Among the half-dozen candidates so far identified for Arizona’s vacant GM position is current Senior Vice-President for Baseball Operations with Major League Baseball, Kim Ng. While Ng has never held the position of GM, she has long been counted among the more respected executive minds in the game. This is not the first time that Ng has been a candidate for a GM position. In fact, she has already been a candidate for four different vacancies (Dodgers, Angels, Mariners, and Padres), dating all the way back to 2005. In 2005, after being passed over for the position of Dodgers’ GM for fellow Arizona candidate Ned Colletti, she was promptly hired by Colletti to serve as his Assistant General Manager. The amount of industry-wide respect for Kim Ng is real and not a matter of lip-service like so many executives receive simply out of politeness.
While it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what general attributes the front office is looking for in a quality GM, there is no way to know what specifics they are looking for, or how heavily each quality is weighted. Thus, making arguments for and against any candidate, based on the team’s plan for moving forward are going to fall woefully short. There are some very general arguments that can be made though, and the biggest one against Kim Ng is that she would be a first-time General Manager. Yes, Ng has loads of executive experience in the game, but she has never been the ultimate decision maker. Because of where the Diamondbacks stand with payroll, personnel, and an implied window of contention, that lack of previous GM experience could matter to some. It does not, however, matter to me.
Long-time readers of the pit have seen me champion the hiring of Kim Ng in the past; both in 2005 and again in 2010. She was not given much consideration (if any) during those GM searches, so my hopes were not very high she would be considered this time around. The fact that Kim Ng is already on Arizona’s short list is, for me, some of the best news to come out of the front office since the train wreck of the 2016 season began. While I am still not convinced she is at the top of that list, she brings a number of traits to the table that I feel simply should not be ignored.
First, Ng is an outsider. Don’t get me wrong, I like Mike Bell a lot. If, at the end of the day, he winds up with the job, I will be disappointed, but not at all because of his qualifications. With the downward spiral this team has been on since the Kevin Towers era though, it truly feels like it is time for a complete culture change. The hirings of Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart made it look like there was going to be a culture change, but the stark reality was that the duo presided over a great deal of “more of the same”. Mike Bell has been with this organization for six years now. The Diamondbacks way of thinking about baseball has had way too much time to soak in at this point.
Two other candidates fit into this category, Ned Colletti and Ray Montgomery, though Montgomery does have previous ties to the organization when he was Director of Scouting during some of the Kevin Towers regime. Colletti in many ways feels like striving for mediocrity. Montgomery feels like a good choice, but his recent ties to the organization might still have some lingering effects. Kim Ng comes with a clean Arizona slate and just as much or more experience as anyone on the list not named Ned Colletti. That alone could be reason enough to hire her, but that doesn’t even touch on what might be the biggest thing she has going for her - and that’s the 2000-pound elephant in the room.
Ken Kendrick and Derrick Hall are quickly learning just how desirable their vacant General Manager actually is within the industry right now. Sure, as one of only 30 such positions in the game, there are still plenty of candidates, but the reality is, the team is preparing for its seventh General Manager in 13 years. The team also has started developing a reputation for having cheap ownership which likes to meddle, rather than letting the hired executives do the jobs they were brought in for. Unpopular moves by the front office and poor results in 2016 have caused the Diamondbacks to suffer a rather substantial public image problem. Kim Ng could be a very bulletproof solution to many problems.
If Kim Ng is brought on board, the public relations genius that is Derrick Hall (think what we will of his tenure in Arizona, there is no denying his savvy in that particular arena) will be able to feast on the opportunities provided by hiring the first woman General Manager for any of the big four professional sports in America. Hall won’t even have to make a big deal out of the fact. He can simply sit back and let the media do that for him. Have no illusions, the media coverage of the hire will be sky-high. The lovely part for Hall and the Diamondbacks is that Ng has already established herself within the industry as so highly qualified that the questions surrounding her hire will not focus on whether or not the Diamondbacks used Ng as a publicity stunt hiring to improve their image, but rather the questions will be about what took so long for a team to finally take a chance on her. There may be some who try to punch holes in hiring Ng, but those pundits will be drowned out by the cacophony of opinions coming from more positive quarters. Externally, Ng’s hiring is, as stated earlier, bulletproof. The beauty doesn’t stop there though. If hired on to be the new GM for the Diamondbacks, Ng is bulletproof from within as well.
