Churchill: GM Candidates

With the news breaking Friday morning that the Seattle Mariners parted ways with Jack Zduriencik we’ve already started to hear the names of possible replacements. It’s all speculation at this point, but retreads galore likely are littering your Twitter timeline, drawing eye rolls and even some ‘WTF’ replies. Understandably.

Team president and COO Kevin Mather stated publicly via press conference and radio interviews the club wants to find a new baseball guy before the offseason truly gets under way. Part of that is to make sure they don’t get beat to the punch on candidates, part of it is about hitting the offseason ready to go. It’s the only way to go about this these days.

Several other things Mather said Friday via the various outlets that struck me as interesting or somewhat important:

  • Despite giving Lloyd McClendon a sort of vote of confidence, the new GM will have the power to bring in his own field staff, including the manager. Mather will encourage but not force McClendon on the new GM
  • Mather believes the 25-man roster is fairly close to being good enough, though clearly there are holes to fill and admits his opinion may not be that of the baseball people he chooses in the end
  • Club prefers a GM that sees the roster is close enough not to suggest a tear-down, at least not heading into 2016.
  • Mather mentioned the GM’s front office staff more than once, strongly suggesting 1) that he, as the president and COO, understands the GM must have the right people in place around him and 2) perhaps Zduriencik did not. (He didn’t). Part of the draw of some candidates will be the people with which they are connected that can be brought in as part of the new regime. The GM can’t do everything.
  • The change is being made not based on 2015 and all its disappointment, but why the club is where it is, seven years after Zduriencik was hired. Mather stated directly the failures in player development. Yes, ultimately it’s about wins at the big-league level, but Mather clearly has people in baseball he;’s been talking to — I mentioned his familiarity with the FO in Minnesota and how he’s talked to them in the past, and he noted said relationship in his interview with Mike Salk and Brock Huard Friday morning.
  • Since Mather prefers not to rebuild, he expects a GM with experience, but if he’s open-minded enough about the process, he’ll interview several inexperienced candidates that won’t require allowance for a rebuild, nor see the immediate need for it, while demonstrating they are capable of adding to the current mix enough to project a winner.

Here are some names with which to start, but a few caveats:

  1. I don’t know most of these people personally. I derive their candidacy by leaning on those I do know in the game for their qualifications, plus what reports have been out there up to and through today’s news in terms of candidacy.
  2. You will hear good and bad about most or all of the following, almost all of which will be complete trash. Pick and choose who you trust on these kinds of matters.
  3. Included below are candidates I wouldn’t necessarily hire myself and that I don’t believe are good candidates, but they’ll be mentioned, so they go here, anyway.
  4. I do know some of these candidates, some better than others.
  5. These are listed in no particular order.
  6. I am not sure each of the names below are so eager to get a shot at GM that they’re willing to work under an ownership with a terrible track record of interfering and downright bufoonery, but there are only 30 GM gigs in the world, so …
  7. It’s also worth noting that Mather does appear to be leading the search there is always a chance the ownership is willing to budge on some things to get the right candidate to take the job.
  8. In no way is the following a suggestion that these are the names Seattle will interview or consider.
  9. There will be names below that never are mentioned, never interviewed or considered or even some that may not have interest or are hired elsewhere.

Jerry DiPoto: Former Angels GM
Having resigned from his GM post in Anaheim, DiPoto brings mixed reviews when I ask around — like most. He’s a former player that believes in scouting and analytics — and a blend of both that cannot be written in stone for even two seconds — and reportedly was the Mariners’ No. 2 choice in 2008 when the club hired Zduriencik.

He was an assistant in Arizona overseeing scouting and player development, scouted under Theo Epstein’s crew in Boston before that and now is serving as an extra set of eyes for the Red Sox, who just hired Dave Dombrowski to run the while kitchen. DiPoto could be a strong candidate for GM under Dombrowski.

Knowing what I know — which isn’t enough to make the kind of call the Mariners have to make — I’d find it difficult to hate the move if DiPoto was ultimately tabbed the new baseball executive in Seattle.

John Coppolella: Assistant GM, Atlanta Braves
Coppolella may be my personal favorite for the job, not because I have had many conversations with him but because he seems value exactly what the Mariners need; Detailed in terms of covering all the bases before making decisions, valuing greatly the assessments and work of those around him, no use of the ego in evaluating players or situations, high-impact passion for the game of baseball and winning, and he’s as short on confidence in his abilities as I am on Twitter snark. Which is to say not at all, sir.

Coppolella grew up in the New York Yankees organization, was a favorite of the late George Steinbrenner and in Atlanta has overseen the pro scouting department before essentially taking the helm of GM under president of baseball operations John Hart. He’s had the advantage of working with and under some of the most successful baseball executives in the game, including Brian Cashman, John Schuerholz and now Hart.

In my dealings with Coppolella, he’s never taken credit for anything, it’s always “we” or he deflects credit entirely. He’s adept in the area of statistical analysis, but player development is extremely high on his list, especially having worked with execs with tremendous track records in growing from within.

He was hired by Schuerholz, was a huge draw for Hart when he was contemplating taking the job and I have a feeling he sees eye-to-eye with Mather’s preference of not rebuilding right away, which I believe is the right approach.

