Continuing my off-season of ranking everything in the baseball universe, I wanted to do something on front offices. Analysts, writers, executives and scouts frequently reference their favorite or least favorite general managers but the evaluation often is just a window into what that individual person values most or just a review of a GM's personality.
The only objective way to evaluate general managers is win-loss record, but even that is fraught with extenuating circumstances that render it essentially useless. I could rank them based on who I think is doing the best job and even poll the industry to create more of a consensus, but it would just be a bluntly-combined ranking of polarized opinions drawn from either analytically or traditionally inclined sources.
I realized one thing most people in the game can agree on more broadly is GM job security. Nick Piecoro wrote an article last month about how GM has become an unusually stable position in recent years. Possibly for this reason, the sources I talked to found these rankings an interesting topic to explore. I also liked that this allowed people in the game to combine thoughts on process, results and industry perception/chatter.
I polled over 50 people from the industry (internet writers, beat writers, agents, scouts and executives) and found that people with drastically different backgrounds and roles in the game agreed on an awful lot. I’ll note in the comments where there was some disagreement.
GM Job Security Tiers
Note: This isn’t my review of their moves, but rather the industry consensus perception of their job security, with the GMs ranked within each group, the most secure at the top.
Ain’t Gettin’ Fired (4)
Three-fold blend of long-running success, soundness of process and relationship with ownership that either has or could lead to club President status.
Andrew Friedman, Rays: Some suggested Friedman and Beane should be in their own tier as they both reportedly have a cut of the clubs they work for and can keep their current posts as long as they wish.
Billy Beane, Athletics: The A’s recent run of success has certainly quieted the whispers that Beane was going to take a sabbatical to write a sequel to his best seller “Moneyball.”
John Mozeliak, Cardinals: Mo has also taken a step forward in with job security in recent years as the Cardinals have become the model organization in the game to many and he’s already spawned another GM (Luhnow) under his watch.
Dave Dombrowski, Tigers: He’s tough to place in this tier as he already has the President title. Some sources suggested he’s already eyeing his next challenge, possibly making a run at Commissioner once Bud Selig steps aside.
Safe With Recent Success (7)
Missing one of the three criteria to qualify for the first group but could get there with a few more successful years.
Ben Cherington, Red Sox: Many suggested Cherington belongs in the above group, but at least is tops in this group; he would move up with another year or two of playoff runs.
Jon Daniels, Rangers: Many sources noted the irony that Daniels was perceived to possibly be in some trouble during a power struggle with former Rangers President Nolan Ryan, but with Ryan now out of the picture, Daniels appears to be among the more safe GMs in the game.
Frank Wren, Braves: He has big money going to B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla, but the Braves do a tremendous job with the farm system and in pro scouting. Even with a stagnant and medium-sized payroll, Atlanta was one game away from four straight playoff appearances.
Mike Rizzo, Nationals: Wren’s division rival has a little more upside due to a higher payroll and similarly strong young core of talent, but doesn’t have quite the same track record yet.
Chris Antonetti, Indians: Delivered some results last season on his rebuilding project, but already had respect as a long-time AGM with strong analytical bona fides.
Brian Sabean, Giants: While not a favorite of the statistical crowd and not meeting expectations last year, he’s by no means averse to analytics and has the longest GM tenure in the game with plenty of past success.
Walt Jocketty, Reds: Another very respected executive that’s built the Reds into a perennial contender in a sneaky-good division after lots of success as GM of the Cardinals.
Needs To Keep Winning (5)
One factor is working against these GMs, be it sky-high expectations, a new ownership group with unclear loyalties, or a recent run of success that needs to be sustained.
Brian Cashman, Yankees: I debated putting Cash in his own tier as he has a very unique situation; he definitely doesn’t care what you think but has huge media/ownership pressure while he’d likely leave before getting fired and would have no trouble getting another job.
Neal Huntington, Pirates: He took a big step forward in 2013 with some results on his rebuild (like Antonetti, his former colleague in Cleveland), but Huntington had some heat on him before 2013, so needs to sustain this success to move up a tier.
Ned Colletti, Dodgers: He won the division in part due to his controversial decision to sign Yasiel Puig and now has a talented roster and money to burn, but there’s buzz that the new ownership group could look for a new GM at the first sign of trouble. New club President Stan Kasten has already making some of the high-level personnel decisions.
Dan Duquette, Orioles: He got some results on Andy MacPhail’s stalled rebuild but has a high degree of difficulty with a top-heavy roster that’s not under control much longer, in the toughest division in the game. There’s some ownership loyalty here that should give him a little margin for error this season.
Dayton Moore, Royals: Here’s another GM that has turned it around with success on his rebuild, but it took awhile and he’s now spending some money to supplement the core. Moore’s rope may not be long enough to endure a below .500 season.
Safe, But Not Contending (5)
Has a strong track record/reputation that took on a rebuild and/or have a strong relationship with ownership.
Jed Hoyer, Cubs: Working with Theo Epstein in Boston and now in Chicago, Hoyer is very safe as the rebuild has produced the best top-tier farm talent in the game and huge revenues could make the Cubs legit rivals to the Cardinals in short order.
Jeff Luhnow, Astros: A sterling track record as outside-the-box scouting director with St. Louis has continued as almost everyone in the game admires how quickly he’s restocked the talent base in Houston.
