First year down, GM Ng turns sights to '22

November 9th, 2021

MIAMI -- "Just be yourself."

When Kim Ng made history on Nov. 13, 2020, as the first woman to become a MLB general manager, congratulatory text messages flooded her phone from fellow executives. Along with expressing her gratitude, she asked for a piece of advice. The above adage proved to be the most common.

"Have I taken it? Not quite," Ng told with a laugh. "Don't feel comfortable enough quite yet to do that. Just because you're always on stage, right? You just have to be a little bit cautious."

With great power comes great responsibility, or so Spider-Man's Uncle Ben once said. Ng bears an astronomical weight on her shoulders. She senses it every time a fan, usually young girls decked in baseball gear, asks for an autograph. It became a recurring scene at the ballpark this season.

How Ng and the Marlins fare could determine whether prominent front-office opportunities for women in baseball -- heck, just sports in general -- continue; it is promising that the Mets reportedly wanted to interview longtime Red Sox executive Raquel Ferreira for their chief of baseball operations position.

"Always. There's never a doubt. It's always present," Ng said. "That feeling is always present. It's harder because people don't necessarily see me as just a GM. People have me sign baseballs and it's, 'Can you put "first female GM?"' I understand it. It's a novelty. But you never really escape that."

The early stages of her dream job were a whirlwind as the fanfare died down. While Ng headed straight to the office, her husband, Tony Markward, searched for a house. Though Ng had the benefit of familiar faces from her decades-long career in baseball, joining the Marlins required a crash course in the organization.

The first transaction came four days after her hiring, the signing of right-hander Alexander Guillen to a Minor League contract. That evening, she and Markward welcomed a brief respite by celebrating her birthday at world-renowned Joe's Stone Crab on Miami Beach. By month's end, Miami had acquired three key pieces for its 2021 season: right-handers Zach Thompson, Adam Cimber and Anthony Bender.

"I was in the office Monday through Friday that week here in Miami, getting to know the guys," Ng said. "I think the first day, we might have gone 9 to 5 with just Zoom calls, familiarizing me with every facet of the operation. I'm not sure how much of that I retained at the time. It felt like cramming. What I did is I tried to listen that entire week. When I got home was when the studying really came into play. I was watching a lot of video and getting familiarized with our computer system, which is great."

Soon enough, Ng returned to South Florida and stayed at the Mutiny Hotel in Coconut Grove before relocating to Jupiter for six weeks' worth of Spring Training. She spent the next three months in an Airbnb home in Buena Vista, July in a condo in Brickell and the final two months at another hotel. Just recently, Ng and Markward moved into their home in the area. Ng quickly grew accustomed -- or as much as one can -- to the nomadic life. Checking in and out of hotels. Living out of a suitcase. She joked that taking her dry cleaning in the Monday after the season ended was a monumental event.

In the midst of all this, Ng's Marlins juggled a flurry of injuries early on -- from Sixto Sánchez to Starling Marte to Brian Anderson -- and made a bevy of roster transactions. During a deflating 1-8 road trip in early June, Elieser Hernandez strained his right quad in his return from the 60-day injured list and missed another two months. Miami continued to fall in the standings, ushering in the possibility of executing unpopular trades, from a fan's perspective. Marte and Yimi García, who were set to become free agents in 2022, and Adam Duvall (mutual option), were moved. Cimber and John Curtiss, acquired over the offseason with multiple years of club control remaining, were shipped.

"While it was disappointing that we had to do it, it was the best thing for the organization," Ng said of dealing Marte, who had helped the club during the 2020 playoff push. "I think we got significant value in the trade for Jesús Luzardo. I think he adds great, great depth to our rotation. He's one of those young players that we have for five years and really adds to our base and allows us some flexibility on other fronts as well."

The one-year anniversary of Ng's hiring will arrive on Saturday during a critical juncture for the Marlins. The ballclub finished fourth in the National League East, which fell below organizational expectations but exceeded pundit predictions. Two of the past three World Series champions are division rivals. Year Five is underway for the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter ownership group, meaning it's time to see consistent results at the big league level and not just boast a Top 5 farm system.

After a month of the organization coming up with an offseason plan of action, this week's GM Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., are a chance for Ng to put out feelers in person. She and Jeter promised it would be an active winter, in particular when it comes to adding bats. They must navigate around the uncertainty of Dec. 1, when the Collective Bargaining Agreement ends.

"I think I'm very self-aware," Ng said. "My goals are not necessarily quantitative, but they are qualitative. I do reflect, but I also compartmentalize very well, and that's a good thing and a bad thing. Mostly good, sometimes bad. This all runs fast. You don't really have too much time to dwell. I think every once in a while, you get in that reflective zone. I think the game is also instructive in terms of what you need to do. That's the way I try and approach it.

"This season did not go the way we wanted. Obviously, it was a disappointment, and I think the staff has been very hard at work from the very first day, from Monday forward, really trying to put together what we think is a good plan."