2011 GM Candidates Rumors

GM Candidate: Mike Radcliff

MLBTR’s list of general manager candidates introduced 20 people who were identified by their peers as potential Major League GMs. We’re now going to bring you closer to the candidates with a series of pieces. Today the series continues with Twins executive Mike Radcliff.  

Joe Mauer

When Mike Radcliff joined the Major League scouting bureau in 1982, the best player he would ever draft hadn’t actually been born yet. And it wasn’t until 2001, after years as an area scout, cross checker and scouting director, that Radcliff actually selected Minnesota high schooler Joe Mauer (pictured) with the top pick in the nation over Mark Prior and Mark Teixeira.

Radcliff, who joined the Twins as an area scout in 1987, has worked for Minnesota ever since. He was the team’s scouting director from 1994-2007 before assuming his current role, vice president of player personnel.

The Twins’ roster features many players Radcliff selected in his 14 years as scouting director, including Michael Cuddyer (1997), Justin Morneau (1999), Jason Kubel (2000), Mauer (2001), Nick Blackburn (2001), Denard Span (2002), Scott Baker (2003), Glen Perkins (2004), Brian Duensing (2005), Kevin Slowey (2005), Danny Valencia (2006) and Ben Revere (2007). Former Twins such as A.J. Pierzynski (1994), Jesse Crain (2002) and Matt Garza (2005) are also products of his drafts.

Radcliff’s selections have helped Minnesota acquire a steady stream of affordable talent that has led the Twins to six division titles since 2002. He doesn't necessarily get much recognition outside of Minnesota, but his peers in the game consider him a GM candidate.

Photo courtesy Icon SMI.

GM Candidate: Mike Chernoff

MLBTR's list of general manager candidates introduced 20 people who were identified by their peers as potential Major League GMs. We’re bringing you closer to the candidates with a series of pieces. Today the series continues with Indians assistant GM Mike Chernoff, who ranked seventh on our list. 

Mike Chernoff has had at least one game of catch every month with his dad since he was six years old.  Chernoff's bond with his father was strong enough to break a childhood allegiance to the Yankees, as Mike switched allegiances when his dad accepted a Mets-related job at WFAN.  He went on to attend Princeton, majoring in economics and playing ball there as well.  Chernoff went into college expecting to eventually land a job in finance or teaching, but a Mets internship during that time changed his mind.  After college former Mets GM Jim Duquette helped Chernoff score an internship with the Indians.

Chernoff moved up the ranks in the Indians' front office, gaining a dual education managing pro scouting and analytics.  He became director of baseball operations in 2007 and then assistant GM last year.  As an AGM, Chernoff continues to have a hand in all aspects of baseball operations, but with more authority.  I spoke with him Monday afternoon.

On his mentors in the Indians' front office:

From very early on in my time here I was put in contact with our pro scouting department, which evolved into managing that department, which was one of the best things for my development. I basically talked every day with Steve Lubratich, who has been influential in mentoring me in that side of the game.  

From the time I first got here, Chris [Antonetti] has been unbelievable in the opportunities, feedback, and development he's given me.  I've learned a lot from watching Mark [Shapiro] interacting with him but also just watching him and how he leads people.  I've been lucky to be around some quality people in this front office - Mike Hazen, Steve Lubratich, Chuck Tanner, Neal Huntington, DeJon Watson - they've made a huge impact.  

The trades of which he's most proud:

It's been really fulfilling to see guys like Carlos Santana and Justin Masterson develop into the players they've become.  Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo - guys that were in what seemed like smaller trades at the time that have turned into real impact players in our organization.

Thoughts on Moneyball:

I think the mindset of Moneyball is a really important one in any business.  You have to always be looking for that next competitive advantage or inefficiency.  I think that mentality has been really important to how we operate here.  In other ways I think it's almost created this conflict between scouts and the SABR world.  There's no reason not to combine the two. It's a funny conflict that's out there that there's really no need for.  I think it's pitted in the media in some ways and from that book as much more confrontational than it really is.

