyone. But it's also hard not notice the team's underperformance this year. The injury to ace Brandon Webb has had a brutal trickle-down effect on the 'pen, and the loss of Conor Jackson to valley fever has been underplayed. Byrnes' contract, won after quickly reaching the NLCS in 2007 and building what appears to be an excellent young team, goes through 2015. He is taking some heat over the length of new manager A.J. Hinch's deal, but although the team is playing only slightly better with Hinch (26-34), the bosses love him there.
11. Dan O'Dowd, Rockies: There were folks calling for his head early this year when the Rockies looked headed for a long season. But with O'Dowd's contract expiring at year's end, the Rockies rallied big-time. The turnaround with the change in manager from O'Dowd's longtime ally Clint Hurdle to Jim Tracy has been stark (Colorado's 29-13 behind Tracy, after starting the year at 18-28 with Hurdle). The trade of Matt Holliday for three players, including Huston Street, looks pretty good now, too. And so does the deal of since-released spare reliever Luis Vizcaino for All-Star Jason Marquis.
12. Brian Cashman, Yankees: By definition, he has the most pressure-filled GM job. He won three World Series titles his first three years on the job, setting a fairly high bar. The Yankees have had a nice first half and appear to be on the postseason track again after a rare year out of October in 2008 -- though with talented Tampa lurking, the threat to miss the playoffs two straight years is real. Still, Cashman has a contract that runs through 2010, the support of main new boss Hal Steinbrenner and a reservoir of good will.
The American League's dominance is undeniable. The 12-0-1 record in the last 13 All-Star Games is no fluke. Here are some possible reasons:
1. The biggest-spending powers, the Yankees and Red Sox, are in the AL.
2. They have an advantage in closers, with Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon and especially the Great Mariano Rivera (though the Eric Gagne-Billy Wagner-John Smoltz trio for the NL was pretty strong at one time).
3. The presence of the DH on their teams, and the DH in games played at AL cities, gives the Junior Circuit a little more chance at firepower.
4. They've had a couple players known for rising to the occasion in big moments (Derek Jeter and Manny Ramirez, who has yet to play for the NL).
5. Two fewer teams means two fewer obligatory picks. (For instance, the AL doesn't have the Nats, who have to be represented.)
• Jays star pitcher Roy Halladay sounded like a man ready to accept a trade when he said the other day, "I think at this point I'm ready to take a chance on trying to win." He also sounded very open to the National League when he said, "I'd rather hit than face Derek Jeter, A-Rod, (Hideki) Matsui, (Mark) Teixeira and all the other guys." He probably also knows the NL is the preferred place for the Jays to trade him. As much as the Yankees and Red Sox might try, the Jays don't want to face him the next year and a half.
• The Phillies made a good deal getting Pedro (the Philadelphia Inquirer reported it's $1 million plus $1.5 million in incentives). Funny, Pedro took a deal that at first glance looks a lot like the Tom Glavine Braves deal he said he'd never take. Of course, Martinez did get to sit out half a year, and he is starting in first place, two big pluses for a player who really doesn't have to worry about loot, anyway.
• Could Mark Mulder be the next idle pitcher to sign up? Mulder is saying now that he is 95 percent back, agent Gregg Clifton reports.
• The Red Sox reportedly have begun contract talks with All-Star Jason Bay, and it's hard to imagine them not getting something done. Bay said about Boston, "The atmosphere is second to none. Having been there for a year, it's hard to imagine not having that." Doesn't sound like a guy about to leave, does it?
• The Reds need to begin a hunt for outfielders after Jay Bruce fractured his wrist just before the break. Even before Bruce went down, they were looking.
• "There's Albert Pujols, and then there's everyone else," Mark Teixeira said. Maybe Teixeira's teammate, Alex Rodriguez, will stay hot and show he belongs with Pujols. But at the moment, it's tough to argue.
• Bud Selig is saying he wants to prevent players still under suspension from playing comeback games in the minors, and that's fine. "I believe that (rule) should be changed," Selig said. But as Selig conceded, it was a negotiated 50-game suspension. If it's 50 plus rehab time, that's really 60. If a change is needed, it's more about appearances.
• While arguing that Major League players are doing quite well at the writers' luncheon, Selig called on right-hand man and general counsel Rob Manfred to remind us what the average salary is. "Three point two million," Manfred reported. "I rest my case," Selig said. "I rest my case."
• Golden Spikes winner Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 pick of the Nationals, suggested in interviews that the Nats have yet to make an offer. If he's signed a minute before the deadline, it'll be an upset. Speaking about Strasburg and the Nats, Selig said, "That's a decision they have to make ... I have very strong feelings on that subject." In other words, he isn't favoring going too far above Mark Prior's $10.5 million record for guaranteed money.
• If Selig has strong negative feelings about the Nats' troubles, he wasn't saying. "I have faith in (the club-owning Lerners) and the Nationals," Selig said. "They are on the right track. And they need to continue on that track." What's he going to say? That they're currently a mess? Well, President Obama was a bit more blunt, saying about baseball, "every team has a chance ... except for the Nationals."
• My tweeting highlight of the week (year?) was this comment from noted baseball aficionado @Alyssa_Milano in response to me introducing myself to her at the All-Star Game and complimenting her tweets: "Got to meet @SI_JonHeyman on the field ... He is awesome." I can't top that. Follow me at on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SI_JonHeyman.