The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed a couple of free agents. No, not those kinds of free agents; but the kind that may be paying dividends long after Albert Pujols has hung up his cleats.
Thursday, the Dodgers announced the hiring of Gerry Hunsicker as the Senior Advisor to Baseball Operations. Say what? Translation: Hunsicker, a front office exec who has worked for various MLB teams since 1978, will be in charge of revamping the Dodgers farm system. This front office addition follows the August hiring of architect Janet Marie-Smith who was placed in charge of overseeing a revamping of another kind, Dodger Stadium.
Hunsicker, like Dodgers president Stan Kasten, has succeeded with organizations not known for their forays into free agency. He was hired as the Vice President of Baseball operations for Tampa Bay in 2005 and helped mold the once-perennial AL East doormat into a team that has made three postseason appearances in the last five years. Hunsicker scouted heavily not only in well-known baseball hotbeds such as the Dominican Republic but also looked into Asia and Europe.
He was the GM of the Houston Astros from 1996 to 2004. During his nine year tenure, the Astros went to the postseason five times and had only one losing season. Hunsicker may have his work cut out for him given the Dodgers recent minor league history.
The farm system last produced a current “impact” player in 2006. The Dodgers drafted Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw out of high school that year. Although a 2008 draft pick, Dee Gordon, won the starting shortstop job this past spring, you have to go all the way back to 2003 to find the last time the farm system produced an everyday position player still playing a major role with the team. That year, the Dodgers drafted outfielder Matt Kemp and starting catcher AJ Ellis and acquired a minor league outfielder named Andre Ethier in a trade with Oakland.
Smith will be in charge of looking for ways to upgrade the 50+-year old Dodger Stadium structure. She holds a master’s degree in urban planning from City College of New York and a bachelor of architecture degree from Mississippi State University. Her most recent position was with the Baltimore Orioles as their Vice President of Planning and Development. She has worked for the Braves and Red Sox in similar capacities and had a hand in helping to improve the area around Fenway Park.
Under the ownership of Frank McCourt, fans could only sit and watch as the Dodger Stadium restrooms deteriorated, the traffic and parking became a mess, and searching for an open concession stand seemed to take longer than waiting in line for a Dodger Dog. And given recent developments, it is quite possible Smith could have two properties to manage one day.
The proposed new football stadium in the heart of downtown Los Angeles has hit a wall, though the stadium proponents are saying the wall is just a piece of cardboard.
AEG, the conglomerate behind the new stadium, is up for sale. Publicly, AEG execs are saying the stadium proposal will continue to move ahead even if the company is sold. However, a potential buyer of AEG’s assets, which includes the Staples Center, home to the Lakers and Los Angeles Kings, is the Guggenheim Group. They happen to own the Dodgers. Rumors have been circulating for years that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would rather see a new Los Angeles football stadium built on the land surrounding Dodger Stadium. The perception is the NFL would have more control over the design of the stadium and any revenues generated by parking, etc.
I wonder if Smith will get paid double if the NFL comes to Dodgerland.