GM Candidate: Tony LaCava

MLBTR's list of general manager candidates introduced 20 people who were identified by their peers as potential Major League GMs. We’re bringing you closer to the candidates with a series of pieces. Today the series continues with Blue Jays executive Tony LaCava. 

If Tony LaCava becomes a general manager, he probably won’t have a particularly hard time assembling a front office. The Blue Jays’ vice president of baseball operations and assistant General Manager has also worked for the Angels, Braves, Expos and Indians in his two-plus decades in MLB front offices and is known by his peers as someone who’s personable and well-connected.

LaCava has interviewed for GM jobs in Pittsburgh and Seattle in the past and some say it’s a matter of when, not if he becomes a GM. He oversees player development and Latin American operations for the Blue Jays, who have one of the top-ranked farm systems in the game. That kind of experience could tempt owners who are interested in replicating Toronto’s aggressive model of talent acquisition.

LaCava started his MLB career as a scout for the Angels in 1989, eventually becoming a cross-checker for them before moving on to Atlanta, Montreal and Cleveland. He remains an active scout to this day - part of his job with the Blue Jays involves evaluating possible trade candidates and reporting back to Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos.

While working with the Expos, LaCava became acquainted with advanced metrics through contact with Baseball Prospectus writers. As a result, he doesn’t shy away from including advanced stats like xFIP and BABIP in his analysis of a player.

A couple of years ago, it appeared that the Nationals might make LaCava their GM, but it turned out to be a false alarm. The next time you hear similar rumors, they could very well come true.

GM Candidate: Jerry Dipoto

MLBTR's list of general manager candidates introduced 20 people who were identified by their peers as potential Major League GMs. We’re bringing you closer to the candidates with a series of pieces. Today the series continues with Diamondbacks executive Jerry Dipoto, who ranked first on our list. 

By May of 2000, right-handed reliever Jerry Dipoto had appeared in 378 big league games for the Indians, Mets, and Rockies, saving 49 along the way.  Faced with a lengthy DL stay for a neck injury, the Rockies invited the 31-year-old to take part in a unique experience: exposure to the inner workings of the front office.  Though he had not yet retired, Dipoto's education beyond the mound began, as Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd let him into the draft room to be a fly on the wall and many of the organization's future star executives showed him the ropes.  When retirement officially came about in 2001, O'Dowd invited Dipoto to officially "step across the aisle and help the Rockies build a champion."  

Dipoto assumed a jack-of-all-trades role for Colorado, taking in everything from baseball operations and trade discussions to postgame commentary on television.  After a few years his education continued with the Red Sox, as he followed Josh Byrnes to Boston and was a member of the front office for the '04 World Champion team.  Dipoto went back to the Rockies in '05 as their director of player personnel, and then settled in with the Diamondbacks in '06.

Dipoto initially served as Arizona's vice president of player personnel, overseeing all aspects of the club's scouting and player development.  During his tenure, he's had interviews for GM openings with the Mariners and Nationals.  When the D'Backs let Byrnes go last summer, they made Dipoto interim GM, and he authored multiple crucial trades.  Dipoto interviewed for the full-time job, but the D'Backs hired Kevin Towers after the season, with Dipoto staying on as the senior vice president of scouting and player development.  Dipoto, a self-described "talker," chatted with me on the phone Friday evening. 

On his experience with the Red Sox:

It's a great franchise with a storied history and they had a new, young, cutting edge general manager who was building a group around him that was very eclectic.  There were longer-in-the tooth, experienced baseball people with decades of experience to younger up-and-comers that I knew personally.  It was cool to be in at the ground floor of a system they were creating from scratch.

On his education of the statistical side of the game:

As the Bill James literature became more mainstream you had somebody you could read along with and understand. I wouldn't qualify myself as a saber-junkie but I would say that from the early stages you start to understand trends. There are things you notice when you're a 12-year-old kid that you can break down in more specifics when you're a 40-year-old man. 