Three points are constantly harped on as reasons why the GM situation in Arizona is not an ideal one. Those are the financial restraints, recent length of tenure of the previous GMs, and a meddlesome owner. The first point, budget, is going to resolve itself. Between the upcoming CBA and the reality of having to field a 25-man team made up of players working their way through the arbitration process, Ken Kendrick is going to have to face certain realities and allow payroll to expand some. This expansion of payroll may still not be enough to even sniff league average payroll levels, but it should be sufficient that the next GM can at least retain the talent on-hand. The MLBPA is not about to allow another Jeffry Loria situation develop in Arizona, and these days, it is unlikely the owners will either. Revenue sharing and the size of the piece of the pie the players receive are going to be huge topics come December. Once the CBA is ratified in December, Kendrick will have to play along. It may not be in the manner Arizona fans would like, but there should be sufficient pressure to reach 2019 without much in the way of concern over losing the talent already on the team.
The second point, the recent rash of two-year GMs for Arizona indicating an uncomfortable volatility should be of little concern to the next GM. The Diamondbacks organization is currently in such a position that, whomever the next GM is, all they have to do is keep the chair warm and the team should improve, both in on-field results and in farm development. If the combination of A.J. Pollock, Chris Owings, and David Peralta can simply avoid losing 220+ man-games to injury, the Diamondbacks will be a better team next season. Combined with the fact that extreme deviations from being a .500 club are actually difficult to sustain, and the on-field results are all but certain to improve. Starting next season, the Diamondbacks will also have a strong draft pool from which to work with when drafting talent in the First-Year Player Draft. Selecting seventh in a draft as deep in impact talent as the one coming up, should allow the Diamondbacks to find at least two draft selections they can hang their hat on. Additionally, and this is a big one, the Diamondbacks will once again be able to spend on international talent, coming out from underneath the sanctions imposed on them for the failed Yoan López hiring. Any GM worth their salt should be able to improve the state of the decimated Arizona farm system under such conditions. The biggest obstacle will simply be not trading away what few players the farm currently has left.
Two years from now, a GM who simply “does the job” by not doing much of anything drastic will have the team in a better position both on the field and developmentally than it is now. It would be very difficult to fire any GM after only two seasons if they can claim quite demonstrably that they would be leaving the organization in a better state than when they arrived. It would be almost impossible to fire Ng under such circumstances. For all the public relations goodwill hiring the first woman top executive would bring, firing her for being successful would be suicide. That would bring Ng to 2019, which is going to be the free agent offseason that makes or breaks more than one GM. With two years under her belt to get the Diamondbacks going in the direction she wants them, and to get herself established as a GM, that winter could be her coming out party. It’s where the real tenure clock will start. Even if she only lasts two seasons, that still makes her a four-year General Manager. In the world of baseball, four years is a very respectable first run as General Manager for a team. IT is at that point when team begin to look at extensions. If the Diamondbacks are still better off than when she arrived, she’ll stick. If not, then dismissing her after four years is a perfectly acceptable business move. After four years it won’t be looked at as “knee-jerk” either.
The last point, meddlesome ownership can be a sticky situation. Billionaire owners like and expect to get their way – pretty much all the time. It comes from being the person footing all the bills. This is where Ng’s advantage might be even bigger than anywhere else. If the Diamondbacks hire Ng, the amount of meddling the ownership can get away with will be marginal at best. If the team commits to Ng, all eyes are going to be firmly affixed on the club and what happens next. Ownership cashing in on Ng’s unique status will be expected to prove that they believe in their choice. Any meddling on the part of ownership, especially of the sort rumored to have gone on since 2010, will not be tolerated. The sort of negativity that deep-sixing Ng’s time in Arizona would bring would be severe enough that the organization would not soon recover from it. Ken Kendrick’s ego and Derrick Hall’s professional reputation would not stand for that sort of public relations suicide. There will be extreme pressure from all corners, both within and without, to allow Ng to succeed or fail based on her own abilities and choices. This is not something that any other candidate for the position can claim.
Kim Ng may or may not be the very best qualified candidate for the position. That is impossible to know. What we do know though, is that in the high powered-pressure cooker world of professional sports, it is not often that the opportunity comes along for a team to be both socially progressive and tactically sound at the same time. The Diamondbacks have a rare opportunity in front of them, this particular writer is hoping that they do not squander it. Kim Ng is a highly skilled individual with every qualification for the job. It does not matter that she is a woman – except it does.