We all think … no wait … we all know we can be highly successful Major League General Managers. It’s a piece of cake. Sign this guy, trade these guys for that guy, cut that dude, deal this guy for a bag of balls to free up money, so on and so forth. It’s never as easy as we make it sound, but most of us will never get a chance to find that out for ourselves. Until now.
2K Sports’ MLB Front Office Manager is basically the baseball version of NFL Head Coach. It puts you in the GM chair and bombards you with all the team building stuff every real life GM has to deal with. (Luckily you don’t have to deal with the shareholders or marketing people or politicians though.) Billy Beane and Brian Cashman both consulted on the project, and the game is true to life in almost every way possible. There’s waivers, the arbitration process, 40-man rosters, the Rule 5 Draft, no trade clauses, performance bonuses, Type-A and B free agents, unhappy superstars, pissed off owners, you name it.
As you can probably imagine, the game is menu heavy. You’re kept up to date on all the major news around the league via email, although you’ll have to dig around for the smaller moves yourself. Beane also acts as your “advisor,” emailing you with advice and instructions for some of the more complicated parts of the game. The filing system for the emails is a little stupid, but it’s not terrible. I’ve seen come complaints about the intricate menu system, but I don’t have any problems with it. I think it’s pretty easy to navigate, actually.
The backbone of the game is player development, just like today’s MLB. There’s six freaking levels of minor league affiliates (AAA, AA, Hi-A, Lo-A, short season and rookie) and the scouting network is insanely deep. You’re given a scouting budget and must allocate those funds as you see fit. You can “invest” in a long list of regions, including different parts of the U.S., Latin America, Asia and Australia, and the more money you spend the better the job your scouts do. Scouting Japan is an entirely different undertaking, as it’s more expensive but also more rewarding (because the players are ML ready). The Japanese posting process is in the game, so to land the next Dice-K you have to outbid the other clubs.
Let’s go through some of the other features bullet point style:
- Build-A-GM: You create yourself, picking from a handful of body types, faces and wardrobes. You also select your background (i.e. lawyer, businessman, ex-player, ex-scout, etc) and each background type will affect your attributes. Lawyers are better at contracts, businessmen at negotiations, ex-baseball people at talent evaluation, and so on. As you progress you pick up experience points, which you can use to improve your attributes. If you do a crappy job, you’ll get fired.
- 40-man roster: It is what it is. You have to manage your 40 man, making sure you protect your best young prospects from the Rule 5 Draft, the whole nine. You can designate players for assignment to free up spots, and bring up the whole gang for September call-ups.
- Waivers: Minor league options are in the game, so if a player runs out of options he’ll have to pass through waivers to be sent to the minors. If you DFA someone, you have ten days to trade them before they go through waivers. The game only has irrevocable waivers, so if you claim a player not only do you get him, but you get his entire contract as well. I haven’t gotten far along enough to see if you can make waiver wire deals after the trade deadline. That would be cool.
- Arbitration: As I said before, this is true to life. You can renew players with 0-3 years of service time for the league minimum, and after that (3-6 years of service time) you can hammer out deals or go to an arbitration hearing if the two sides are far apart. Super Two’s are in the game, and you can nontender a player if you don’t want them. You also have to offer a potential free agent arbitration to receive compensation picks.
- Trades: The computer AI is the best I’ve seen in a video game. You can still get away with some heists, but for the most the computer will only trade for players it needs and give up players from positions of depth. In every other game you can make a trade and it’s done immediately. In this game you submit a proposal (or the AI does), the other party thinks about it, and if the deal is agreed upon, it takes a day to finalize it. There can be several counter offers and a negotiation can drag on for weeks.
- Free Agency: As I said before, there’s Type-A and B free agents. One complaint I have is that I can’t seem to figure how to tell if a player you’re interested in is a Type-A, which sucks because I really don’t want to give up my first rounder to sign Frank Catalanotto. You can offer signing bonuses, team/player/mutual options, no trade clauses, and bonuses based on MVP & Cy Young voting, All-Star Game selections and LCS/World Series MVP Awards. You get the fifteen day exclusive negotiating window before your free agents can talk to other teams, and as with trades, negotiations can last for weeks with guys on the open market.
- Stats: The game is chock full of nerd math. There’s BABIP, VORP, EqA, IsoP, OPS+, ERA+, Range Factor and loads more. VORP for pitchers is screwy though, so you can’t trust it. They just goofed up the calculation.
- Player Ratings: They’re very accurate, easily the best I’ve seen in a video game. For players age 24 and younger you get present and future grades for their skills (age 25 and up you get just present grades), and everything in the game is based on the 20-80 scouting scale, which is super cool. I haven’t done too much looking, but the only 80 player I’ve seen is this guy. “Player morale” acts as team chemistry, so if you bring in the wrong kind of player the team will get upset and underperform.
The game picks up in early November, not long after the end of the World Series and right at the start of the fifteen day exclusive negotiating window. The default rosters are as of this date, so CC, AJ and Tex aren’t on the Yankees while Pudge and Wilson Betemit are. You get to experience the entire Hot Stove League right from the get go. Team budgets are a little high, but not ridiculous. I’m using the Padres, and I have no reason to trade Jake Peavy; he fits right into the budget.
As you fufill your GM duties, you don’t get an opportunity to actually play the games. You can watch them however, and “manage” (make pitching changes, etc) as well. The games do go by quick; you can hammer out a typical nine inninger in ten minutes. That’s my biggest problem with this title; I enjoy playing the games, the pitcher-batter confrontations, getting a feel for who’s hot and who’s struggling, etc., and with this game you spend all your time building a team that you never get a chance to play with. Oh, and the soundtrack sucks.
MLBFOM is available for PS3. Xbox 360 and PC, and it’s for die hards only. If you’re a casual fan, you’ll likely be bored by all the mundane details and frustrated by the lack of excitement. Since everything in the game is in terms of the 20-80 scale, let me give this one a 55 for enjoyment (solid avg) and a 70 for detail (well above avg). With that said, I’m trading this game in for MLB 09 The Show as soon as it hits shelves in early March.