Two seasons ago, I ranked the job security of each general manager and listed GM prospects. I think I did a pretty good job with both lists given what we knew at the time, and may do it again as Opening Day 2016 closes in. We’ve had less executive movement in the last few off-seasons than usual and it looks like the regression is happening this year, with four GM jobs currently open and a likely fifth coming soon. This seemed like a good time to cover each of the situations in flux and target some possible changes in the near future, along with some names to keep in mind as candidates to fill these openings.
The Open GM Spots
We have two teams without a top baseball decision-making executive, in Seattle and Milwaukee:
The Mariners moved on from (now former) GM Jack Zduriencik recently, a long-rumored move that club president Kevin Mather admitted he waited too long to execute. Mather has said they’re looking for a replacement sooner than later (likely eliminating execs from playoff teams), with GM experience (eliminating most of the GM prospects you’ll see below), and that the team doesn’t require a rebuild (meaning a shorter leash and higher expectations from day one). This should prove to narrow the pool of candidates a good bit, but this is still seen as the best of the currently open jobs.
When the Seattle job was rumored to come open a couple seasons ago, some of the biggest names among current GMs were rumored to be interested. The combination of a solid group of talent, at least a mid-level payroll, a regional fanbase and lower expectations/media scrutiny made for one of the better jobs that could be available. Unfortunately, the big-league talent core will start declining soon and the farm is below average, so the job won’t draw a top-tier sitting GM. You could see one of the four “Almost GMs” below (Oakland’s David Forst, Atlanta’s John Coppolella, Texas’ Thad Levine and Cleveland’s Mike Chernoff) go for an interview for this job, but likely not the other three currently open jobs.
The names that have been mentioned are mostly former GMs who were fired in the last few years, which seems like a low target to aim for with the best available job. Word is the M’s came close to landing Dave Dombrowski before he joined the Red Sox and that seems to indicate the preferences of Mather better than names that have been rumored, like Kevin Towers or Frank Wren. Most observers see this one going to a former GM with a cleaner recent resume, with the most buzz around White Sox executive VP Kenny Williams and former-Angels GM/current Red Sox consultant Jerry DiPoto, who was the runner-up to Zduriencik the last time this job was open. Marlins manager/very recently former GM Dan Jennings may move back to the GM role in Miami but also could be an option in Seattle where he has some roots; the M’s job is considered an upgrade if Jennings gets the offer.
The Brewers are a smaller-market team with a lower payroll than Seattle and a little less talent, so the big-league situation is worse, though the farm is much better. Owner Mark Attanasio has said he’s looking for a younger, analytical-type GM; is very open to outside-the-box candidates; will take as long as necessary to find the right person for the job; and envisions a two- to three-year window for contention.
All of these factors play into the assistant GM (AGM) group of GM prospects being a fit. The buzz in the industry is that Attanasio may hire VP of amateur scouting Ray Montgomery as the new GM, but Montgomery will have a big role even if he doesn’t get the top job, with one source saying it could be a near co-GM situation. I’ve also been told that at least one more current Brewers baseball executive is sure to keep his spot or even get a promotion due to a relationship with the owner, further limiting the hiring power of an externally hired GM. For these reasons, Forst, Coppolella, Levine and Chernoff all appear unlikely to interview.
This is still an attractive job for many given the solid farm, lower expectations/media scrutiny and allowance for a multi-year rebuild, so most AGMs around baseball would take an interview here, if given the chance. DiPoto makes a lot of sense here and another candidate who makes some sense is A’s assistant GM Dan Kantrovitz, who has a background both in scouting and analytics, along with going to the same college (Brown) as Attanasio. Last night, it was reported that Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen will get an interview.
There are two more teams without a GM, but that GM spot isn’t the top baseball decision-making role, making potential candidates in Anaheim and Boston a little harder to pinpoint, as some of the usual names aren’t interested:
The Angels have a unique situation because it was openly known that owner Arte Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia overruled former GM Jerry DiPoto on some high-profile decisions, like the disastrous Josh Hamilton contract. This put DiPoto in the awkward spot of having a nice title but little else and that is still what this job is perceived to be in the industry. While the Red Sox job has a formal president of baseball operations above the GM, the Angels have an owner and manager higher in the pecking order, even if the exact hierarchy on any given decision is unclear. This obviously will limit the sorts of names that will take an interview, but I don’t think Moreno/Scioscia want the well educated, analytically inclined assistant GM type, anyway.
Internal options Matt Klentak and Scott Servais have already interviewed (I’m told external interviews haven’t started yet) and Yankees execs Billy Eppler and Damon Oppenheimer interviewed last time around for the job that DiPoto eventually got, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they both got another look this time. Since the type that is most likely to fit in this situation is a more traditional, scouting-and-player-development-oriented type, Oppenheimer fits the description and he has SoCal roots from his playing days at USC. That said, this opening is difficult to handicap at this point.
In the style of Andrew Friedman (Dodgers) and Theo Epstein (Cubs), the Red Sox hired Dave Dombrowski, formerly of the Tigers, to function as a hands-on club president that will make all the baseball decisions. It’s unclear exactly what Dombrowski is looking for in a candidate, but a more traditional, experienced executive seems more likely, though I would expect him to cast a wide net. Despite the early buzz, I’m told former Braves GM Frank Wren isn’t a likely fit here, but former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd and former Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers could be fits. Internal options Mike Hazen and DiPoto should both get a chance and Dombrowski is open-minded enough to hire either, despite the more analytical approach they employ compared to the O’Dowd/Towers type of executive.