I've always been hungry for information and have an understanding of the analytics and have a personal feeling on how to apply them on a case-to-case basis.  There are times when the blend starts to favor one side or the other [stats or scouting].  If you try to apply one formula or stick with one natural inclination I think you'll make a lot of mistakes.

On the constant thirst for baseball knowledge:

The day I feel like I've stopped learning about baseball is the day I should go home. Every single day you're going to learn something new and start to adjust your lines of thinking.  It's an ongoing education.  Every person I meet in the game, my first instinct is to learn something from them.  My mentor is the game.

On his experience as the Diamondbacks' interim GM:

It's experience you really can't buy.  Until you're into the fire you really don't know, like pitching the ninth inning of the World Series.  It was a very unique time for the organization.  As a group we made a lot of really effective moves that positively changed the future of the team.  Ken Kendrick said to me, "You are in charge now.  These are your decisions to make."  I appreciated their trust.  At the end of the day I am very happy with what we were able to do.

On his proudest moments in player acquisitions...

I'm very proud of this draft.  Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley, Andrew Chafin, Anthony Meo, Kyle Winkler in the tenth round.  I'm also proud of the 2009 draft, the way we went about picking off offensive performers and restocking a system that had been picked apart a little bit by graduations and recent trades.

The trades last summer, in particular the Dan Haren deal with the Angels and the Edwin Jackson deal with the White Sox, largely because it was essentially the first time I was operating and had done that with no net.  The industry's reaction to the Dan Haren trade in the hours and weeks surrounding it, there might be a little bit different opinion of it today, which is I think the essence of scouting.  I'm extremely proud of the Edwin Jackson deal, not only because Daniel Hudson's been terrific for us since they we acquired him, but because the guy on the back end of that deal, David Holmberg, is actually a good prospect himself.  

Take the total haul from those two deals and it's a pretty high volume of pitching.  And it helped us get our finances situated so that we could handle this draft and build a team within our payroll confines.  I'll probably always look back on it, whether I have an opportunity to be a full-time GM or not, as one of more exhilarating moments I've had in the game.  If I do get a chance to be a full-time GM and do another hundred deals, I'm not quite sure any of them will bear the weight that those deals did in that moment in time.

On his career goals and whether he's aiming to become a GM:

I wouldn't tell you that I don't have the desire to be a GM.  As a general rule I've always believed the game will tell me how far I will go.  My current role is awfully hard to complain about.  If a GM job becomes available it's be an honor to be considered, but I have no expectation of it nor do I feel like my career is a failure if I don't get it.

GM Candidate: Ben Cherington

MLBTR’s list of general manager candidates introduced 20 people who were identified by their peers as potential Major League GMs. We’re now going to bring you closer to the candidates with a series of pieces. Today the series continues with Red Sox executive Ben Cherington. 

When Red Sox assistant GM Ben Cherington started his baseball career with the Indians in 1998 he was essentially the least experienced person in a front office filled with rising stars. He has since become one of the top executives in Theo Epstein’s front office and is now considered a GM candidate himself.

Cherington joined the Red Sox when Dan Duquette was GM and credits Duquette for trusting his eye for talent, both as an area scout and, later on, in Latin America. In the nine years or so since Epstein became Boston’s GM, Cherington has taken on more responsibility and now assists in player acquisitions, arbitration, quantitative analysis and scouting.

I spoke to him yesterday; here are some highlights from our conversation:

Jacoby Ellsbury

On beginning his baseball career in the Indians’ front office in 1998:

There was a remarkable group of really talented people in that front office at the time. It’s really remarkable when you look back at it. John Hart was the GM, Dan O’Dowd was the assistant GM, Mark Shapiro was the farm director, Neal Huntington was the assistant farm director, Josh Byrnes was there, Paul DePodesta was the one who hired me as an intern ... it was just a remarkable reservoir of talent. For someone who was looking to soak everything in, you couldn’t help but do that there.  

