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June 25, 2014

Top GM Candidates

Ten Names to Know

by BP Staff

After the news broke that the Padres had fired General Manager Josh Byrnes, a wave of questions hit the social sphere about potential candidates for the position, questions that have been stuck on a shelf for nearly 1,000 days thanks to unprecedented continuity in the front office ranks. Everybody loves a good list, so I decided to take a page out of the prospect team handbook and poll members of the Baseball Prospectus staff and industry sources alike, asking for their thoughts on the top up-and-coming personnel stars in baseball. The goal of this exercise is to take the temperature of the moment, showing the readers which candidates are held in the highest regard by their peers when put on the spot for an answer; the goal is not to exclude talented baseball minds who are equally qualified and capable of achieving such career heights but just so happen to escape the tips of the tongues of those surveyed. Because of my specific professional relationships, I removed myself from the voting process and limited my participation to compiling the votes of confidence and organizing the personnel capsules (written by various staff members) that will accompany the list. –Jason Parks

Candidate: John Coppolella
Current role: Assistant General Manager (Braves)
Skill set: A rising star in the industry for some time, the former student manager for the Notre Dame football team has injected the characteristics of winning into his DNA through nearly 15 years experience with the two most successful franchises in the modern era (Yankees/Braves). Coppolella is fluent in both the esoteric language of scouting (he still directs pro scouting for the Braves) and the importance of advanced statistical analysis, a marriage of information management that would allow him to thrive at the helm of a team as a younger upside play. It’s an eventuality that both the writers at Baseball Prospectus (he received the most votes) and his peers in the industry think happens sooner rather than later.

Candidate: Michael Girsch
Current role: Assistant General Manager (Cardinals)
Skill set: Girsch will get looks because of the Cardinals’ run of success, but the 37-year-old AGM with an MBA has the goods to back it up. He's run the Cardinals Baseball Development division, which oversees the team's impressive data management and analytics efforts. For as much coverage as "The Cardinal Way" got as a magic book of sorcerer's spells, the reality is that it's a boring technical manual on player development, but one that starts with the question "What do we know about what actually works?" In the front office, where understanding the process is key, Girsch's background fits beautifully with what's expected of the new breed of GM.

Candidate: Jason McLeod
Current role: Senior Vice President, Player Development and Amateur Scouting (Cubs)
Skill set: During his tenure with the Cubs, McLeod has played a major role in turning over an organization that was thin on minor-league talent, augmenting the infield talent that was present before his tenure with Kris Bryant and Albert Almora. He also has a keen eye for what can be considered undervalued pitching, as the Cubs have enjoyed pitching success by acquiring "project" arms whose value has increased with the club—most recently Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel. His resume shows that he has an eye for talent and would be a good fit for a larger role in any front office.

Candidate: Damon Oppenheimer
Current role: Amateur Scouting Director (Yankees)
Skill set: Forget the fact that his mother, Priscilla, is listed as the Farm Director for the Padres in the Baseball America database from 1994-2005. Forget the fact that Oppenheimer is himself from San Diego and worked at Jack Murphy Stadium as a teenager, or that he was Randy Johnson's personal catcher at USC. Just don't forget that Oppenheimer is a winner with five World Series rings, and that he has paid his dues for nearly 30 years while working just about every job in baseball operations, including scouting director for the Yankees, where he presided over one of the best drafts in modern team history in 2006.

Candidate: Dan Evans
Current role: Professional scout/Pacific Rim Operations (Blue Jays)
Skill set: A 30-year veteran of the baseball industry, Evans is best known as the current long-time Assistant General Manager of the White Sox and former General Manager of the Dodgers, the man who helped transform a team with questionable talent into one of the top prospect and player development organizations in baseball by drafting the likes of Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, and James Loney. Evans has a reputation in the industry—not only for his vast experience but his boundless energy—which includes past stops with five different major-league teams, a member of the advisory board at Baseball Prospectus (BP staff votes were excluded because of this), a player agent, and Commissioner of the Northern League of Professional Baseball.

Candidate: Mike Hazen
Current Role: Assistant General Manager (Red Sox)
Skill set: Hazen has come up through the baseball ranks with a heavy focus in player development. Prior to his current role, he served as Boston’s Director of Player Development, overseeing much of the young talent that has either appeared on the big club’s roster or used as chits in recent deals. In addition to Hazen’s eye for talent, he’s had vast experience coordinating, delegating, and relying on his eyes in the field to make key organizational decisions—much like a general manager does on a large scale. The Princeton grad has spent the past two seasons learning the business side of things, which helps round out his body of work and his qualifications for getting a shot as an organization’s leading man.

Candidate: A.J. Preller
Current role: Assistant General Manager (Rangers)
Skill set: Was one of the chief architects of the Rangers’ farm transformation in his previous roles as International Scouting Director and Director of Player Personnel, overseeing and executing the signings of Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor, and procuring Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz via trade. Known as one of the best all-around talent evaluators in the industry, particularly in the Latin American market, Preller has existed in the shadows thus far in his career, but his resume could eventually propel him into a more public role as the face of a front office.

Candidate: David Forst
Current role: Assistant General Manager (Athletics)
Skill set: It’s difficult to see Forst wearing the colors of another team, as he has become as much a part of the Athletics front office fabric as Billy Beane, the man he is set to replace in Oakland when the appropriate time finally arrives. Until then, every other team can just applaud his diverse yet pointed skill set from afar, wishing things could change and that one of the most game-ready General Managers in waiting was actually available to take the wheel for them.

Candidate: Al Avila
Current role: Vice-President/Assistant General Manager (Tigers)
Skill set: A seasoned veteran of major-league front offices, Avila made his name as the Scouting Director for the Florida Marlins, overseeing the signings of Miguel Cabrera, Luis Castillo, Edgar Renteria, and Alex Gonzalez, and the drafting of Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez. Avila has experience at the upper levels of several organizations, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, and, for the last 12 years, the Tigers, where has been the right-hand man to one of the best GMs in the game today, David Dombrowski. Avila knows all sides of the business, with an extremely strong background in talent evaluation and day-to-day operations, making him an ideal candidate for any club looking for a new GM with a short learning curve.

Candidate: Thad Levine
Current role: Assistant General Manager (Rangers)
Skill set: Doesn’t come from the scouting-heavy backgrounds of some of the other candidates on the list, but possesses high-end administrative and logistical talents that few of his contemporaries can match, wrapped up in a highly intelligent and affable package. It’s long been suggested that Levine will eventually take over the General Manager role with the Rangers, with Daniels already installed as the President of Baseball Operations. But until that time comes—assuming it does—Levine should be viewed as one of the more attractive candidates for any team in the market for a young, savvy baseball mind.

Deep Sleeper: Chris Pittaro
Current Role: Special Assistant to the General Manager (A’s)
Skill set: Pittaro’s a baseball lifer who first played the game at the highest level, and now in his second career has risen up the front office with a scouting backbone and a willingness to evolve his thinking and approach. He has been one of Billy Beane’s top lieutenants the past couple years, after previously serving as Director of Pro Scouting and National Crosschecker. A large majority of these recent Oakland teams have had Pittaro’s fingerprints all over them, especially when it comes to key trades to bolster the roster. He has a knack for seeing the forest through the trees when it comes to assessing talent. This might be more of a sleeper candidate given the stability of his set-up, but it’s name that could emerge in the right situation.

Other names mentioned: Billy Eppler (Assistant General Manager, Yankees), Bobby Evans (Assistant General Manager, Giants)

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