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Top 10 General Manager Prospects
By Josh Boyd
The job description of a GM is changing as economics become more and more of an element of the game. Today's general managers have varying backgrounds from scouting (Brian Sabean), major league playing experience (Billy Beane) or Ivy League educations (Theo Epstein). But all of the top decision makers share similar qualities including leadership and interpersonal skills, the ability to assemble and motivate a diverse staff, and a knack for evaluating and acquiring talent. After discussions with baseball executives and our correspondents, we've come up with a list of 10 executives who show strong qualifications in these areas.
1. Dayton Moore, director of player personnel, Braves
Though he was initially reluctant to move from coaching into scouting, Moore has flourished in a variety of roles since joining the Braves as a scouting supervisor in 1994. A former assistant coach at George Mason, the 36-year-old Moore was promoted in 1996 to the baseball operations department, where he's continued to take on increasing responsibility in subsequent years. Moore, who was called a "John Schuerholz in the making" by more than one executive polled, served as assistant scouting director, assistant farm director and international scouting director before moving into his current role. "He's on top of everything," another executive said. "He speaks up and has aggressive ideas."
Jennings didn't take long to establish a reputation as a respected talent evaluator. He spent two years as an associate scout with the Reds before earning a full-time scouting job with the Mariners in 1988. Just seven years later Jennings was hired as the first scouting director in Devil Rays history. Despite losing several premium picks as compensation for free-agent signings, he helped stock the system with a string of impressive drafts from 1997-2002 that netted Aubrey Huff, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, B.J. Upton, Joey Gathright and Dewon Brazelton. Jennings left Tampa Bay for his current position following the 2002 draft and played an instrumental part in guiding the Marlins to the 2003 World Series. Fellow Marlins execs Jim Fleming and Mike Hill also received strong support as strong GM prospects.
3. Mike Arbuckle, assistant GM, scouting and player development, Phillies
Arbuckle received consideration for the GM jobs with the Red Sox and Pirates following the 2002 season, and should continue to get more opportunities in the near future. "How he was overlooked was stunning," an AL assistant GM said. "He's one of the best bargains in baseball with similar qualifications to (Jim) Hendry and (Brian) Sabean. He has the natural leadership skills to make people who work for him feel comfortable." Arbuckle, 53, revitalized the Phillies farm system after taking over as scouting director in October 1992. He was promoted to his current position in October 2001 after presiding over nine drafts. His track record on high draft picks has been stellar, including Pat Burrell, Scott Rolen, Jimmy Rollins and Randy Wolf.
4. Paul DePodesta, assistant GM, Athletics
DePodesta debuted on this list three years ago at the age of 27, and he's continued to bolster his profile as Billy Beane's assistant since November 1998. DePodesta turned down an offer to be the Blue Jays GM in 2002, and though he hasn't interviewed since, he's viewed as Beane's successor in Oakland. DePodesta is more well rounded than "Moneyball" would have you believe. Yes, he's intellectual, has excellent administrative skills and knows how to study statistics, but he appreciates traditional scouting methods. His first job with the Indians in 1996 involved advance scouting. Beane relies heavily on DePodesta's opinion, and his experience with a limited budget makes him an attractive candidate given today's economic hurdles.
5. Tim Purpura, assistant GM/farm director, Astros
Purpura was one of the finalists for the Reds GM opening, and he would have likely been Gerry Hunsicker's replacement in Houston had Hunsicker left for the Mets. Next season will be Purpura's 10th in the Astros organization, where he's overseen player development since 1997. His role expanded into major league operations in 2002, and he's become respected for his strengths in arbitration cases and contract negotiations.
6. Ned Colletti, assistant GM, Giants
Under GM Brian Sabean, the Giants have been known for staying below the radar. Similarly, two key members of Sabean's inner circle--Colletti and director of player personnel Dick Tidrow-- have quietly emerged as GM candidates. Colletti, 48, negotiates all contracts for the Giants and "knows the rules inside and out," according to another baseball official, while Tidrow oversees both scouting and player development and might be one of the game's most underrated talent evaluators.
7. Gordon Blakeley, senior VP, baseball operations Yankees
Blakeley led the Yankees Tampa-based contingent for a year, supervising scouting and player development, before having a falling out with George Steinbrenner. "He has guts and has been in the wars with the toughest man in baseball," an AL exec said. Though the Yankees spend a lot of money, he has worked with normal budgets in scouting and player development." Another rising star in the Tampa office, Damon Oppenheimer, VP of pro scouting, is a key member of Brian Cashman's braintrust.
8. Grady Fuson, assistant GM/scouting director, Rangers
Fuson came over from the A's following the 2001 season and seems to be a lock to assume John Hart's position in Texas. Fuson, 47, was largely responsible for putting together the Big Three of the A's pitching staff, and bucked the A's trend by selecting Jeremy Bonderman in the first round in 2001. "One of his best attributes is he has a very loyal following from his people," another exec said. "His scouts and development guys all buy into his plan and love working for him."
9. Tim Wilken, special assistant to the GM, Tampa Bay
Wilken ended a 25-year association with the Blue Jays this summer. The Blue Jays continue to reap the benefits from his tenure as scouting director as he helped usher Carlos Delgado, Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells to the big leagues and contributed to Toronto's unprecedented streak of getting 11 straight first-round picks to the majors. Many insiders believe Wilken, 50, could be in line to replace Tampa Bay incumbent GM Chuck Lamar.
10. Josh Byrnes, assistant GM, Red Sox
Another product of John Hart's star-studded regime in Cleveland, Byrnes was hired as Theo Epstein's assistant after three years as the Rockies assistant GM. At 27, he was one of the youngest scouting directors in history in 1999. Byrnes, now 33, continues to enhance his profile working in one of the more progressive front offices in baseball.
The Next Wave
We've also gathered a list of bright young executives who haven't received as much national attention yet, but are developing impressive resumes and gaining respect in the industry. This list, arranged alphabetically, provides a sneak peek at some names who you might see on our list in three years.
• Chris Antonetti, Indians assistant GM