Hernández: Kim Ng uses skills honed with the Dodgers to bolster the Marlins on a budget

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In this photo provided by the Miami Marlins, new Miami Marlins general manager Kim Ng poses for a photo at Marlins Park stadium before being introduced during a virtual news conference, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, in Miami. Ng discussed her climb to become the first female GM in the four major North American professional sports leagues. (Joseph Guzy/Miami Marlins via AP)
Miami Marlins general manager Kim Ng poses for a photo at Marlins Park. (Joseph Guzy / Miami Marlins)

If the Dodgers’ bullpen implodes in October, Kim Ng could be to blame.

She practically stole one of their best relievers from them.

Dylan Floro, whom she acquired in a trade for Alex Vesia, entered Thursday with a 1.15 earned-run average in 17 games for the Miami Marlins.

The deal was classic Kim Ng.

Long before the 52-year-old Ng became the first woman general manager in baseball history, long before she was asked to be part of Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration, she was making deals like this as an assistant general manager for the Dodgers.

Friday, as the general manager of the rebuilding Marlins, she will return to Dodger Stadium, where from late 2001 to early 2011 she became an expert in fortifying bullpens with cost-effective maneuvers, whether they were low-key trades, free-agent deals or waiver claims.

She picked up Chan Ho Park on a minor-league deal near the end of his career and he went on to be an important part of a team that reached the National League Championship Series in 2008.

The following year, she found another reclamation project in Jeff Weaver, whom she also signed to a minor-league deal. A valuable swingman with an indefatigable arm, Weaver won a game in the NLCS.

Look at the current Marlins’ bullpen, which had the third-lowest ERA in the NL through Wednesday. Ng has exhibited the same resourcefulness she did with the Dodgers.

Adam Cimber (2.60 ERA in 17 games) was purchased from the Cleveland Indians in a cash deal. John Curtiss (2.60 ERA in 15 games) was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for a minor league infielder. Ross Detwiler (2.77 ERA in 14 games) was signed to a one-year, $850,000 contract.

“I do have to give credit to our [front office] staff,” Ng said. “Ultimately, I had the final say, but the options that we put together and the background work that was put into getting our list together and having a very good idea of availability and price tag, they did a lot of homework. That made the actual acquisitions a little bit easier. But my experience in building bullpens in L.A. definitely had a lot to do [with] what we've done here.”

Who would have ever imagined that working for a penny pincher like Frank McCourt would be a plus?

Ng won’t be in Los Angeles this weekend to take a victory lap — or reflect on the chaos of the McCourt era. She’s here for more practical reasons.

She has to learn about her team.

“I’ve been with them every game so far,” Ng said this week in a phone interview from Arizona, where the Marlins played a four-game series against the Diamondbacks.

General managers usually don’t travel with the major league club for every road series, but she considers it a necessary adjustment for a rookie GM in a pandemic year. Perry Minasian, the first-year general manager of the Angels, has taken a similar approach.

“It's been really difficult with COVID because you can't necessarily spend the time with people in the way that you would normally spend it,” Ng said. “So it's taken a lot longer to get to know staff and players.”

Former Dodgers assistant general manager Kim Ng walks through a hotel lobby during MLB general managers meetings in 2007.
Former Dodgers assistant general manager Kim Ng walks through a hotel lobby during the first day of the Major League Baseball annual general managers meetings in 2007. (John Raoux / Associated Press)

This is especially the case for the part of the organization that is considered its strength. The Marlins have a consensus top-five farm system in baseball and one of Ng’s most critical tasks will be to determine which prospects to build around and which to trade. The Dodgers provided her expertise in this as well, as Ned Colletti’s front office held on to players such as Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier while trading the likes of Andy LaRoche, Andrew Lambo and Chin-Lung Hu.

With the Marlins’ opening-day payroll under $60 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Ng doesn’t have the luxury of making mistakes. But the conditions to properly evaluate prospects has been less than ideal, as the pandemic wiped out the minor league season last year.

“I was really trying to keep tabs on guys in spring training, probably more than I normally would have,” Ng said.

And over the last six weeks, Ng has held weekly meetings to track the progress of the most promising young players.

“I think she has been a different voice and [provided a] different view of organization,” Miami manager Don Mattingly said. “It's good to have a fresh set of eyes on your players and your organization.”

At the moment, the Marlins are treading water, with injuries to key players such as outfielder Starling Marte, catcher Jorge Alfaro and ace-in-the-making Sixto Sanchez. They went into their series finale against the Diamondbacks in fourth place in the National League East with a 16-20 record.

Ng is convinced ownership is committed to its vision of building a team around its homegrown talent and won’t abort the plan at the first signs of trouble.

“I think that there's great patience here, in terms of the expectations, for now and for the future,” Ng said.

She has enjoyed her working relationship with chief executive Derek Jeter, who played for the New York Yankees when she was in their front office.

“He's given me a lot of leeway,” Ng said. “We communicate very well. I keep him updated. Occasionally, he'll call and ask a question, but he's been fairly hands-off and given me room to work and learn and to build relationships with the staff.”

She is also encouraged by the team’s culture, which started taking shape in the pandemic-shortened season last year when the Marlins finished second in their division with a 31-29 record and reached the postseason.

She doesn’t deny there is pressure. She knows how the Marlins perform under her watch will affect a generation of aspiring executives.

But Ng won’t downplay her gender or her background. She has embraced the responsibility that comes with representing women and Asian Americans in her field, which is why she makes it a point to take time to conduct interviews like this one.

“Because if I didn't,” she said, “it would all be a waste. It's hard to take this as just my life. Because when you have so many people telling you what an inspiration you are to their sisters, their daughters, their mothers, it's hard not to recognize that. I don't think I could ever take that for granted.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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