Ten front office assistants in line to become MLB general managers
There's no shortage of lists out there about prospects. From the people that watch the games to people that only read
About eight years ago, just after my first
With as many as five potential openings in the next six months, there's going to be opportunities for many new faces. The ultracompetitive process often takes a number of tries as a candidate gets more experience with the process and continues to build his resume. Jack Zduriencik, now GM of the Mariners, was once thought to be "too scouty" and lacked media savvy that a GM would require. He latched on to Tony Blengino, then with the Brewers and now his AGM, to learn the stats side and worked diligently to be a better interview. He's been a solid GM in his two and a half years and a role model for those who were on my original list of new GM candidates. Getting on the list of owners and getting more interviews is key to the process.
I queried baseball executives, scouts, writers and agents, as well as SI colleagues Jon Heyman and Joe Lemire in putting together a list of what I believe would be the most likely candidates for the next general manager opening in baseball. That's not to say that there aren't other candidates that are well-qualified. As you can see at the end of the list, there were 10 other candidates mentioned by at least two people and another 20 that came up once. There are also the "usual suspects," former GMs who will likely get another chance at jobs, but I excluded them from this list, as really, we know who they are. By knowing who these people are, we'll gain valuable insight into who they might be as show runners and even some into what they're doing now for their various organizations. Most baseball fans couldn't identify
The one problem with Hahn is that he might be too good at his job. The Chicagoland native has become such an integral part of the White Sox front office that it will take the perfect offer to get him to move. Many inside baseball think that Hahn's best opportunity will be to take over from Kenny Williams, though there's no indication that's going to happen soon. Hahn has interviewed for jobs in the past, but has seldom pushed for a job, furthering the thought that he's "too comfortable." Some AGM's like Hahn, David Forst in Oakland, or Chris Antonetti in Cleveland had enough autonomy and enough of a voice before moving up that moving to some jobs would be lateral. Many expected Hahn to be a stronger candidate for the Padres job a couple years ago due to his longtime connections to Padres owner Jeff Moorad, but some think it's that very association that held him back. Hahn's name is at the top of any list an owner will put together this offseason.
Sports teams tend to not be very original. They copy whatever succeeds. Right now, that's the model in place in Texas. Through savvy drafting, trading and development, the organization has turned things around under Daniels. And while Daniels is locked in with his organization, he knows that he's going to lose some of his key assistants, and actually welcomes it. The first to go will be Levine, his long-term AGM. The Rangers are actually loaded with potential future GMs -- A.J. Preller, Josh Boyd and Jake Krug are all names that came up in putting together this list -- but Levine is the most prepared, according to those who work and deal with him. While he's not naturally media savvy, Daniels has pushed him more to the forefront in the past couple seasons, allowing him to build a comfort level with the sometimes prickly Dallas media. The Texas connections might help, with Houston the likely next open slot.
Evans has been in and around the game since 1989, including stints with the Red Sox and the commissioner's office before joining the Giants, but this is his first position in the upper echelon of management. He took over his current position before the 2009 season, and has benefited from his close work with Giants GM Brian Sabean. "I work for tremendous baseball men that have, in the case of Dick Tidrow, played the game for 16, 18 years in the big leagues, and Brian Sabean, who's currently the longest-tenured GM, so I have learned and worked for some of the best," Evans said.
His biggest weakness is that he hasn't been exposed to the media very much. Much like Zduriencik, Evans will need to make more effort, something that usually just requires practice. He's been able to let Sabean stand in front, but hopefully he's taking notes from one of the most media savvy GM's in the game.
Evans is something of a newcomer to the prospective GM lists, especially compared to people like Hahn and Kim Ng, but expect his name to start coming up more often, especially if some of the more traditional candidates start coming off this list. "Bobby's going to fit well on a more established team," said one NL GM. "A team that's not a complete rebuild, that has some established guys who he can sign long term and build around. He'd be a nice fit for the Cubs as well, if they need to try to unwind some of their contract mess."
If you think baseball is cruel about aging players, it might be worse in front offices. Baseball may not mind hiring Jack McKeon or Davey Johnson to run a team from the dugout, but several think pushing 50 might work against Oppenheimer. He's hardly "too old," but Oppenheimer will have it work against him in what is quickly becoming a young man's job. The hours required, the time away from home and family, and the pay all conspire against the more established people. "These kids from the Ivys all come in willing to work 20 hours a day for 20 bucks a week," said one current AGM. Oppenheimer, like Hahn, is often thought to be "in waiting" -- not pushing Brian Cashman out the door, but in position to have the biggest chair in all of baseball. Leaving that, with all its advantages, for a small market team in a rebuilding mode is something many can't imagine Oppenheimer doing. "The thing you wonder," said one AL exec, "is whether he really wants the job or is willing to keep doing the job he's doing forever. He's great and he'd be a great GM, but someone's going to have to want him specifically."
While Watson might not have the high profile of some others on this list or the big name sheepskin on his office wall, he is well thought of and considered a "baseball lifer," a high compliment among scouts. Watson had the most extensive playing career of this group, though he never got higher than A ball. (I actually remember seeing Watson play at Baseball City.)
Watson's shift to scouting was quick and his eye for talent was better than his eye for pitches to hit. He advanced rapidly, culminating in his current position in 2007. While many credit Logan White, another Dodgers assistant GM, for much of the talent in the system, Dodgers insiders say that once Watson was given his portfolio, he's been in control. "Once Logan got the promotion, [Watson] has been focused on those duties, which broaden his resume," said the insider. "Watson definitely has his own style and is very well respected." Watson's drafts have already produced players like Clayton Kershaw and A.J. Ellis, giving him a reputation as someone with a great eye for raw talent.