Rick Hahn, White Sox: Like Antonetti, Hahn was a long-time, respected AGM that passed on other opportunities to assume Kenny Williams' role when it came open and he’s done a solid job trying to create the talent base for another sustained run.
Dan Jennings, Marlins: The Marlins are probably the hardest management group for the industry to figure and owner Jeff Loria won’t stop being a thorn in the side of his baseball people. Newly appointed internal hire Jennings is one of the most respected personnel guys in the game.
Terry Ryan, Twins: The former and current Twins GM is among the most respected team builder in the game, but the rebuild in Minnesota is getting stagnant despite the new revenues from Target Field. He won’t be forced out, but there’s a chance he hands over the reins at some point.
Needs A Strong Year (4)
If they have a season that doesn’t meet expectations, then they could end up on the hot seat, but have accumulated the talent and/or loyalty from ownership to buy some time. This also ended up as the landing spot for guys with some disagreement in the industry about their job security.
Sandy Alderson, Mets: Among the most respected minds in baseball hasn’t quite cracked the nut of the Mets rebuild yet, but has some talent on the way. Like Terry Ryan, Alderson won’t be forced out but there is some need for results.
Dan O’Dowd/Bill Geivett, Rockies: The Rockies are the only office possibly more opaque to observers than Miami, with the traditional GM responsibilities split between two executives and an ownership group that refuses to fire anyone. It’s not clear what has to happen for there to be some heat here, but another sub-.500 season wouldn’t help.
Alex Anthopoulos, Blue Jays: The first-time GM is respected by many but made a flurry of moves, added a lot of payroll and fell short in a tough season. He has ownership support but heat is increasing and in the most challenging division in baseball.
Josh Byrnes, Padres: He’s running a rebuild with limited payroll and a lack of top-end talent. Byrnes needs to crack .500 this year to get more time to finish the job, despite some support from ownership.
On The Hot Seat (5)
This isn’t as ominous of a term as it is with football coaches, but these GMs need to beat expectations this year to ensure they're still running the club in 2015.
Kevin Towers, Diamondbacks: Some think he should be in the above group, but he’s in the last year of his deal and has brought plenty of criticism to himself with odd public statements and trading young players like they’re Pokémon cards.
Ruben Amaro, Phillies: A favorite punching bag of analytical types, Amaro is likely more safe than some suspect, but he is in a tough division with a weak farm system and bloated contracts he handed to players that are now past their prime.
Doug Melvin, Brewers: He pushed his chips to the middle with Ryan Braun’s long-term deal and the CC Sabathia/Zack Greinke trades. Melvin now has a full rebuild on his hands with very few assets--he’s respected enough to have a little leeway, but very few GMs get to go all-in, not make the World Series and then oversee the rebuild.
Jerry DiPoto, Angels: He’s respected in the industry but walked into a tough three-way battle with the owner and manger for control over personnel decisions. DiPoto has the least leverage of the three and someone will have to answer for the high-profile mistakes.
Jack Zduriencik, Mariners: Many are surprised that Jack got another year, given the disaster the M’s have become. He now has a chance to follow in Pittsburgh’s footsteps and save his job with a playoff season but that looks really unlikely right now.
Top 10 GM Prospects
I wanted to limit the size of this list, since it would be easy/lazy to just list the 25-30 names that encompass everyone on the industry’s radar, or just name all assistant general managers. Instead, I’ll list ten guys from the four groups general managers come from, with one bonus name from each of the groups.
The guys from the three other groups may be longer shots to get jobs in the short-term, but they'll show up on future lists and give you an idea of the types of candidates that could be considered, beyond just naming the #2 in command for each club.
The challenge is that, even on a smaller list, only a few of these names have an industry consensus of both getting a job in the near future and possessing all the tools to succeed. The rest are a mix of the types that tend to get jobs and those that may be longer shots to get a job soon, but have the skill set to succeed.
One of the reasons for less turnover at GM is that clubs with in-demand lieutenants often pay big money to keep them around and ease the eventual transition when the current GM moves to another role, like club President. Three of the guys listed below (Levine, Forst and Avila) fit that description and aren’t really considered to be available by the industry, but deserve to be listed.
I list more candidates in the AGM section since it’s nominally the highest title and is the group that GMs are most often hired from. You’ll notice that the more successful organizations, particularly those that have done it with smaller budgets, have multiple candidates popping up (and some that just missed being listed).
It’s worth mentioning the personnel guys with the best reputations in the game (like Roy Clark, Dodgers and Tim Wilken, Cubs) aren’t perceived to have GM aspirations, so they aren’t listed. As mentioned above, there are another 10-15 solid names that aren’t mentioned below but would not surprise me if they got GM interviews soon (and some already have in previous years).
Thad Levine, Rangers
David Forst, Athletics
Al Avila, Tigers
Michael Girsch, Cardinals
John Coppolella, Braves
Mike Hazen, Red Sox
Bryan Minniti, Nationals
Also Receiving Votes: Mike Chernoff, Indians
Jason McLeod, Senior VP of PD & Scouting, Cubs
Also Receiving Votes: Billy Owens, A’s
Analytical Office Type
Chaim Bloom, Director of Baseball Operations, Rays
Also Receiving Votes: Farhan Zaidi, A’s
Progressive Scouting Director
Dan Kantrovitz, Scouting Director, Cardinals
Also Receiving Votes: Mike Elias, Astros
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