What’s Autonomy Mean Anyway?

For an individual, Dictionary.com defines it autonomy as: “independence or freedom as of one’s will or actions.”  A Major League Baseball General Manager would never be fully autonomous right?  He always will have to answer to his bosses, the owners, especially for moves involving significant amounts of money.   And yet, the buzzword is back.

At Monday’s press conference, the buzzword was back as both Jeff Wilpon and Fred Wilpon insisted that the new General Manager would have complete autonomy, just as Omar Minaya did.

Maybe I’m being a pedant here, but we’re talking in code words.  Of course the General Manager would never have complete freedom of will to do as he saw fit an remain employed.  The question is really one of degree.  How much autonomy could a GM, whether it was Omar Minaya, or the next one expect?  “Complete autonomy” in the baseball sense should be redefined as the freedom to make moves that fit within a pre-set budget.  The Mets set budgets.  And Fred Wilpon acknowledged that the team regularly exceeded them.  That’s not autonomy.  The GM’s decisions then become subject to prior approval.

Ed Price at AOL FanHouse does not believe Minaya had autonomy:

“So when Jeff Wilpon responded to a question on whether the new GM would have autonomy, and responded, “The old general manager had that,” it was basically a lie,” he wrote Monday.  He continues, “The next GM should be fully aware that those promises [of full autonomy] weren’t kept to Minaya, and probably won’t be to him.”

Saturday, Joel Sherman also wrote that the Mets did not give Minaya the full autonomy they claimed they were going to.  He thinks that Minaya wanted to sign Matt Holliday last winter, but ownership didn’t want to spend the extra money, so the Mets ended up with Jason Bay.

At ESPN, Tim Kirkjian said alluded to problems in the Mets hierarchy.  He claims he spoke to a potential managerial candidate who said, “I think the Mets are so messed up right now, I wouldn’t want to take the job right now.”

There are 6 comments

  1. Sethuel

    I have to say, I think it’s pretty clear that full autonomy doesn’t include autonomy to set the budget, just autonomy to act within a given budget. This is not to say that the Wilpons would be great to work for–it sounds like there’s a pretty time-consuming process of getting any deal approved, so I’m sure that’s a major impediment to productivity. But I don’t really see telling a GM “we can’t go over budget by that much” as the same as denying them autonomy.

    That said, if they really do it on a case-by-case basis, as opposed to setting a season budget and letting the GM make decisions within that, then that certainly does sound like a lack of autonomy, because it ends up taking power out of the GM’s hands. It sounds like maybe this, indeed, is what they do, though you would know more about that than I would.

    It’s also worth noting, as I’m sure you would agree, that just because the budget wasn’t there for Matt Holliday doesn’t mean they had to go sign Jason Bay. Just as the fact that the budget wasn’t there for Derek Lowe didn’t mean they had to throw money at Oliver Perez. I think we’d all agree there would have been better ways to allocate the money in both of those cases.

  2. Great Scott

    Full autonomy on the baseball side should include the idea that you do not have to sign a big name free agent because the business side tells you it will help with season ticket sales.

  3. Russ

    I can see a few legitimate reasons to scale back full autonomy.

    I believe that any home grown player, who has a career that is on a Hall of Fame path, should not be traded without the owners permission. For the Mets, that would be David Wright, and maybe Jose Reyes. The reason why I believe this is because I wouldn’t want to see a GM roll the dice for a quick shot at a contender at the expense of the club’s ever unfolding heritage. Mets fans still cringe at the Tom Seaver trade.

    Another area where I could see the need for owner approval is acquiring a player with a history of criminal behavior, substance abuse problems, etc. Winning is very important, but so is not embarrassing the franchise.

  4. acoustic567

    It sounds like you’re saying that if the Wilpons set a *firm* budget, with no exceptions considered, then the GM would have “complete autonomy” so long as he never tried to exceed the budget.

    Whatever the meaning of the word “autonomy,” I don’t see why this would be a more desirable situation than having ownership at least consider the possibility of going over budget in specific situations.

  5. acoustic567

    Actually, I think the following comment on Adam Rubin’s blog is spot on:

    “The perception around baseball is not that the Wilpons pick players; it’s that they require so many updates and are so involved in the process that the organization loses its nimbleness.”

    That, I think, is the real issue here.

  6. Bren

    I think the bigger issue is if they have really set this budget, and whether or not it’s really been laid out for everyone to work with. Buster Olney said today it’s been a major problem in recent years, and the way the front office has operated would seem to bear that out. Never being able to do anything but one thing at a time…

    I always get labeled an Omar defender for this, but the fact of the matter is that this is a guy who was considered one of the most aggressive GM’s in Baseball not long ago. Recently you’d hardly know he’s employed though. I don’t know if it’s all good or bad, but something sure changed…

    I think there’s been too many chefs in the kitchen, and this problem keeps repeating itself. The new GM had better be good fast, because if he isn’t power will likely be taken away bit by bit, and we’ll be doing this again in a few years…

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