Watson doesn't have the well-rounded resume of other candidates, but he might have a better shot at getting a job than White in the next five years. Both men interviewed for the Diamondbacks opening, but both lost out to Kevin Towers. "He's not going to get a job where they're looking for a stathead," said one national writer, "but if there's someone that wants an old school baseball guy with an it factor', they're going to look hard at DeJon. He's more polished that most people will expect."
Look a couple of entries up and you'll see Damon Oppenheimer, who brought Coppolella into the game. In many ways, they're similar. Both have scouting-oriented backgrounds without being hostile to the stat-side arguments. In fact, many cite a statistical comfort as a big plus for Coppolella. He has been active in negotiations, adding the contract and arbitration side to his game. And he's also a "born networker," according to a colleague with a similar title. "John knows he wants to be a GM and he's working to build the right base of contacts. He's building up a lot of favors, making sure his name gets out there and stays out there." Coppolella also is known for his attention to detail and his close relationship with a staff that is made up of respected "baseball lifers" such as Jim Fregosi and Dom Chiti. "He's going to bring a posse," said one executive. "It's a positive and negative. I think he'll need a situation like Moore had in Kansas City, where it's a rebuild job." That sounds like Houston, a job many expect to open up shortly after new ownership gains control.
If there's a first "Internet GM," it might be Brooks. He administers a 6,700-person strong industry group on LinkedIn, one that's helped hundreds to connect across all levels of baseball. Brooks knows that connections are a big part of moving up in baseball, as he's shot through three organizations with a reputation for developing front office talent. Brooks started in the Braves organization and shifted through scouting and administration, before moving over to the Indians, where he was an area scout. He went with Neil Huntington to the Pirates and shifted his focus to the administration side. The Pirates function without a de facto assistant GM, but many consider Brooks to be that guy. "He's involved in trades, so he's the AGM," said one AL GM. Brooks has worked for men like John Schuerholz, Frank Wren, Dayton Moore, Mark Shapiro and Neal Huntington. His name will be listed alongside those GMs sometime soon.
"Media savvy" doesn't even begin to touch on the personable, well-respected Chernoff's skill set. It must be genetic since Chernoff's father is the longtime director of New York sports radio's WFAN. It's not just connections that has helped Chernoff make a rapid rise through the Indians front office. His Ivy League education, quick wit and work ethic have earned the moves. The Indians organization is known throughout baseball for their internship program and for their "new school" front office. While Chernoff doesn't have a long resume, it's very well rounded. "He can talk to anyone," said one team official, "from players to scouts to fans on the street. He's got a knowledge and confidence about himself that you don't see too often and a likability that might be even rarer. There's no arrogance about him." A couple years ago, when Chris Antonetti was the hot prospect among GM candidates, a league official told me that "someone was going to try to get Antonetti and end up with Chernoff. That's not a bad thing." It's even less of a bad thing now as he's gained more experience. That same official added recently that "Chernoff's ready, but he's going to have to find someone that doesn't mind his age. It didn't work against Theo [Epstein] or Jed [Hoyer], so I don't think Mike will find it a big issue."
Some think that Ng gets interviews for jobs because she's one of few qualified women. One baseball exec disagrees, saying, "She's one of few qualified people. Being a woman probably hurts as much as it helps. No one talks about her ethnicity, just her gender." More worry that Ng's analytical personality leaves owners wanting more in interviews. "She's got that Willie Randolph problem now," said one current GM. "Everything looks great on paper, so she's either not the best candidate in situations or she's not interviewing well." Randolph got his shot eventually, as will Ng. In the interviews she's had, she has lost out to more experienced candidates or, in her most recent chance with the Padres, lost out to Jed Hoyer, who is, by all accounts, her equal on paper.
Her move to the MLB offices made some think that she was shifting from the GM track to something more stable, but most inside the game just think it was an opportunity to escape the Dodgers debacle. The one remaining hole on her resume is scouting. "She's just never had the chance to get her hands on that with people like Logan [White] and DeJon [Watson] around. I think she'd be fine as long as she had a good scouting director she could trust," said an NL exec who has dealt with Ng extensively. Ng does have the advantage that with a dearth of female execs, she'll keep getting interviews until the right owner decides that the time is right. Many expect that to happen sooner rather than later.
Kaplan is a name many won't know, even inside of baseball. That could change rapidly if Kaplan is given a larger role in running the Cubs baseball operations, something many inside the game feel is coming soon. One baseball exec compared Kaplan's role with the Cubs as what Stu Sternberg did with several current Rays execs in the year before he assumed control. If Kaplan was shadowing the organization, helping Tom Ricketts make decisions about building his own front office, it would surprise no one. It would be a bit more of a shock if Kaplan were given the Andrew Friedman role, however. "There's no question that [Kaplan] is one of the smartest guys around, but he's just a stats guy," one current NL staffer told me. "The scouts won't work for him because he pitched his consulting gig as almost replacing them for years."
Another MLB staffer questioned his personality: "I like Ari, but any comparison to Andrew Friedman means they haven't met both guys. Friedman played up to a level and is great with the media. Ari doesn't have that comfort level yet, and I'm honestly not sure he ever would. Putting him in the line of fire of a Chicago media would be like the cow kicking the lantern."
Even those who think Kaplan is ready believe he would need to be paired with a baseball type, in the way that Friedman has Gerry Hunsicker available. One person familiar with the Ricketts believes that the new Cubs ownership knows that their decision on Jim Hendry and his eventual replacement could define them to the fans. "Risking their reputation on a nobody is tough. It worked out in Boston, but remember that the first choice was Billy Beane there."
Names who got more than two mentions in the course of my interviews around the league include: