Dark Horse General Manager Candidates

The San Diego Padres fired Josh Byrnes last week, ending a 938 day streak without a major league general manager getting the ax, as Ben Lindbergh recently noted at Baseball Prospectus. There are currently 18 teams that have employed the same GM for the past five years and plenty more that are working on three or four years of front office stability. San Diego, obviously, is not one of those teams.

The Padres change general managers like they change owners, making the front offices over Petco Park some of the least stable ground in baseball of late. Since 2009, Kevin Towers (and Sandy Alderson), Jed Hoyer, and Josh Byrnes have presided over the baseball operations department in San Diego, leaving the team with a long-term plan that get scraped every two years.

The Padres have already started their search for Byrnes’ replacement, interviewing former Marlins GM Larry Beinfest on Friday and current Dodgers vice president of amateur scouting Logan White yesterday. Other names that have floated around over the past week include obvious up-and-comers like Mike Hazen (Red Sox), Jason McLeod* (Cubs), David Forst** (A’s), and Michael Girsch (Cardinals).

*McLeod, according to reports, will remain in Chicago.
**Update: Forst too has pulled his name, though I apparently missed it the first time around. 

Here are three names that aren’t currently getting that much attention.

Josh Stein

Background: Stein (36), a graduate of UC Berkeley and the University of California-Hastings Law School, has worked in the Padres front office since 2003, hired by Kevin Towers as an intern writing game reports, studying defense, and holding a radar gun. He’s climbed the organizational ladder from intern to coordinator of baseball research and advance scouting to director of baseball operations and, finally, to assistant general manager. Stein has worked on statistical analysis, video analysis/advance scouting, player contracts/acquisitions, and scouting/the draft during his time in San Diego.

The (likely) verdict: The fact that Stein’s name hasn’t been mentioned for the current GM opening, not even for a token interview like Padres staffers AJ Hinch and Omar Minaya will receive (if they are interested in one), probably means he isn’t a serious candidate for the job. Stein’s baseball career ended in high school and he doesn’t have a scouting background. Even today, a scouting background is probably the No. 1 factor for GM consideration, although front office lifers like Sandy Alderson made their way to the majors in similar fashion to Stein. Still seems likely that he’ll receive consideration for a GM role at some point.

Farhan Zaidi

Background: A graduate of MIT and UC Berkeley, Zaidi (37) has worked under Billy Beane in the Oakland A’s front office since 2005. He’s currently the A’s assistant general manager/director of baseball operations after spending the previous five seasons as director of baseball operations. According to the A’s website, Zaidi’s current responsibilities include:

providing statistical analysis for evaluating and targeting players in the amateur draft, free agent and trade markets. He also assists on arbitration cases, minor league contracts and works closely with the coaching staff during the season in analyzing data from advance scouting reports.

His boss also speaks highly of him:

“He’s absolutely brilliant,” Oakland general manager Billy Beane said. “He has a great qualitative mind, but also a creative mind. The ability to look at things both micro and macro is unique, and Farhan could do whatever he wants to do, not just in this game, but in any sport or any business. I’m more worried about losing him to Apple or Google than I am to another team.”

The (likely) verdict: Zaidi’s skill-set seems ideal to take over the Padres. He has experience working under the likes of Beane and David Forst, while also honing his skills for a cash-strapped, small-market organization. Further, Zaidi’s a new-school type comfortable with statistical analysis, but he’s also very much a proponent of tools and scouting. As a bonus, he was one of the architects behind the A’s signing of Yoenis Cespedes, and the Padres could use all the help they can get in the international market. The biggest problem with Zaidi may be prying him away from Beane’s grasp. According to the San Francisco Chronicle article linked above, at least one team has approached the A’s about hiring Zaidi away from Oakland, but they were turned away. If the Padres get to talk to him, Zaidi could be the perfect fit for the Padres GM opening.

Kim Ng

Background: Ng (45) has a lengthy major league track record, which started with the Chicago White Sox back in 1991. She moved on to the Yankees in 1998, where she was New York’s vice president and assistant general manager until 2001. She was hired by the Dodgers as assistant GM in 2001 and stayed with that organization until early 2011 when she transitioned to Major League Baseball’s offices to serve as senior vice president of baseball operations. Ng graduated from the University of Chicago.

The (likely) verdict: Just a few years ago, Ng was on everybody’s short list for a number of GM roles. She’s interviewed for the Dodgers (2005), Mariners (2008), and Padres (2009) GM positions in the past, but was never hired. While Ng’s fallen off the radar somewhat in recent years, according to a semi-recent article at Fox Sports, she still wants to be a major league GM:

You get to put together a club you think will be playing the last game in October, and that’s thrilling,” she said. “Making sure you have depth. Preparing for injuries. Unemotionally evaluating ballplayers. You have entrusted to you almost a public utility.

She’s a logical candidate with no current ties to another club … but would the Padres, the same Padres who won’t risk upsetting the applecart with jersey color schemes, be brave enough to hire the first women GM in major American professional sport? I don’t think so.

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  • Patrick R.

    I’ve been a huge proponent of Farhan Zaidi for awhile now, unfortunately, I don’t think it’ll happen, as much as I’d love for him to be the Pads’ GM. I wonder if both he and McLeod feel their work just isn’t done where they are until they win a championship. I’m not sure if I’m overestimating their competitiveness, but I could envision it being a factor.

    I’m kind of okay with Beinfest, even though others are scared off by the Miami Connection. I think he did some great work in Miami, with similar penny-pinching ownership.

    • Dustin

      It’s interesting how little turnover there has been in the A’s front office. Beane, Forst, Zaidi, Billy Owens, Chris Pittaro, Keith Liepmann, etc. have all been around forever.

      Beinfest’s resume seems okay, but I’m still holding out hope for one of the younger candidates without previous GM experience.

      • Russ

        I chalk the lack of turnover up to Beane’s management style. He clearly doesn’t have a problem delegating and letting his deputies do “the work.” It also likely has something to do with attracting like-minded smart guys: they know the playoffs are a crapshoot and value the ability to participate in a stimulating work environment.

      • Dustin

        That sounds about right. Oakland has to be one of the best front offices in baseball to work in.

        I just wonder if Beane/Oakland is less willing to let these guys leave for GM jobs. As I mentioned in the article, permission to talk to Zaidi was denied to at least one team in the past. I wonder if the Padres would get the okay to talk to him now; I sure hope they’ve inquired.

  • Tom Waits

    McLeod / Forst: Not everyone believes that it’s better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.

    • Dustin

      I hadn’t even noticed that Forst, like McLeod, has already pulled his name from consideration.

    • That’s the first Milton quote ever left on a baseball blog. Well done, sir.

  • Sac Bunt Chris

    I like that Farhan Zaidi’s resume includes working with on-field staff. I think bridging the gap between objective analysis and its real world implementation is a big part of a good front office skillset.

    It would be a good sign for Josh Stein to get an interview too.

    • Love to see Stein get an interview. Good guy, met him at a SABR event about 4 years ago.

      Also Fowler made a comment yesterday on Scott & BR that they would consider all qualified candidates regardless of gender. So they appear open to the idea, at least. He didn’t tip his hand on who, but you gotta think Ng is on a very short list.

      • Dustin

        Does anyone know/have any idea why Stein wouldn’t at least get an interview?

      • Because, Padres.

      • Dustin

        Fair enough. It does sound like Ng is going to receive consideration, which is encouraging.

      • You can explain anything with “Because, Padres.”
        Global warming? Because, Padres.
        Earthquakes? Because, Padres.
        Marijuana legalization? Because, Padres.