DePodesta, Kingston among M’s GM candidates?

In the two-plus weeks since the Seattle Mariners created a chief opening in their baseball operations department we’ve heard at least a dozen names bandied about in connection with the general manager’s job. From Jerry DiPoto and Billy Eppler to Dan O’Dowd, and almost everywhere in between.

It is interesting to note, however, that the Mariners wanted to talk to Athletics assistant GM David Forst but will not be allowed to as he’s being promoted to GM as he continues his work under Billy Beane in Oakland.

ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted this week that Toronto Blue Jays special assistant Dana Brown was to interview Wednesday. Brown is a former scouting director for the Washington Nationals.

Kevin Towers’ name still is bouncing around, as is the case for Dan Jennings. Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen is a candidate in Milwaukee but has yet to be linked to Seattle.

I listed a number of names right here, but there are some names that have yet to be discussed much, or even at all, publicly. It is unclear at this stage whether or not potential candidates with clubs in the pennant races will garner heavy interest, although I’m not sure why not. Most organizations grant permission to employees to interview for positions if the gig is a promotion of this nature and there’s always time to find a day to fit it into their schedule.

Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ director of scouting and player development, has been mentioned here and there, but there does not seem to be much chatter about his candidacy anywhere, including via the back channels.

Here are some additional names to keep an eye on:

Paul DePodesta: VP of Player Development & Amateur Scouting
DePodesta spent two years as the GM for the Los Angeles Dodgers, winning 93 games in Year 1 and just 71 in year two. Two seasons is hardly enough time to use win-loss records as a way to judge his performance in such a role, but other knocks on him at the time included a lack of presence and therefore perceived leadership.

Among the major transactions that occurred while DePodesta manned the Dodgers:

Traded RHR Jason Frasor to the Toronto Blue Jays for OF Jayson Werth.
Traded LHR Steve Coyler to the Detroit Tigers for OF Cody Ross.
Traded OF Franklin Gutierrez and RHP Andrew Brown to the Cleveland Indians for OF Milton Bradley.
Drafted LHP Scott Elbert (1), RHP Javy Guerra (4), Justin Ruggiano (25).
Traded OF Juan Encarnacion, C Paul Lo Duca and Guillermo Mota to the Florida Marlins for 1B Hee-Seop Choi, LHP Bill Murphy and RHP Brad Penny.
Signed international free agent Carlos Santana.
Signed international free agent Kenley Jansen.
Selected AlejandroDe Aza in 2004 Rule 5 draft.
Signed free agent Jeff Kent to three-year, $21 million deal.
Extended Jeff Kent for one year, $11.5 million.
Signed free agent OF J.D. Drew.
Signed free agent RHP Derek Lowe.
Signed free agent LHP Odalis Perez.
Traded OF Shawn Green to the Arizona Diamondbacks for RHP William Juarez, LHP Danny Muegge, C Dioner Navarro and RHP Beltran Perez.
Drafted RHP Luke Hochevar (1, did not sign).
Drafted SS Ivan De Jesus (2).
Drafted Scott Van Slyke (14).

DePodesa spent time as an assistant in the baseball operations department for Cleveland in the late 90s, then was an assistant GM under Beane in Oakland for five season — 1999-2003, perhaps the Athletics’ best run under Beane. After the Dodgers let him go DePodesta was hired as a special assistant in San Diego where he remained through the 2010 season. He then moved on to his current position with the Mets in 2011.

DePodesta’s function with the Mets goes beyond overseeing the draft and player development, but you can see the results of his work in this year’s performance by the big league club.

Among the notable draft picks: Gavin Cecchini, Kevin PLawecki, Dominic Smith, Michael Conforto, Corey Mazzoni, Michael Fulmer. Furthermore, the development portion of DePodesta’s job description may be more critical to the team’s success. While Jacob deGrom was drafted and signed by the previous regime, he developed under the current one, logging all but 26 of his 323 innings in the minors working under DePodesta’s staff. Steven Matz, Nopah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud, Juan Lagares and Wilmer Flores all appear to have benefited greatly from the development system DePodesta installed upon arrival.

DePodesta also oversees the Mets’ international operations and is heavily involved in the decisions ultimately charged to GM Sandy Alderson. From speaking to as many of those I can find that know DePodesta and/or have worked with/for him, he’s not just the moneyball guy he was tagged as before and after the Dodgers fired him in 2005. He’s not simply a new-school candidate that makes choices based on analytics. He’s developed a blend of skills that make him an attractive candidate. The two words thrown at me most regarding DePodesta are “brilliant” and “better.” Better than he was more than 10 years ago when he got his first GM gig. “As brilliant a baseball mind as you’ll find.” according to a rival candidate, no less.

Having a strong resume as a scouting director or player development director — or both — doesn’t guarantee squat when the job changes to general manager. Sure seems, however, that DePodesta has every baseball skill necessary to run a club, and perhaps the aforementioned knocks on him have been buffed out by experience. He’s just 42 years of age and if you don’t think the texts and calls would flood in from the qualified baseball people that would want to work under him, you’re ridiculously mistaken.

Jeff Kingston: Assistant GM/interim GM, Seattle Mariners
I have no idea whether or not Kingston has a real shot at the job, but maybe he should. I haven’t asked to speak to Kingston, but it’s already apparent how different he would be then his predecessor. Like every single candidate out there, prior experience as a GM or not, mixed reviews are abound.