There are a lot of things that I saw in Cleveland that I’m not ashamed to say we’ve tried to copy in Boston. There’s some things that I think that they were ahead of the game on in terms of player development, principles, developing people within a front office.

On Red Sox GM Theo Epstein and other influences in the game:

I consider Theo my mentor. I consider myself very lucky to have worked with the other people that I did prior to Theo. I learned more [from Epstein] about the game and people and how to get things done and how to do all of that with a sense of humor and compassion. It has made me a better person and if I’m ever lucky enough to be a GM it’ll make me a much better GM. I’ve been incredibly lucky and I think the only reason my name is out there at all as a GM candidate is because of those experiences. 

On blending traditional scouting with objective performance metrics:

You can blend appropriately information from those two extremes. Depending on the player and the circumstances, you may lean more on one than the other. Obviously if you’re evaluating a 16-year-old in the Dominican, you don’t have a lot of hard performance history, so you’re going to rely more on subjective evaluation. 

As you get closer to the big leagues, the more performance history you have and the more you can incorporate that into the projection for the player. And you factor in other information like their health, contract situation, etc. 

That’s what Theo strove for from the very get-go. From the day he took the general manager’s job, he did not want the Red Sox to be a quantitative-driven baseball ops department, he didn’t want it to be a subjective, traditional scouting-driven baseball operations department, he wanted to do both. 

On a particular instance where the blend of scouting and stats worked well to select a player who has become an MVP candidate:

Jacoby Ellsbury (pictured) sticks out to me as an example. Here’s a guy who was a good player in the Pac-10. Athlete, ran well at Oregon State, actually didn’t play center field early on at Oregon State. He was a good performer, not an elite, elite performer relative to some other players who have gone through college and become big leaguers. He was a good performer.  There was a sense that some things about his performance at the college level that we felt gave him the chance to transition into pro ball successfully. 

More importantly, we had some of our best scouts who believed in the guy as a player and really believed that the things that didn’t pop off of the page performance-wise, specifically in the area of power production, would end up improving because of what they saw with their own eyes on the field and the way that they projected his body to develop and his swing to develop, the way the ball came off of his bat.

So we made that decision to take him in the first round. He was really the result of people seeing the game from different perspectives, coming together to see the good things about Jacoby as a player and to see the things that he wasn’t doing as well as he is now and deciding that he had a chance to do those things.

Photo courtesy Icon SMI.

GM Candidate: Al Avila

MLBTR’s list of general manager candidates introduced 20 people who were identified by their peers as potential Major League GMs. We’re now going to bring you closer to the candidates with a series of pieces. Today the series continues with Tigers executive Al Avila.  

Cabrera Renteria

When you consider where Al Avila came from, it’s not surprising that he has an eye for talent. The Tigers assistant GM grew up watching baseball alongside his father, longtime Dodgers scout and executive Ralph Avila, family friend Tommy Lasorda and veteran baseball executive Al Campanis. So Avila had no choice - he watched a lot of baseball growing up.

He played, too, but unlike his son, All-Star catcher Alex Avila, Al didn’t have much of a playing career. Soon after signing as a non-drafted free agent, he moved on to other pursuits, running the Daytona Beach Admirals (a job that included everything from public address announcing to helping the grounds crew) and coaching at St. Thomas University. 

Avila, a native Spanish speaker, has extensive experience in Latin America, so he was a fit for the expansion Marlins and joined the club as assistant director of Latin American operations in 1992. Under Avila, who became scouting director in 1998, the Marlins signed Luis Castillo, Alex Gonzalez, Edgar Renteria, Livan Hernandez and Miguel Cabrera (pictured with Renteria) and drafted Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett.  It certainly appears that Avila’s early exposure to organized baseball paid off.

“My strength is on the baseball side as far as scouting and player development,” he told MLBTR. “As far as the statistics, I’m not on the computer and creating all the stats, but I do use them. I see them as a tool to help you reach a better decision.”

