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Jock in a Box

Al Behrman/AP

New Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty spent 13 seasons as the GM of the St. Louis Cardinals.  During his tenure the Cardinals went from a team that hadn't been to the playoffs in 7 years to a team that won the division in his second season and went to the playoffs in 6 of the last 9 years.  Regardless of what your perception is of his skill level, it's hard to argue with those kinds of results.

In the 2006 Hardball Times Annual, Cardinals fan Brian Gunn wrote an article titled GM in a Box: Walt Jocketty where he tried to summarize who Jocketty is as a GM.  As with most evaluations of GMs will be, especially by an outsider, his observations where based mainly on circumstantial evidence.  I don't believe Gunn has ever had direct conversations with Jocketty, so he's really just trying to identify trends in Jocketty's tenure and extrapolate a strategy from there.  It's not perfect, but it's the best we've got in terms of a historical summary.  That's why I decided to steal a bunch of it and post it here.  If you don't own any of the THT Annuals, hopefully this will be a good example of the kind of varied information you find in them.  It's a purchase that is worth the money, even two years later.

Gunn starts off with Jocketty's record and background.  I've updated it to current time.

Age: 56

Previous Organizations:
    1975-1980: White Sox - various minor league positions under GM Rolan Hemond
    1980-1993: Athletics - farm director mostly under GM Sandy Alderson
    1993: Rockies - assistant GM to Bob Gebhard
    1994-2007: Cardinals - General Manager
    Jocketty has said that he learned people skills from the genial Hemond and the technical/contractual skills from the lawyerly Alderson.
Cumulative record with the Cardinals: 1117-968, .536 Winning PCT.  One ridiculous WS championship.
Did he play professional ball and if so, what type of player was he?
    No. He played college ball as a pitcher but that was it.

From here on out, I'll just be stealing some quotes from Gunn and then putting my own spin on them in places.  Remember, this is someone's opinion of someone's opinion of someone's observations.  We're just trying to get an idea of the beast that is Walt Jocketty.

Personnel and Philosophy

Jocketty was much chummier [than the previous GM] - a clubhouse schmoozer with a very collaborative style.

This sounds very different from Wayne Krivsky or Dan O'Brien.  They both seemed very separated from their clubhouses, leaving that stuff to the managers.  Then again, that description could only apply to Jocketty because he and Tony LaRussa were tight.  Their relationship going all the way back to when both were working with the White Sox in the late 1970s.

In fact, it's difficult to tell where Jocketty stops and La Russa starts - they both share taste for veteran pitchers, defense-minded catchers, power at the corners and "sturdy character" types.

Here's an area where we might have a hard time discerning the real Walt Jocketty is.  Gunn says many times that Jocketty made many of his moves to suit LaRussa's wants.  I don't see Dusty Baker being that different than LaRussa in terms of personnel needs, but we may have a bit of a learning period here while both manager and GM feel each other out.

Player Development

When it comes to drafting, Gunn says this of Jocketty

Jocketty has a real yen for college talent.  During his tenure, the Cards have used a first-round pick on a high schooler just three times, and never have they chosen a high school pitcher in the first round.

In 2004, for example, the Cards signed only one high schooler among their 47 picks in the amateur draft.

That first part isn't completely true as Jocketty has drafted two high school pitchers (Ben Diggins in 1998 and Tyler Herron in 2005) with sandwich picks, which are essentially first round picks, even if they aren't the team's first pick in the draft.  The Cardinals have only had 2 first round picks since 1999 make it to the Majors so far (Chris Duncan - 1999 sandwich pick and Daric Barton - 2003), but Colby Rasmus could be up some time this season.  Ironically (maybe), all three of those players were drafted out of high school.

Oh, and nobody has made it from the 2004 draft yet either, I don't believe.  It's still early, but you'd kind of hope that an all college draft would produce some talent sooner than that, I think.

On whether he tends to rush players in the minors or let them marinate:

In general, though, there aren't many players who Jocketty promoted who can be considered clearly over-cooked or under-cooked.  But he will push players with standout skills...the man has a clear cut philosophy: go out of your way to get superstars into the lineup.

This could mean Jay Bruce sooner rather than later.  It also will be interesting to see how he moves Todd Frazier and Drew Stubbs along.  Frazier clearly can hit, so it wouldn't surprise me to see him move more quickly.  Stubbs is still too low for his age.  He's hitting well so far in Sarasota.  Gotta wonder if that will mean a faster move up the chain.

Roster Construction

According to Gunn:

There are four things Jocketty looks for when assembling his teams:
1. Power Hitters
2. Defense Up the Middle
3. Finesse Pitchers
4. "Proven" Talent

Power hitters won't be a problem for the Reds.  But if that is his true philosophy, I wonder if that means Dunn will be around next season?

As for defense, well there is some work to be done.  The Cardinals had won 12 gold gloves up the middle under Jocketty, but outside of Phillips, the Reds don't have a lot of hope for that level of performance at this point.  This could be another reason that Stubbs may get moved along more quickly.  If he truly is the stud defender that we've been sold, he may look mighty pleasing to Jocketty.

