Ranking Baseball's Top General Manager Prospects
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Baseball’s next great general manager might be a former college sportswriter, like the Brewers’ David Stearns. Or he may have grown up in Mexico City and worked for global management and pet supply companies, like the Astros’ Jeff Luhnow. Or he could hold a bachelor’s degree in science from MIT and a doctorate in economics from California, like the Giants’ Farhan Zaidi.
The next great GM may have worked on Wall Street. He could be an Ivy Leaguer. And he could be under 40.
As crazy as it sounds, he might have even played in the big leagues.
The point is, there is no set path, no set prerequisites or preferred résumé anymore. And certainly no restrictions. Baseball’s front offices are filled, from the top down, with really smart people from an amalgamation of backgrounds and life experiences. Efforts to increase the number of minority and women candidates are in place as well.
Determining who might be next — heck, even guessing — is not easy because there is no mold. The Mets’ hiring of longtime agent Brodie Van Wagenen, over new-wave Chaim Bloom and old schooler Doug Melvin, not only broke that, but shattered it.
A list of potential future GM candidates, and limited to first-timers at that, is subjective by nature, even more so now. But we soldiered on.
After talking to an array of people across the industry, we present the names to watch — for now. But, like the requirements for the GM job, that can change quickly.
MATT ARNOLD, BREWERS
Vice President And Assistant GM
Arnold, 39, has been a key part of the Brewers’ resurgence during his three years in Milwaukee following nine years with the Rays, where he rose from pro scout to director of pro scouting to director of player personnel. He is bright, known for his attention to detail and has a congenial manner and notable presence. Having also worked for the Dodgers, Rangers and Reds, Arnold has a broad background, working in all areas of the Brewers’ operations, including player evaluation and transactions, contract negotiations, player development, medical operations, analytics and more. Arnold was the first hire in Milwaukee by GM David Stearns, who said at the time, “He’s really the perfect fit, in my mind, for this position. Matt brings an extensive amount of experience within the game in a variety of different positions.”
CHAIM BLOOM, RAYS
Senior Vp Of Baseball Operations
Bloom, 35, has been a popular candidate over the last couple years, interviewing with the Brewers, Giants, Mets, Phillies and Twins, and turning down at least one other. It seems to be a matter of time until the right fit aligns with the opportunity for him to run his own team. Bloom has a broad background, having been deeply involved in every facet of the Rays’ operation during 14 seasons, having worked his way up from intern. The Yale graduate has a proper mix of scouting, player development and analytics, plus experience with contract negotiations and media exposure, forming a solid foundation to do the job well at the next level.
JASON MCLEOD, CUBS
Senior VP Of Player Development And Scouting
McLeod, 44, has been the third cog of the Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer leadership team with the Cubs since 2011, and he has been a bit picky in passing on some opportunities for advancement (including the Padres) to keep the band together. But his reputation will continue make him attractive to other teams, and the right opportunity may well arise. McLeod did good work in San Diego and Boston before coming to the Cubs. His primary experience is in scouting and player development, with Epstein bragging at the introductory 2011 media session that McLeod “is the rarest commodity” in the industry as “an impact evaluator of baseball talent.”
TIM NAEHRING, YANKEES
VP Of Baseball Operations
Naehring, 50, has evolved over the last few years into one of Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s closest and most trusted advisors. He has worked his way up from scout into what some have called a Gene Michael-type role. And Naehring has seemed quite happy to be there, declining opportunities to this point to pursue managing and other front office positions. His background is definitely skewed to the player side of the industry, having spent parts of eight seasons as an infielder with the Red Sox and then working in player development on and off the field with the Reds. Naehring faces a learning curve in some aspects of the business operations, but being exposed to the Yankees business should have him prepared for anything.
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BILLY OWENS, ATHLETICS
Assistant GM And Director Of Player Personnel
Owens, 47, has the benefit of broad experience, having played seven seasons in the minors, worked as a coach, serving as a scout, then moving into the front office as director of player personnel. He has direct input into major league player acquisitions and amateur player evaluation. Another exec said that Owens can “do it all” and calls him astute. He has done much of his work in the smart and always creative Oakland front office, working closely with highly respected Billy Beane. Owens was mentioned immediately this offseason as a possibility to join the Giants as the GM under former A’s exec Farhan Zaidi, who noted that Owens was “terrific” at what he does and at being a good guy.
J.J. PICCOLO, ROYALS
VP and Assistant GM of Player Personnel
Piccolo, 47, checks just about every box a team would want from a GM candidate, having a broad and deep knowledge of the industry, impressive credentials, vast experience, a top-notch mentor in Dayton Moore and a reputation for being considerate, thoughtful and personable guy. Piccolo spent nearly seven years with the Braves in scouting, player development and administration, then followed Moore in 2006 to Kansas City, where he helped build the best farm system in baseball in 2011, and a key factor in the Royals’ championship run in 2015.
JARED PORTER, D-BACKS
Senior VP and Assistant GM
Porter, 38, spent 12 seasons with the Red Sox, being part of their curse-busting 2004 World Series campaign, with his last four years there as director of pro scouting. He then jumped to the Cubs for a brief stint as director of pro scouting, long enough to be part of their own history-changing championship in 2016. No wonder colleagues joke about him being a lucky charm. Porter left to rejoin former Boston colleague Mike Hazen in Arizona, where he has continued to emphasize player evaluation but also has also overseen the baseball operations and medical staffs. He is known for being resourceful and open-minded and for blending scouting and analytics.
AMIEL SAWDAYE, D-BACKS
Senior VP and Assistant GM
Sawdaye, 41, has the experience on the scouting side, having spent 15 years with the Red Sox, working in the amateur and international areas, and helping modernize their methods. Then he went west with Mike Hazen to Arizona, a move which allowed him to broaden his own responsibilities within the front office. He is noted for his “desire to innovate,” which includes working with the development and dissemination of analytics. That allows him to apply his degree in decision and information sciences and helps him build a culture of trust. Though known for being bright and having a solid reputation as a good guy, Sawdaye also has a rep as being quiet and even unassuming, which would be a tough play for a GM. He was in play for the GM job with the Red Sox after Hazen left, and talked this offseason with the Giants
Other names to consider...
Here are some other more recently retired former players working in the game whose names we heard mentioned as being GM material: Sam Fuld, Phillies player information coordinator; Chris Getz, White Sox director of player development; Brandon Gomes, Dodgers director of player development; Brandon McCarthy, Rangers special assistant to GM; Chris Young, Major League Baseball VP of on-field operations, initiatives and strategy.
SECRET AGENT MAN
Van Wagenen’s hiring by the Mets truly was a game changer, and if he succeeds, his hire will lead to consideration for more agents to cross over. Any discussion has to include Scott Boras, though if it’s fair to wonder if he would leave his fiefdom just to run one team. Others—and to be clear here, we didn’t ask any of them about their level of interest—whose names we heard could surface in a GM discussion: Ulises Cabrera (Octagon), Casey Close (Excel), Keith Grunewald (Vanguard), J.D. Smart (Excel) and Joel Wolfe (Wasserman).