The American League’s current superiority (as a whole) to the National League is well-established. Here is one brief illustration of the gap. In short: if someone asks why you think the AL is better than the NL, ask them why they think a 90-win team is better than a 70-win team.
The more interesting issue is source of the disparity. One can imagine various explanations with different degrees of credibility: money, the DH, luck, and so on. It’s likely a combination of a number of different factors. I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but I will suggest that the relative quality of front offices (represented here by general managers) plays a major role.
Rather than going through every team, I’ll avoid the illusion of being definitive and pick whom I see as the five best and five worst current general managers. I know that every choice is debatable, but I’ll try to be relatively uncontroversial. It is also worth looking back at the “Front Office” sections of Dave Cameron’s organizational rankings from last off-season, although the judgments presented here are my own. Keep in mind that this is merely a brief reflection. These are not rankings, but merely groupings the five best and the five worst GMs in baseball.
The best: Andrew Friedman (TBA) and Theo Epstein (BOS) work in very different situations, but would be on anyone’s short list for “Best GM” given the numerous ways in which their organizations excel. Billy Beane (OAK) is still one of the top GMs in the game, despite the current rebuild. It’s easy to forget just how good the As were from 1999-2006 on a shoestring budget. It’s only been one full season and less than two off-seasons, but Jack “Jack Z.” Zduriencik (SEA) has vaulted himself into this conversation. As for a fifth member in this group… well, that’s tough. I’d like to put Brian Cashman (NYY) here, given his metamorphosis the last few years from the Yankees’ Tom Hagen into their Michael Corleone, but I’m trying to avoid too much controversy and people always get hung up on the budget. Mark Shapiro (CLE) would also be a good choice, but given Cleveland’s recently struggles, I can understand why some would object. Josh Byrnes (ARI) would be another good candidate, but if Shapiro doesn’t make it, neither should Byrnes. For #5 I’ll go with Doug Melvin (MIL), who does a good job of blending traditional and contemporary methods, but any of the other guys could make it. In no particular order: Friedman, Epstein, Beane, Zduriencik, and Melvin.
Best GMs Tally: AL 4, NL 1
The Worst: Oh boy… This was surprisingly (and depressingly) easy. In no particular order, the Frightful Five are: Dayton Moore (KCA), Omar Minaya (NYM), Ed Wade (HOU), Ned Colletti (LAN), and Brian Sabean (SFN). Seeing those names together gives “Murderer’s Row” a new meaning. I’ll pursue the increasingly uncanny Moore/Minaya dynamic at length some other time. Suffice it to say, no one would blink an eye if tomorrow Minaya lectured Mets fans about “trusting the process” while Dayton Moore held a press conference at which he accused Joe Posnanski of gunning for a player development position with the Royals. Ed Wade’s Brandon Lyon contract aside, his organization is sort of like the Royals except older and without the glimmers of hope in the minor leagues. Some may feel it is unfair to put Colletti on this list given his team’s success, but look at the cash he has (or, more accurately, had) at his disposal relative to his divisional rivals. Then there’s Colletti’s mentor, Brian Sabean… That I’m so impressed that he’s restrained himself from resigning Bengie Molina sort of says it all.
Worst GMs Tally: AL 1, NL 4
The NL only has one of the best GMs (and again, there were other candidates in the AL that could have taken his place), and all but one of the worst. One or two changes would not alter the overall point: front office excellence seems slant heavily toward the American League, and the opposite of excellence toward the National League. Neither the selections nor the “method” employed are definitive, but I do think there is something here.