Potential Replacements for Duquette: Amiel Sawdaye
This offseason, the Baltimore Orioles will make many decisions that will shape the organization for many years. These decisions include hiring a manager, whether they will implement the promises made by Dan Duquette this past July, and—most importantly—who will replace the aforementioned Duquette in heading the organization as General Manager, President of Baseball Operations, or whatever title the incoming decision-maker will have.
Three possible replacements have been profiled, beginning with Mike Elias (Houston Astros) and Jason McLeod (Chicago Cubs) here followed by Josh Byrnes (Los Angeles Dodgers). As the wait continues for news about the progress of the search, we turn to another possible candidate, Amiel Sawdaye of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
This isn’t Sawdaye’s first rodeo when it comes to GM rumors. In 2016, prior to accepting the Diamondbacks’ offer of the Assistant GM role, Sawdaye was offered the GM role with the Boston Red Sox and was rumored to be considering an offer from the Twins. Given his background, it is understandable why teams would be interested in the 41-year old executive.
Sawdaye is a Baltimore native who attended the University of Maryland, graduating in 1999 with a Bachelors in Decision and Information Sciences. He spent 2002-2003 as a Baseball Operations intern with the Red Sox, and gradually made his way through the organization as a Scouting Assistant (2004), Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting (2005-2009), and finally reached Vice President of Amateur and International Scouting. In 2016, he left Boston along with Mike Hazen to become the Diamondbacks’ Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager.
Sawdaye’s background in the Scouting and Player Development fields is obvious. Over his tenure heading up Amateur and, later, International Scouting, the Red Sox built up one of the best farm systems in baseball and the foundation for their current playoff team. You have Andrew Benintiendi, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Travis Shaw, Yoan Moncada, Xander Bogaerts, and hoards of other players made their way through the Red Sox system. The team identified these players and successfully developed them into major league-quality assets, all under the eye of Sawdaye.
In Arizona, Sawdaye’s responsibilities shifted toward more work in the Major League Operations department. Upon his hiring, his boss Mike Hazen stated “He’ll be working directly with us with the Major League club, with the Major League coaching staff, and he’ll also oversee a lot of the process that goes into our evaluation and scouting.” This experience dealing more directly with the coaching staffs gives him an advantage when communicating analytics to coaches who may not have encountered them with any regularity.
Sawdaye—while well-versed in the scouting and player-development side of Baseball Operations—is additionally adept at analytics. His degree in Decision and Information Sciences—within the Business School at Maryland—would have exposed him to economics and analysis during his undergraduate tenure. He has spoken in his roles as a Baseball Operations executive at both the Society of American Baseball Research’s Analytics Conference as well as SaberSeminar, two of the premiere baseball-oriented sabermetric conferences. Most revealing is the following quote to the Arizona Republic about the role of analytics within an organization.
I don’t want this department to just create some free-agent player evaluation model. It should impact every department, from amateur to international scouting to player development and medical. This takes years, not months, but our vision is to have this department provide key information for all the decision-makers in those respective departments.
In this quote, Sawdaye references the importance of analytics, acknowledges the depth to which analytics can and should be taken, and finally also admits that building an analytics department with a clear vision and purpose takes an extended period of time. For an Orioles’ franchise that has seen the analytics department seemingly stall the past few years, Sawdaye seems like an individual who could make good on Dan Duquette’s promise to increase investment in analytics.
One futrher aspect of Sawdaye’s profile that should be extremely encouraging to Orioles’ fans is his consistent references to the importance of communication. In a February 2017 interview with FanGraphs David Laurila—a must-read for anyone who wants to get a sense of Sawdaye’s thinking—Sawdaye discusses that he wants decisions to be made through collaboration with all departments.
We want them to be open with each other and communicate well. A lot of good decisions are made that way — in conjunction with other’s opinions. We don’t want people to be afraid to push back, or to ask questions. We want people to feel comfortable. When you build that culture and have trust, you’ll organically get that out of people.
Building a culture of trust, one where all departments within baseball operations have a seat at the decision-making table, is essential for a front office. Sawdaye stated a similar sentiment—dealing more directly with communicating analytics to players—to Brian Kenny a month later at SABR Analytics.
Amiel Sawdaye has experience with many of the facets that the Orioles should require of an executive. He comes from and was successful in scouting and player development. He is well-versed in the importance of analytics, as well as the challenges that comes with implementing such changes to an front office. He has worked with two successful organizations—remember that the 2017 Diamondbacks won 93 games and reached the National League Division Series—and seems to have a strong belief about what is essential to translate that success to another franchise. This is the type of executive that the Orioles would be well-served to give careful consideration to, and the type of executive that—given the control and support necessary—could set the team on the right path for years to come.
Dr. Stephen Loftus received his Ph.D. in Statistics from Virginia Tech in 2015 and is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Sweet Briar College. Prior to that, he worked as an Analyst in Baseball Research and Development for the Tampa Bay Rays, focusing on the Amateur Draft. He currently writes at FanGraphs and Baltimore Sports and Life, with previous work available at Beyond the Box Score. As a lifelong fan of the Orioles, he fondly remembers the playoff teams of 1996-97 and prefers to forget constantly impending doom of Jorge Julio, Albert Belle's contract, and most years between 1998 and 2011.