Avila says he considers numbers while making decisions, but isn’t about to forget his background in scouting and player development. In the draft, for example, the Tigers will take players’ stats into account and ultimately trust the eye of scouting director David Chadd.

Avila and Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, the Marlins' GM from 1991-2001, worked together in Florida, leading the Marlins to their first World Series Championship, before assuming their current roles in Detroit. Avila, who served as the Marlins’ interim GM after Dombrowski left the Marlins for the Tigers, now assists the GM with the Major League roster, the minor league affiliates, pro scouting and amateur scouting. 

It’s a broad set of responsibilities that hasn’t gone unnoticed by MLB owners. Avila interviewed for GM jobs with the Reds, Orioles, Mariners and Diamondbacks and became a finalist for the latter two openings. More recently, the Tigers denied the Mets' request to interview Avila this past offseason, but his peers say it won’t be a surprise if Avila ends up in a GM’s office before long.

Photo courtesy Icon SMI.

GM Candidate: Thad Levine

MLBTR’s list of general manager candidates introduced 20 people who were identified by their peers as potential Major League GMs. We’re now going to bring you closer to the candidates with a series of pieces. Today the series debuts with Rangers executive Thad Levine. 

Depending on the day, Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine can be found negotiating draft bonuses, discussing multiyear deals, talking trades, working with Texas’ minor league staff or preparing for arbitration cases. Levine, who turns 40 this fall, joined the Rangers in 2005 after working for the Rockies and Dodgers.

I spoke with him yesterday. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

On growing up as a baseball fan:

I grew up a big Orioles fan and when I graduated from college I wrote to all the teams [regarding job opportunities] and I got formally rejected by three and was ecstatic that I actually got rejection letters from them.

On breaking in to the game with the help of college friend and former Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes:

Josh gave me the opportunity to come on board in a very junior capacity in the Rockies front office and I actually had never spoken to or met [GM] Dan O’Dowd until my first day on the job. Dan and Josh were the guys who gave me my first opportunity.  

It’s kind of a small world. Paul DePodesta at the time was working for Oakland. He and I grew up in the same neighborhood and had played sports against each other. So within the close-knit community of baseball people, I had two guys who were both rising stars in the game at that time, both of whom were kind enough to counsel me and give me very good advice, so I had two great benefactors and Dan O’Dowd ultimately gave me the first opportunity, so I’m forever grateful to those three guys.

On his relationship with Byrnes:

We were both diehard Orioles fans and I would say it was quite literally from the first moment I spoke with Josh that he and I were dissecting every single move the Orioles made, putting our own twists on it as we were trying to fine-tune the team into a playoff contender. We had almost constant dialogue about the Orioles and when he started working for Cleveland I think it opened up the perspective.

On joining former Rockies colleague Jon Daniels in Texas after interviewing for the Rangers job on his honeymoon (“I got very familiar with the payphones in Italy and Greece,” Levine says):

[Daniels] somewhat surprisingly called and asked permission to interview me. I’d always thought he and I had very similar skill sets and that he would view me as being somewhat duplicative to him. But in practice it’s been a tremendous relationship. 

On the role of stats and the role of scouting:

My interpretation of that has changed probably more dramatically throughout my career than anything about the game of baseball. When I walked in the door in Colorado and even in Los Angeles I felt that there was a lot more questions that could be answered by doing statistical analysis than I feel today. The more you work with players and the more you work with coaches, our products are human beings and there’s a lot of volatility when it comes to human beings. So I might even say I’ve more now on the continuum swung back toward scouting and player development. I strongly believe in the grand scheme of competitive advantages of our game it’s not a formula.

I respect all of the formulas that are out there ... but I don’t think the team that comes up with the next best formula is the team that’s going to win. I think it’s the team that has the most premium talent evaluators and I think that’s the asset that is the most scarce in our game and if you as a franchise have multiple gifted talent evaluators, count yourself lucky, pay them handsomely, do whatever you can to retain them, because in my humble opinion that’s the competitive advantage in the game.

