Being general manager of the Red Sox is a dream job for any kid growing up in Massachusetts, but Mike Hazen gave it up last October for a chance to head west, taking the same position with the Diamondbacks.
Rather than serving as Dave Dombrowski's No. 2, Hazen now has the final call on all baseball matters in Arizona, taking over a team that was battered by injuries and inconsistency en route to a 93-loss season in 2016.
:: General manager Q&As ::
MLB.com recently sat down with Hazen at his office at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz., to discuss how his time in Cleveland and Boston shaped him into the executive he is today, why Major League front offices need to stop hiring so many Ivy Leaguers and why Paul Goldschmidt remains one of the most anonymous superstars in the game.
MLB.com: You played four years at Princeton and were drafted in the 31st round by the Padres in 1998 before a shoulder injury ended your career. How tough was that for you to deal with as a guy who obviously had his sights set on a professional playing career?
Hazen: When your career comes to an end, it was sort of jarring, I think, probably as it is for most of the players here now and the players that we've dealt with for a while. One thing for clarification; my shoulder injury didn't end my career. My lack of ability ended my career. As history has gone on and time has healed some wounds, somehow my playing prowess is perceived to be far better than it was at the time. The fact was, I just wasn't very good.
You don't think that way when you're a Minor League player, and that's great; that's what we want all our players to do, too. You start to play professional baseball, and why can't you play in the big leagues? You're here, you have a uniform and they pay for you to do it.
One of the big things for me is I always keep that in my mind. Being a farm director or other [job], when you're now on the other side of that table, how extremely difficult it is to hear that. I only had to hear it once; some players have to hear it a lot. But hearing it once and as devastating as it was, it's always stuck with me. Every time we send somebody out of camp or we've had to release a guy as a farm director, you very quickly can put yourself in that person's shoes. I think it's something that can keep you pretty humble about what you're doing. There's a personal aspect of each one of those when you do it. Even as hard as some of those conversations are, I value that perspective.
PODCAST: Listen to the full interview
MLB.com: During your time with the Indians, you worked your way up from an intern, an advance scout, assistant director of pro scouting and ultimately assistant director of player development. As you made your way through the ranks there, was becoming a GM your ultimate goal?
Hazen: Not really. I didn't really know what any of that meant when I first got there. One thing I'm extremely grateful to even as an intern was -- John Hart was in his last year as GM there, and then Mark [Shapiro] took over and hired me -- I remember in that first year walking in to do John Hart's 40-man roster board in his office. He'd be on the phone and you'd knock and not want to come in and he'd be like, "Nah, come on in here. You can learn by listening to people talking on the phone; you can be in here if you want to." I had that early exposure to those guys, to Mark and John, and both treated me that way the whole time.
As respectful as you tried to be, there was such an open door and exposure to anything and everything that was going on in the organization that you couldn't help but learn. Over time as I watched them do their job, in the end, I still didn't necessarily think that I'd be a general manager someday, but being in a leadership position in a baseball front office -- whether it was as a farm director or otherwise -- was something that I think I could do in time. Hopefully I liked being around these guys, being part of a team as we made a lot of decisions, and we went through some ups and downs there. It was a great learning experience, though, because that's the way they made it. I try to keep that in the back of my mind, too; now that you're in a different role, you have the ability to set that same culture or dynamic if you want.
MLB.com: It seems like front offices around the league are loaded with Ivy Leaguers. Aside from the obvious education you all received, do you think there's a reason that front offices have skewed that way in recent years?
Hazen: No, I don't. I think as an industry, we need to do a little better job of branching out of that; diversifying backgrounds a little bit more. That's a challenge for all of us. I think we can all get too insulated into how we think, and thinking the same way is dangerous from a decision-making process standpoint. I think the connections are a part of how any industry probably works, but we try to stay away from that in a lot of cases because we don't want to get wrapped up in channeling one type of person that we have here that think all the same way, that look at the game the same way.
The best part about this game, with the increasing influences of all these outside factors, there are so many opportunities for so many different types of backgrounds to make an impact on a baseball operation; I think we're seeing that organically through web development, data development, architects -- and that's just on the non-baseball side of things. Software development, which will branch out into different backgrounds, skill sets from some of the people you may be talking about.
Then I think one of the interesting backgrounds is the former player that is now interested in front-office work. The guy that's actually lived it for real; not like me, for fake. Guys with 10 years of big league time; guys we've been fortunately hiring like a guy we had in Boston, Brian Bannister, or Dan Haren and Burke Badenhop here. You see a lot of those guys that have this desire working in front offices; they have such a unique background and skill set that bring so much to the table for those of us that never experienced that and can't really see it through their eyes.
So I do think with the way each organization it seems is trying to create competitive advantages for themselves, in doing that, part of that is going to be the breadth and diversity of their front office.
MLB.com: You joined the Red Sox in 2006 as the team's director of player development. For a kid raised in Massachusetts, was that a dream to go work for the Red Sox?
