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.

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