Kingston certainly is sharp, and the few times he’s spoken publicly one thing is clear: He doesn’t pull punches. There’s no dancing around an assessment, he doesn’t keep the obvious a secret. The approach is straight forward, I’ll lend an example here:

At the pre-season media luncheon, Kingston was asked about some of the acquired players, including some depth such as infielder Carlos Rivero. Rivero played a lot o shortstop in Boston before 2015 and when asked if that would be Rivero’s role, Kingston’s answer was perfect.

Question: Will Rivero play shortstop?
Kingston: We like him at third.
Question: Can Rivero play shortstop?
Kingston: He can stand there, but we think he gives us depth elsewhere.

Dead serious, he said “he can stand there.” No bull, no ridiculous optimism, no junk.

Why is this important? Because if people in baseball think you’re ever the optimist on player evaluations, it’s exactly how other clubs will negotiate with you. Avoiding the B.S. always helps make decisions, negotiate and close deals. General managers aren’t selling stocks for money, they’re trading players for players. It’s NOT the same, nor is it remotely close, despite the parallels that have been drawn for decades.

Kingston has received a thumbs up from multiple sources, including a former GM a agent and a current assistant GM, one of which called Kingston a hidden gem that needs to be let loose.

“I’m telling you, someone would do well to give that guy the reins. He’s not a self-promoter, but I’m in,” said one executive.

Thad Levine: Assistant GM, Texas Rangers
Mike Chernoff: Assistant GM, Cleveland Indians
Matt Arnold: Director of Player Personnel, Tampa Bay Rays
Erick Neander: V.P. of Baseball Operations, Tampa Bay Rays
None of the above four have appeared much or at all in the rumor mill but I mentioned each of them earlier this month. If the non-contender thing applies at all for whatever stupid reason, it’s kind of odd that the latter trio hasn’t been linked by the news breakers, at least not yet.

The Best Job?
There’s been a lot written the past few weeks about Seattle perhaps being the best available GM job. The contestants aren’t exactly the who’s who of great organizations but it’s difficult to imagine candidates would prefer the Seattle job over working under better ownership and perhaps a president such as Dave Dombrowski.

For some, though, it appears Seattle is the better gig. I recently asked a few of the potential candidates about the quality of the job in Seattle. Here’s what I got:

Potential candidate 1: “First of all, it’s a situation where you have a chance to do both — win right away and do a lot of things that point to the future, the immediate future and down the road, too. It’s also a place you can win, and I know that may sound a little off to some because they’ve struggled the past several years to find consistency… build to the ballpark, maximize assets and things can and will happen.

“I understand the fans, the public, they have a concern with how ownership has run things, but we’ve seen the same people oversee winners. More than once. It can be done again. Everyone wants (total) control, but if there are times where an ownership or CEO type might step up and make a decision that overrides (the baseball operations department’s preference), in my experience, there’s a process available where the baseball wins out over the business. If you can’t convince the owners of the alternate decision, maybe it’s not a job you should have. That’s a required skill — to instill that kind of confidence in those that employ you.

“And they have spent a lot of money, so I can’t see what the real problem is (working for such an ownership group). You do your job well and most will cut the cord altogether.”

Potential candidate 2: “I’d never turn down the opportunity to interview based on whispers … I’ve met some of those people and watched from afar and you know what? They’ve made mistakes, just like all 29 other ownership groups.”

What about the reports of meddling in baseball decisions? “All owners have a say if they want. The important thing is knowing what they expect from Day 1, and knowing what you can expect from them. It’s not responsible to accept a job if you never liked the parameters given. But how can you win in 2000 and 2001 and all of a sudden it’s an environment where the right GM can’t? That makes no sense. You can win there.”

Is this the best job available?
PC1: “I think all of the available jobs are unique and could be tied for No. 1 … or if you prefer, tied for last. All of them are different, but sometimes the tiebreakers are about non-baseball stuff; what city is best for my family? Schools, diversity… I guess it depends on the person … Which city has the best pizza?”

PC2: “It probably is, though I don’t think I know enough about any of them to say for sure. What I do know is that Seattle is one of my favorite places, they have (Nelson) Cruz, (Robinson) Cano, Kyle Seager and Felix (Hernandez), and there’s some controllable talent helping them right now, and the resources from top to bottom, it’s all there.”

Some others in the game have shared their opinion on which job might be the best between Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle and the Los Angeles Angels.

“Boston is where you can win every year and working under Dombrowski is a good spot to be in. And people jump on Philly for hanging onto Ruben (Amaro, Jr.) too long, but if you are a candidate, that patience and loyalty is a huge plus. I think I’d put Seattle second, but what’s interesting is the two jobs require different types of guys and I don’t know if they’ll consider the same candidates.”

—–

“Seattle is the best available job by a long ways, and the biggest reason is because of the payoff. They’ve never won a World Series, It would be special anywhere but in Seattle it might be that much bigger. What if you’re the GM that wins them their first ever World Series? You know what they’ll do?”

They’ll build statues, that’s what they’ll do.

—–

“I think Seattle might be the toughest place to win. There is so much going on that doesn’t work. The garbage that’s gone on there the past 10-15 years, that’s a hurdle. There are just 30 GM jobs, so many will want that one, but if you have other options, there probably are better environments to work in and win consistently.”

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Jason A. Churchill

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