The finesse pitchers point is one of those things that may not be a Jocketty philosophy as much as him playing to his coaches strengths.

One [reason] is that La Russa and Dave Duncan, the pitching coach, seem more comfortable grooming "location" pitchers.  The other is that finesse guys are, by and large, cheaper than power pitchers.

So, I don't think we'll see Jocketty selling off Cueto, Volquez, and Bailey to get a Jeff Suppan in here.  However, I would not be surprised if he takes an occasional shot at getting a "soft-tosser" in on a good contract in hopes that some magic can be worked with him.  Unfortunately, I don't think Dick Pole is quite the pitching coach that Duncan is.

We'll touch on the proven talent point in a second.

Regarding how Jocketty pieces together his roster, Gunn says this:

Jocketty collects superstars, but he rarely overspends for them.
As for the rest of the roster, Jocketty, like the Braves' John Schuerholz, tends to take the Dr. Frankenstein approach: He figures he can build a passable bench and bullpen out of spare parts.

It'll be interesting to see if Jocketty and Dusty can sell Cincinnati the way Jocketty and TLR used to sell St. Louis.  Jocketty managed to get McGwire, Rolen, and Edmonds to all sign at below market value to stay in St. Louis.  It would be super if he could do the same in Cincinnati.

And one thing I will say is that Jocketty is very good at building up a bench.  It seems like the Cardinals always had the right pieces to fill in when needed.  It's been a few years since one could say that about the Reds.  In many ways, he's a lot like Jim Bowden in this sense.

What's his style?

Jocketty is primarily a problem solver, a fix-it guy.  We see this most glaringly in his approach to the trading deadline - Jocketty rarely, if ever, sits back and tries to "dance with them what brung you."  He's always working the phones, trying to tinker, upgrade.
Jocketty is probably the most aggressive deadline dealer in the history of baseball.  McGwire, Tatis, Will Clark, Woody Williams, Chuck Finley, Scott Rolen and Larry Walker were all acquired at midseason.
Jocketty will frequently try to land players at the trading deadline that will help long-term.

Again, just like Jim Bowden, only not as douchey.  I will say that I have much more confidence in Jocketty to make a good deal than Krivsky.  I look forward to being initially outraged and then pleasantly surprised by his maneuvering in the future.

Trades and Free Agents

[H]e will consistently deal young, emerging, speculative talent in order to acquire older, proven, accomplished talent.
This does not mean, however, that Jocketty hates youth or that he'll trade away farmhands willy-nilly.

And this is where we all sit and hold our breath.  For the most part, Jocketty has shown that he is able to identify proven talent.  That doesn't mean that we want to gut the minor league system to get it.  I don't believe someone like Bruce is at risk, but Bailey might be one of those guys that gets dealt for a proven level of performance.  And honestly, I can see the value in a deal like that, especially if Jocketty can manage to fill a serious need (catcher, right-handed bat, quality bullpen help).  Personally, I'd rather keep Bailey around, but, outside of the Mulder deal,  I'm willing to trust Jocketty's track record on the youth for veteran moves.

The other dimension to Jocketty's trade strategy is this: buy low.

I'm all for buying low, as long as you're not buying dead.  This was Krivsky's fatal flaw in my mind.  He was over-spending on some of the "buy low" guys and when he did over-spend on them, then tended to be dead weight.  That being said, Krivsky did a pretty good job of buying low on some hidden young talent as well.

Jocketty is not a major player on the free agent market, and when he dabbles he usually goes after mid-priced bargains...

The pattern is familiar: line in wait, don't overcommit and then pounce when the market dips.

This is a good strategy for small-market teams.  The problem is that the market doesn't dip as much as it used to.  I wonder if Jocketty would have signed Cordero to that big contract had he been in charge at that point.

Jocketty has no problem doling out long-term contracts for cornerstone players....

[He] tries to save money up front by issuing incentive-laden contracts like the one he did with Chris Carpenter in '04 or Matt Morris in '05.

Jocketty signed some very good contracts in his time.  He locked up Pujols at a reasonable rate while he was still young.  He got McGwire, Rolen, and Edmonds to sign for cheaper than expected.  Carpenter's original deal was very good.  But he also unnecessarily extended Carpenter's deal before the '07 season.  So not everything he poops out turns to gold.  I'm going to take a wait and see on this one, especially since Jocketty's coming in with a lot more future money locked up than he did when he came to the Cardinals.

What does tigrmetrics think of him?

Apparently Jocketty is very personable with players and personnel, but he comes across as much more nondescript in public... [He] seems like the great uncle whose name you keep forgetting.

Aw, how cute.  Uncle What's-his-name.

What is his strongest point as GM?

Working wthin his limitations.

Now the question is, what kind of limitations is Bob going to put on him?

Check out the related reading section for some more information on Jock-o.