Mike Hazen's magic puts pressure on Steve Keim

Arizona Cardinals OTA's

The big parts of Mike Hazen's offseason are now presumably complete. He added Kole Calhoun, Madison Bumgarner and Starling Marte. He built a team that isn't more talented than the Dodgers, but certainly has a puncher's chance of knocking off the kings of the NL West. His teams have averaged 86.6 wins in the three years he's been GM, and they've avoided bottoming out while rebuilding the farm system, unloaded overly expensive talent and replenished the roster with Diamondbacks-sized deals. When I talked to MLB writer Robert Murray on my show today, he told me that people inside baseball are starting to look at Hazen as a top 10 GM in the league. Meanwhile, Cardinals fans are hoping that Steve Keim doesn't whiff on another top 10 pick.

It matters how the other GMs in town position their teams. I covered the Texans and Astros in Houston, and watched a football city, in a football state, give their hearts to baseball instead. It had everything to do with management. People trusted the product Jeff Luhnow would deliver every year, and they paid for that trust with loyalty, radio ratings and television viewership. They grew savvy to the fact that the Texans front office structure was unsustainable, and still is with the today's news that Bill O'Brien is officially the head coach/GM. Astros fans have probably lost that trust now that Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch are gone due to cheating, but while I was there, the allegiance I described was real.

Arizona Cardinals v Baltimore Ravens

While Hazen hasn't built the championship rosters Luhnow did, there's an argument that what he's doing in Arizona is as impressive. Hazen is playing a rigged game. The Dodgers, Astros, Yankees and Red Sox regularly spend up to or more than $200 million in payroll. The Diamondbacks max out at about $150 million. Hazen mantains a continual cycle of re-upping the farm system, getting value out of expensive players in trades and bringing in fiscally responsible talent with similar production. He has no room for error, the Dodgers, in comparison, are bubble wrapped and strapped with life insurance.

Steve Keim doesn't have the same excuse. He manages in a league whose entire ethos is parity. The Bengals have as much of a chance to be successful as the Giants. In fact, there's a real argument to be made that large market teams have a disadvantage, given that they can't spend any more more than small market teams, but they endure double the distractions in a league which is most punitive on the preoccupied.

The NFL strips away excuses. Steve Keim didn't need to draft Jonathan Cooper, Deone Bucannon, Robert NKemdiche or Josh Rosen. He didn't need to sign David Johnson to that big deal. Over the last three years, he's had just as much of an opportunity to build a playoff roster as Les Snead did with the Rams, John Schneider did with the Seahawks or John Lynch did with the 49ers.

When fans start putting that all in perspective, the pressure will truly be on Steve Keim.

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