Keep An Eye On
There are five more teams with a chance to have a GM spot open in the next year and a fifth team worth mentioning in this space:
It’s very likely that incoming president Andy MacPhail will start fresh in the GM role and let Ruben Amaro go after the season ends. The Phillies job is seen as a good one, given the improving farm system, shrinking current payroll, rebuild expectations and potential to spend big when the time is right. Since there isn’t an opening yet, it’s hard to say who has the inside track on this job, but it could be enticing enough to get one of the four guys from the section below to interview. Given MacPhail’s comments about making the team more analytically inclined, it would appear some of the same names from the Brewers opening would also be in play here, such as DiPoto and other AGM types.
Few in baseball understand what’s going on in Miami at any given time, mainly due to owner Jeffrey Loria. Recent reports and chatter appear to suggest that change is afoot in Miami and it could be as simple as manager Dan Jennings moving back to GM, but it sounds like Loria may be antsy to play a more complicated game of musical chairs. The Fish have already made some lower-level executive changes and there are rumors of more on the way, but past changes under Loria’s regime have been shifting titles within the organization rather than hirings and firings. I would expect things to stay internal, with the same group of top-level execs shuffling some titles and responsibilities, but there’s always a chance Loria does something more drastic.
GM Walt Jocketty is respected around the game and there’s plenty of talent in the organization, but Cincinnati has now had two straight poor seasons. There’s enough big-money contracts to interpret this situation as a losing hand, due to playing in a division with the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates, who are all in a better position to compete at the moment. It isn’t clear what will happen here or when, but there’s enough heat to pay attention.
Similar to the Reds, the Nationals have played under expectations in 2015, but that’s more a function of the super-team talk before this season, since the Nats won 96 games in 2014. With some core players struggling and Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann free agents after the season, you could see a rough start to 2016 making a change possible. This is a little bit of stretch, but a situation worth monitoring given the high stakes. One source suggested that manager Matt Williams will take the fall for this season, giving the front office one more year to make the playoffs. You could also make a case that the nearby Orioles are in a similar situation, also coming off a 96-win 2014 and disappointing 2015, with Chris Davis and Matt Wieters close to free agency but even more internal friction due to executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette’s flirtation with the Blue Jays president job.
Blue Jays: There was some chatter when Shapiro was in talks to join Toronto as president that he could become the top baseball decision maker, which would then force GM Alex Anthopoulos to assess his market, as his contract is expiring after the year and he would be the top candidate on the market. I’ve been told by multiple sources that this isn’t the case and Shapiro will function in more of a business role, leaving the baseball to Anthopoulos. So, this isn’t really even a situation to monitor, I’m just taking a chance to tell Blue Jays fans to calm down.
The Almost GMs
When thinking about potential candidates to fill these roles, one group of execs that gets mentioned nearly every time is the GM-in-waiting. These guys are doing many of the functions of a GM in their current assistant GM role, with a clear line to an internal promotion to GM if/when their boss moves to president or advisor.
Assistant GM David Forst has been mentioned as a near-GM in function for years, with GM Billy Beane having a unique role as the top executive. It’s unclear when Beane may move on to an advisor or club-president type role, but regardless of that uncertainty, this is one of the more stable front offices in the game, with multiple GM prospects beneath Beane and Forst, despite recently losing current Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi.
Last off-season the Braves restructured the front office, moving John Hart from an advisory role to president of baseball pperations, with assistant GM John Coppolella positioned as Hart’s “right hand man.” According to industry sources, Coppolella is handling many of the GM duties, so Atlanta’s recent flurry of some of the more creative trades in recent memory has bolstered his reputation and sped up Atlanta’s rebuild.
Assistant GM Thad Levine has been mentioned for open GM jobs for years and it’s believed that, to keep him in Arlington long term, the Rangers would move current president of baseball operations/GM Jon Daniels to a more formal club-president role to clear the GM slot for Levine. The timing of this potential move is unclear, but it seems likely to happen in the next year or two.
With former club president Mark Shapiro taking the same role in Toronto this week, it clears the way to shift current GM Chris Antonetti to Shapiro’s vacated role and move assistant GM Mike Chernoff into the GM seat. There’s some buzz that this could happen soon, rather than sometime in the next few years.
As mentioned above, these are the GM candidates most likely to be offered interviews and turn them down (which sometimes goes unreported in the media), given the high bar to clear with the options they have with their current clubs.
Of the other GM prospect names you’ll likely be hearing in the next 12 months, it’s easiest to separate them into assistant GMs and scouting executives, though some of them have chops in both arenas and this grouping is more by their current job function than actual title or skill set.
Chaim Bloom/Erik Neander (Rays), Sig Mejdal (Astros), Billy Eppler (Yankees), Dan Kantrovitz (A’s), Mike Hazen (Red Sox)
Jason McLeod (Cubs), Billy Owens (A’s), J.J. Piccolo (Royals), Ray Montgomery (Brewers), Damon Oppenheimer (Yankees)
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.