As the role of the GM has grown since the 1970s, how exactly have qualifications for the position changed?
As the role of the general manager has transformed over the years, so too has the background of the general manager. With the amount of money at stake, the advent and escalation of free agency, and the increases in front office size and responsibility, it's not surprising that teams have dipped into the Wall Street hiring pool to find today's prototype GM. But just how much has the GM profile changed over the years?
Go back to the 1970s and guess the profile of the typical general manager. Maybe you're thinking about a former player turned scout turned front office executive, a hard-nosed traditional baseball type who probably had one (or two) of those Dogs Playing Poker paintings hanging in the old stadium office, and who probably looked like a slightly more athletic version of Jack Arnold from The Wonder Years. You're not totally wrong—if that's what you were thinking—but research has revealed that the '70s were a crazy time in baseball front offices. Perhaps not surprisingly, one overarching stereotype doesn't cover 'em all. Like, say, these guys:
Who are some of the strongest candidates in line for the top front office job?
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.
The firing of Josh Byrnes ends a period of unprecedented GM job security. Did he deserve to get the axe?
In March, I wrote about the unprecedented job security major-league general managers have enjoyed over the previous two-plus years. Led by the long-tenured Brian Sabean, Billy Beane, Brian Cashman, and Dan O’Dowd (who was forced to share the throne but hasn’t been relieved of his duties), GMs have seen their occupation, historically a high-turnover one in which on-field success was the only sure route to remaining employed, morph into one that comes standard with the owner’s commitment to stay the course, even if it means suffering through some lean times. Accordingly, I dubbed the new strain of nearly unemployment-proof GMs the “Duracell GM Generation”—a cohort of front-office head honchos who last.
On Sunday, Josh Byrnes’ battery died. Byrnes, the Padres’ GM since October 26, 2011, became the first GM fired since the Astros axed Ed Wade on November 27, 2011. That’s a streak of 938 firing-free days—by far the longest such streak over at least the last four decades, even though baseball’s expansion to 30 teams has created more opportunities for a change to take place.