I was going to write a detailed post analyzing more than a dozen potential GM candidates, but that basically got shuttered by a report that Josh Byrnes was likely to land the GM spot for the Dodgers. Byrnes is the former GM of divisional opponents Diamondbacks and Padres, and prior to that had worked with the Indians and then as an assistant GM with the Rockies and Red Sox.
His most recent work (and most relevant, IMO), of course, was with the Padres, where he was just fired this past season at the end of June. The Padres were in a similar low payroll position as Andrew Friedman was in with the Rays, so it wasn’t an easy task, but given that it was a three-year stint, it figures to be a solid barometer for his thinking.
With that said, let’s look at some of his most significant moves.
Latos was a 24-year-old, cost-controlled, 4-WAR starter in the No. 2-type mold, and he was dealt for … I mean, basically nothing. Volquez was Volquez, and Boxberger turned into a quality middle relief guy, who then netted Alex Torres later. But both Grandal and Alonso have regressed significantly since they were acquired and were almost worth nothing in 2014. Yikes.
Both Na and Cates have amounted to little, so it’s basically Rizzo for Cashner. Rizzo has developed into an elite-level first baseman at 24, while Cashner has been a solid No. 2 when healthy and has the potential for more. Reality is, though, that he has struggled to turn in a full season and now Rizzo is a star.
None of the minor-leaguers involved turned out to be relevant, but Ross has. Despite his laundry list of injuries, Ross is a quality pitcher in the 3.1-3.3 FIP range and was an All-Star in 2014 after managing to post a full season of starts.
Street still had $21.5 million and three years left on his deal when this went down, but Schmidt turned into nothing and Street was basically one of the few producing assets the Padres had, as evidenced by his All-Star appearances. Street was also later traded as a part of a deal for four prospects from the Angels by the new GM.
Stites hasn’t amount to much yet for the D-Backs and Thatcher is a LOOGY that’s been pretty average for the role. Kennedy, meanwhile, was bad for the Padres after the trade in 2013, but managed to lock down a middle of the rotation role for more than 200 innings (3.6 ERA/3.2 FIP) in 2014.
A middle reliever for Dodgers killer Smith. I hate you, Seth Smith.
Josh Johnson – 1 Year, $8 Million
Um, he had surgery and just began throwing again this month, so yeah.
Joaquin Benoit – 2 Years, $15.5 Million
Benoit has done nothing but quality work for the Padres (1.49 ERA/2.32 FIP), and he could’ve setup for the Dodgers (*ahem*) or something, but your biggest free agency splash on a setup man?
Quentin, Maybin, Hundley, and Gyorko are all coming off years where they posted sub-1 WAR totals, and Luebke hasn’t pitched since 2012.
So there are hits and misses in there, but the misses seem to be the most significant splashes of money and the most significant trade, so it’s difficult to overlook. So is the fact that the Padres have gotten little in terms of prospects from his draft classes.
Byrnes’ stint with the Padres wasn’t a success, but to be fair, it’s hard to improve a team that hadn’t signed anybody for more than $15.5 million for eight years. Basically, he had less than $30 million to spend in three offseasons in free agency with the Padres. It was a tough job, but he didn’t seem to meet his goals either.
Byrnes tried to spell out his philosophy here, but like with the D-Backs (more later), it seems the ownership didn’t agree with his slow-and-steady outlook:
Last fall, he prepared a “state-of-the-team” 15-page report in which he supplied context to the club’s limitations in talent and payroll. (The Padres, despite the bump in payroll, still rank 22nd in payroll; Oakland is the only club that spends less and still fields a winning team.)
Then, this spring, Byrnes crafted a PowerPoint presentation with further evidence of the team’s standing. It included at least half a dozen computer projection systems that forecast the Padres to score just about as many runs as they allowed – in other words, they had the talent to be a .500 team. They could be a little better if pitcher Josh Johnson and outfielder Carlos Quentin stayed healthy, or a little worse with some bad luck with injuries. The owners didn’t want to hear such talk. They planned to contend. They wanted to rush into contract extensions for young players, the flavor-of-the-month among the “smart” crowd.
If you want to go back even further in his career, we can take a quick look at his time with the D-Backs. Byrnes signed Eric Byrnes, he left Dan Uggla unprotected off the 40-man, he hired A.J. Hinch to manage despite having no coaching experience, he traded Brett Anderson, Carlos Gonzalez, and Chris Carter for Dan Haren, and traded Max Scherzer for Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy. He also inherited a farm system drafted by Mike Rizzo that was near the top (Baseball America No. 13, 2005/BA No. 1, 2006) and left it near the bottom (BA No. 28, 2010/BA No. 22, 2011). Though that was less about an inability to draft MLB talent (Scherzer, Wade Miley, Paul Goldschmidt, Jarrod Parker, Adam Eaton) than it was about his trades and drafting depth.
Additionally, on the flip side, Byrnes was also the main architect of the 2011 Diamondbacks team, which was sort of his payoff team that he didn’t get to be a part of. That team won the division and 94 games before Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson did their thing and ran the team into the ground. Also, as many pointed out after he was fired, ownership would interfere with his desired moves (like the Byrnes signing), so that makes it harder to judge.
I don’t think his history does much to convince me that he’s better than some of the others rumored to be involved for the GM job, but he wasn’t disastrous, and did seem to have the teams headed in the right general direction. Or at least the resume might look better if he was not being overridden by ownership at both stops. Ultimately, I’m guessing his experience is the reason he’s the leader in the clubhouse at the moment.
Speaking of the other candidates, within the same article that names Byrnes as the leader was also the information that the other potential general managers are Bryan Minniti (recently of the Nationals), Billy Eppler (Yankees), and Mike Hazen (Red Sox).
For Eppler, the New York Daily News had a good description of what he’s about.
He’s not a pure analytics guy, nor is he one that relies solely on old-school scouting. He’s seen everything the industry has to offer and utilizes it all, something a modern-day GM must do in order to cover all his bases.
“He checks all the boxes,” Cashman said. “He’s got the analytics side checked off, he’s got the administrative side checked off and he’s got the scouting side checked off. He’s got the leadership side checked off because he’s a great communicator.
For Hazen, Baseball Prospectus included him on the list of top GM candidates when (amusingly) Byrnes was fired in San Diego:
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.
Both Eppler and Hazen were leading candidates for the Padres and the D-Backs GM job openings in 2014.
Finally, there’s Minniti, who worked with Stan Kasten while with the Nationals. That connection has made him a talked about figure, but as has been pointed out, a lot of his strengths would render Alex Tamin redundant, so I wonder if that’s the best use of an upper management position.
Personally, I prefer Eppler because he’s the guy the D-Backs probably should’ve hired and he comes off as the most well-rounded of the candidates. The fact that he oversaw pro scouting is plus with two analytics guys already above him in the front office, but he’s not so heavy on that side that he takes power away from Logan White like Hazen might do.
Ultimately, we know little about front office personnel and how they really are or what their effectiveness might be, but it’s worth knowing their histories and what their strengths and weaknesses if we’re going to attempt to evaluate their effectiveness.