On the 2007 Mark Teixeira trade that brought Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison to Texas:

We had been on the job [in Texas] for a year and a half or two years at that point and it took us that long to really embrace where this franchise was, where the assets were, where we were strong and where we were weak. Fortunately we had an owner [Tom Hicks] who was supportive through this even though we made significant mistakes early.

He said ‘there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and the tunnel’s not too long, let’s start moving.’ And if the light at the end of is dim or if the tunnel’s not too long, we’re probably not going to be here, but it worked for the Minnesota Twins and the Oakland Athletics and the Atlanta Braves and the Colorado Rockies and we believed it would work for us. 

On the possibility of becoming an MLB general manager:

My career goal in and of itself is not to be a GM. It’s to have a successful career working in baseball and impact some people’s lives and help them grow and develop and be in a fulfilling environment. I truly believe in my heart that that can be as a GM, but if that opportunity never presents itself, I wouldn’t consider my career a failure or if it does present itself it doesn’t mean I’m an instant success in my mind.

MLBTR's GM Candidates

It’s too early to predict with complete accuracy which franchises will be looking for new general managers in the coming months, but it’s fair to assume that an opening or two will emerge, maybe more. In anticipation of these openings MLBTR has surveyed dozens of baseball people about candidates for general manager jobs. Over the course of the past six weeks, Tim Dierkes and I have heard from a diverse collection of voices, including GMs, agents, scouting directors, scouts, former GMs and, we expect, future GMs. 

It's now time to present the resulting list of 20 GM candidates, plus honorable mentions. The list is by no means comprehensive; we acknowledge in advance that the list of qualified GM candidates extends beyond the 28 names below. We have limited the list to those who obtained three votes or more from their peers within the game and we are focusing on the candidates who have yet to accept a permanent GM job. Many former GMs like Josh Byrnes and Paul DePodesta received votes, but we are presenting those who haven't had a full-time gig.  

Here is MLBTR’s inaugural list of the top 20 GM candidates in MLB:

  1. Jerry Dipoto, Senior VP, Scouting & Player Development, Diamondbacks
  2. Rick Hahn, VP, AGM, White Sox
  3. Thad Levine, AGM, Rangers
  4. Ben Cherington, Senior VP, AGM, Red Sox
  5. David Forst, AGM, Athletics
  6. Tony LaCava, VP Baseball Operations and AGM, Blue Jays
  7. Mike Chernoff, AGM, Indians
  8. Bryan Minniti, AGM, Nationals
  9. A.J. Preller, Senior Director, Player Personnel, Rangers
  10. Kim Ng, MLB
  11. DeJon Watson, AGM, Player Development, Dodgers
  12. Al Avila, VP, AGM, Tigers
  13. Damon Oppenheimer, Scouting Director, Yankees
  14. Mike Radcliff, Vice President of Player Personnel, Twins
  15. Bill Geivett, Sr. VP Scouting & Player Development, AGM, Rockies
  16. John Ricco, VP, AGM, Mets
  17. Jeff Kingston, AGM, Mariners
  18. Logan White, AGM, Amateur & International Scouting, Dodgers
  19. Peter Woodfork, MLB
  20. Matt Klentak, Director of Baseball Operations, Orioles

Honorable mentions in alphabetical order: Matt Arnold, Director, Pro Scouting (Rays), Jeff Bridich, Senior Director of Baseball Operations (Rockies), John Coppolella, Director of Baseball Administration (Braves), Dan Jennings, VP Player Personnel & AGM (Marlins), Jason McLeod, VP, AGM (Padres), J.J. Picollo, AGM, Scouting & Player Development (Royals), Shiraz Rehman, Director of Player Personnel (Diamondbacks) and Josh Stein, Director of Baseball Operations (Padres).

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