If Coppolella were to be hired, the Mariners would be getting a GM with a sound plan, capable of adjusting said plan to accommodate the myriad situations that indeed will come up 12 months out of the year. The group that ultimately would land in Seattle to accompany him would likely be quite impressive. Coppolella’s network is as large as anyone’s and he’s as respected on and off the field as much or more than anyone I’ve ever asked about.

Jason McLeod: Director of Scouting & Player Development, Chicago Cubs
Having worked so much under Theo Epstein, one would think plenty has rubbed off on McLeod, who worked under Epstein in Boston before moving on with Jed Hoyer to San Diego, and then Chicago. I hear only great things about McLeods abilities to evaluate not only players at all levels, but his track record with development strategies, the draft and trade and free agent markets. There are some who believe Epstein’s success is wildly over-the-top because of Epstein himself, but there’s a reason he keeps winning, first in Boston and already in Chicago. The presence of Hoyer and McLeod clearly are critical.

Flatly put, McLeod is a winner, has an enormous network from which to choose his lieutenants and has witnessed absolute greatness from a winning standpoint for more than a decade.

McLeod should be high on the club’s list of candidates.

Erik Neander: V.P. of Baseball Operations, Tampa Bay Rays
Neander is among the many that run the Rays baseball operations department and one of a few Rays execs that could be legitimate candidates in Seattle.

Scott Sharp: Assistant GM, Kansas City Royals
Sharp has been among Dayton Moore’s top assistants as the Royals have ascended to the top of the American League behind pitching, speed and defense.

I don’t know tons about Sharp but in looking at the kind of players the Royals have shown they value most, it’s largely what Seattle doesn’t have an needs. Defense, speed, athleticism, multi-dimensional. And they’ve done it on a somewhat limited payroll.

Mike Chernoff: Assistant GM, Cleveland Indians
Ask one baseball exec about Chernoff and I get positive descriptions. Ask another and I get “meh” type replies. Ask yet another and I get “I don’t know, I’m not sure how much that front office really gets to do on their own.”

But anytime I inquire about candidates, Chernoff’s name comes up in conversation.

Thad Levine: Assistant GM, Texas Rangers
Billy Eppler: Assistant GM, New York Yankees
Dan O’Dowd: Former GM, Colorado Rockies
Ben Cherington: Former GM, Boston Red Sox
Charlie Kerfeld: Special assistant to the GM, Philadelphia Phillies
Dan Jennings: Manager & former GM Miami Marlins
Tony LaCava: V.P. Baseball Operations, Assistant GM, Toronto Blue Jays
Matt Arnold: Assistant GM, Tampa Bay Rays
Larry Beinfest: Former President Baseball Operations, Miami Marlins
Matt Klentak: Assistant GM, Los Angeles Angels
Kevin Towers: Former GM San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks & special assistant to GM, Cincinnati Reds
Damon Oppenheimer: Director of Scouting, New York Yankees

LaCava interviewed in 2008 and was my preference based on what I was told from those that know him. He’s a market analysis genius and has served the Jays well during his time, playing a large role in their current success. He’s probably as qualified for the job as any of the assistant types that will be mentioned and might have the ability to put together the best staff.

Levine has worked under a highly successful executive base in Texas with Nolan Ryan and John Daniels. Is typically among the top 8-10 as I ask around baseball about candidates that have yet to serve as full-time GM.

Jennings has a history in Seattle, having served as an area scout in the late 80s and eventually a crosschecker in 1995. He served as the Rays scouting director before moving onto the Marlins as a player personnel V.P. and assistant GM. He was named the Marlins’ GM in 2013 and took the field as the skipper earlier this season.

Kerfeld would be an interesting choice in style as he’s old school in the way he scouts in his present role but understands the necessity for a blend, and not simply when it’s convenient to implement. He’s a former pitcher who’s worked for years under Pat Gillick.

Arnold is thought to be as instinctive as it comes in baseball operations and with Neander served under Andrew Friedman, now of the Los Angeles Dodgers, during their run the past several years as a have-not beating the haves with consistency.

Beinfest, like Jennings, has history in Seattle having served as an assistant in the scouting and player development departments in the late 80s and through the 1999 season. I don’t see how Beinfest fits at all, but we’ve already seen his name linked to the club, which means little to nothing in the end.

Cherington is a puzzler for me. I don’t know him personally, but I don’t understand the attraction. Yes, he has a World Series title, and he did make some moves prior to the 2013 championship run that played a key role, but that roster was largely built by Epstein and sandwiched around the ring for Cherington is a last-place finish in 2012, another in 2014 and the roster he built for 2015 is headed for one more. I’m not suggesting he’d be a bad hire, but his track record suggests so and that speaks volumes in my book.

Names that may be bandied about that probably make so little sense that the Mariners won’t truly consider in the end include Ned Colleti, Kenny Williams, Jerry Walker.

Jeff Kingston, the interim GM in Seattle, is sharp, analytically inclined and always has come across to me as a no-nonsense type that’s all about getting it right and winning. The M’s will get a look at Kingston over the final month.

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