Jim Hendry has been relieved of his duties as general manager of the Chicago Cubs. We’ll have plenty of time to look back on his place in GM history, but for now, let’s look forward. Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts gave us the checklist today, when he said that he was looking for a candidate who had analytical experience in a winning front office and who would focus on player development. Time to rank the potential replacements using those requirements.
1. Rick Hahn, vice-president/assistant general manager of the Chicago White Sox
Sports Illustrated already ranked Hahn as baseball’s No. 1 GM candidate earlier this year, so there’s no groundbreaking stuff here. There are plenty of reasons to like Hahn’s resume, especially the education part. Hahn went from the University of Michigan to Harvard Law and then Kellogg Graduate School at Northwestern University. The last stop was a redirect — he was interested in getting into baseball, so he went to business school with that intention. Lest you think Hahn is being set up as a spreadsheet man, he’s a guy with an obvious passion for the game. As a 12-year-old Cubs fan, he was writing then-GM Dallas Green with trade ideas. Integral to the acquisitions of Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez, he’s not easy to pigeonhole, either. Hahn has had his name connected with the New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals jobs in the past few years, but this is a natural connection. A life-long Cubs fan with a different approach than Hendry’s, a track record of success, the ability to negotiate contracts, an eye for scouting and an analytical experience in the same town? Come on. Hahn’s the obvious front-runner for this job, if he wants it. And we’re not just saying that because he was an excellent panelist at the FanGraphs event in Arizona this year (although that does speak well of his media savvy).
2. Thad Levine, assistant general manager for the Texas Rangers
A former captain on the Haverford College basbeall team, Levine also has an MBA and experience negotiating contracts and providing statistical analysis for the Dodgers, Rockies and now Rangers. While his application might suffer a bit in local connections (compared to Hahn’s), Levine’s record has the benefit of recency. His work as Dan O’Dowd‘s right-hand man in Colorado was a huge part of that teams’ turnaround; and those familiar with Levine cite his charisma as something that might separate him from other numbers-based candidates. Texas is atop its division and he’s done his part to get the team there. He did just agree to a four-year extension with the Rangers; he doesn’t quite have Hahn’s public profile; and he hasn’t been as involved in scouting and player development as some other candidates. But the Rangers’ and Rockies’ successes speak well for him.
3. John Coppolella, director of baseball administration for the Atlanta Braves
This might be a surprising ranking for Coppolella, whose name hasn’t made the top of many high-profile GM-prospect rankings. But hidden within Ricketts’ checklist is a challenge to the field: By listing both player development and analytics, the team has signaled that he wants a GM who has a foot in both worlds. Count Coppolella among those matches. He developed the statistical systems for the Braves, known as an organization that trusts its scouts. He was the assistant director of pro scouting for the Yankees before he joined the Braves. Throughout his career, he’s demonstrated the ability to match scouting knowledge with the best available numbers and come to strong conclusions. The Braves have a record of success that helps him make his case, too, and Atlanta’s ability to plug homegrown players into important roles speaks loudest for Coppolella’s candidacy. The Notre Dame grad is good with the media and is in his early 30s — making him among the younger candidates on the list — which are both good qualities for a rebuilding team.
4. Kim Ng, senior vice-president for baseball operations with Major League Baseball
A University of Chicago grad, Ng has some local connections that might appeal to Ricketts. That isn’t to say the rest of her resume doesn’t stack up. She ran analytics for the White Sox as far back as 1996, when she was the youngest person to ever present an arbitration case. (In fact, she’s supposedly beaten Scott Boras in an arbitration hearing, which is a nice bullet point.) Then she was made the youngest assistant GM in baseball when the Yankees hired her in 1997. She went from large market to large market when she moved to the Dodgers in 2001. She’s interviewed for the Dodgers’, Padres’ and Mariners’ GM jobs to no avail, so it’s natural to wonder if baseball is ready for a female GM. Her player development experience also is unclear. One thing should be certain, though. Her move from the Dodgers to the league office is not a step back in her mind. She made clear that she still wants to be a GM and cited Sandy Alderson’s move from the same office to a front office job when taking her position with the league.
There are many more qualified candidates than we can profile here. Six-year assistant GM David Forst might be interviewed, as he graduated from scouting into the Oakland front office — a career path that suggest a comfort with both scouting and stats. Jerry DiPoto has been the head of scouting in Arizona, and he’s comfortable with statistical analysis. But is he strong with numbers? Michael Chernoff in the Indians front office is good with the media and the spreadsheet, but he doesn’t have the most experience on this list. Ben Cherington was a scout and works with Theo Epstein in Boston, and was even the interim GM there. A dark-horse candidate might be Seattle assistant GM Jeff Kingston. Pat Gillick has been mentioned, but is he up for a long-term rebuild? Ned Colletti has been bandied about, as well, but it’s unclear that he has the statistical chops to hang with this group.
One thing is for certain: If Ricketts is serious about more commitment to statistical analysis, then that alone is a good sign for the organization. Maybe someone on this list will help the team find what they lost so long ago.