Hazen: It was. When the Red Sox called, I remember Mark calling me in. We were in a hotel in downtown Cleveland having these leadership meetings, and he said, "Look, the Red Sox want to interview you for the farm director job." John Farrell was the farm director at the time, and this is another thing that I take away from [Shapiro], and he said, "If they offer you the job, you've got to go. I'd love to keep you here, you have a job here, but if they offer you the job, you've got to go. You've got to take this opportunity, you've got to take this responsibility, you've got to take this step. Don't just stay here because this is what's comfortable."
I've always remembered that, being pushed into that challenge, which I probably wasn't ready for -- I'm sure Theo and Ben will attest to that. Being able to go home was phenomenal, the team I grew up watching my entire life with my dad, it was a great opportunity. Not even really knowing what I was getting into; ending up being able to work with Theo [Epstein}, Jed [Hoyer] [Cherington] and Ben and a lot of others is an experience I'll never forget. The ticket list got a little bit longer, certainly.
MLB.com: A lot of the people you worked with in Boston at that time -- Theo, Jed, Ben, yourself -- are now with other teams in top decision-making positions. When you think back to that group being together, it was almost unrealistic to think you would all stay together for a long time, right?
Hazen: I don't know. The best part about that group -- and I can say this, and I'm sure it happens in other places -- but from my perspective, nobody wanted Theo's job. Nobody wanted Jed's job. Nobody wanted Ben's job. Everybody had a job to do and everybody just kind of kept doing it. That's kind of the culture that Theo created; everyone being part of the team felt valued as part of the team.
Now I sit back and think maybe we should have thought that way, but I don't think anybody was bold enough to think what would happen as those things kind of split apart over time. I look back on those days -- we all do -- with tremendous fondness. I'll never forget having worked with that group of people. Maybe the band will get back together someday when we're all old and decrepit, but it was such a blast. That's all because of Theo and what he created there.
It was so much fun coming to work. It was crazy. It got crazy sometimes -- I can't tell you any of those stories -- but it was a great place to be. We had some ups and we had some downs; the ups in Boston are great and the downs in Boston are tough, just like they are in some other places. It was a great place to be.
MLB.com: You obviously knew Torey Lovullo well from your time in Cleveland and Boston. Was that an easy decision to hire him as manager in Arizona?
Hazen: It was an easy decision to bring Torey; but it was a tough decision in choosing the manager because of the candidates we had. Phil Nevin was outstanding; he's going to make a great manager. It really came down in the end to those two guys, and the pool we had was fantastic, too. Allard Baird used to always say every day I knew him that the most important relationship was between the general manager and the manager; if that relationship isn't working or that relationship isn't solid, you're going to have problems in the organization. It wasn't so much my history from a personal standpoint with Torey; it was the knowledge of how we work together and the ability for us to dig into very difficult conversations very quickly. Knowing the work that we needed to get some here, that was the ultimate reason why.
Video: Mike Hazen on manager Torey Lovullo
MLB.com: Outside of fantasy baseball enthusiasts, it seems like Paul Goldschmidt may be one of the more anonymous stars in the game. Why don't you think more people have recognized how good he is?
Hazen: I don't know. Maybe his workmanlike professionalism, personality; he's so understated. What a great teammate; you can tell already from the day you walk in the respect that people have for him internally. You never see him do anything outwardly showy, which he probably could, given his talent. We're very fortunate to have somebody of his caliber on this team; he's a superstar. There's no other way to really describe it. It doesn't bother me at all; we have him and he's playing for us. That's great; that's all that matters.
Video: Mike Hazen on Paul Goldschmidt's value to D-backs
MLB.com: Zack Greinke did not have his typical season last year, Shelby Miller's year was a huge disappointment; how do you feel about the overall state of your rotation?
Hazen: I feel good. I think any time you get into transitions, you can expect some variability with performance at times. Greink was coming in as a free agent with a big contract, and Shelby was coming in with the expectations of a big trade, both of which generated a lot of notoriety right out of the chute. Everyone's human. You can try to be unaffected by everything that you're dealing with, but that may be impossible.
One of the things we've tried to express to them is there's no expectation to live up to. We're trying to come together as a team; it's going to take all 25 guys for us to get to where we want to be. It's not going to take one or two. We don't need one or two people to carry the team; one or two people can't carry a baseball team for 162. It's going to take 25 -- and usually 40 -- to get through. We just want everybody to be a part of that; one out of 25 to 40, contribute what they can contribute. If we can do all that together, we feel pretty good about it.
Video: Mike Hazen on the D-backs rotation
MLB.com: Do you view A.J. Pollock as an addition of sorts given that he only played 12 games last season?
Hazen: I do. David Peralta, as well; I think he's an under-the-radar loss for us for a large portion of the season last year. Having both A.J. and David back on a full-time basis is a huge benefit. It puts other guys in better positions defensively; it improves our outfield defense significantly, which was a challenge last year. And subsequently, it should help out those pitchers we were referring to earlier in how they perform. If we're not catching the baseball and some of the balls that should be caught, then we're not helping our pitching staff at all. We need to improve on that.
Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.