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Breaking down the GM candidates

philadelphia-phillies-pThe process to find the next general manager of the Phillies is winding down. According to team officials, a decision could be made by next week, in time for the annual organizational meetings.

A few names have been leaked as general manager candidates. But who are these people, and what could they mean for the future of the Phillies? Let’s break it down.

Confirmed or highly sourced: The following names have been reported as serious candidates for the position.

Ross Atkins
Current: Vice president of player personnel, Cleveland Indians

Atkins, a former minor league pitcher with the Indians, steadily moved up the ladder much like Ruben Amaro Jr. with the Phillies. For eight years Atkins headed player development in Cleveland before being promoted to an executive-level role for 2015.

We can assess some of Atkins’ work as director of player development from 2007-14. During that time the following players developed in the Indians’ system – Carlos Santana, Matt LaPorta, Hector Rondon, Lonnie Chisenhall, Michael Brantley, Luis Valbuena, Jason Kipnis, Drew Pomeranz, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Francisco Lindor and Danny Salazar, among others. Interesting to note is the amount of Latin players, since Atkins specializes in understanding the Latin pipelines.

Also interesting to note is Kluber, who was thought to be a fringe starting pitcher in the minors, but became one of the American League’s best pitchers, winning the Cy Young in 2014. Kluber is a true product of the Indians’ development program.

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Larry Beinfest
Current: N/A

Beinfest is the most experienced name being bandied about for the job. His career stretches 25 years, starting in Seattle, where he became assistant to the vice president of baseball operations in 1998. He was assistant general manager in Montreal, becoming interim general manager for a short period of time.

Beinfest is more popularly known, however, for running the then-Florida Marlins as general manager from 2002-07, and as president of baseball operations from 2007-13. During those 12 years, Beinfest was in charge with basically carrying out owner Jeffrey Loria’s wishes. If Loria wanted to spend, Beinfest would spend. If Loria wanted to sell, well, that happened, too.

Give Beinfest credit: he made the most of it. After 2002 he traded for Juan Pierre and Mark Redman, then signed Ivan Rodriguez. During the 2003 season he traded for Ugueth Urbina (trading away a prospect named Adrian Gonzalez) and Jeff Conine. Those moves, plus the development of Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett, helped the Marlins win the World Series in 2003.

The rest of Beinfest’s career in Miami would be a combination of random big-time signings (Carlos Delgado in 2005) and major roster guttings, which included trades of Delgado, plus Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Luis Castillo. For all of that the Marlins received Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez, basically. As president he oversaw the trade of Willis and Miguel Cabrera to Detroit, which worked out poorly for him.

Also Beinfest never quite drafted well, except for a second-round pick in 2007 named Mike Stanton, who would later want to be called Giancarlo. And he oversaw the selection in 2011 of Jose Fernandez, who when healthy, is very good.

Give Beinfest credit for doing as much as possible with very little – and under Loria of all people – but the draft history is a little too shaky. Also giving pause: Beinfest is not known as a celebrator of advanced metrics as a tool for player evaluation.

And just to update, there have been reports that Beinfest is out of the running.

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Matt Klentak
Current: Assistant general manager, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Klentak should be considered a favorite for one clear reason: past experience with Phillies President Andy MacPhail. Klentak worked with MacPhail in the Baltimore Orioles’ front office from 2008 to ‘11 as his director of baseball operations. For the last four years he was assistant general manager for the Angels under Jerry Dipoto.

Thus, Klentak has experience as a top baseball operations executive for two front offices, one with a high payroll, and one with a medium-sized payroll.

During his tenure leading baseball operations in Baltimore, the Orioles never finished with more than 69 wins. Of course, in 2012 the Orioles shot up into the 90-win plateau, thanks partly to a young core (Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, Zach Britton) developed during the MacPhail-Klentak era.

Meanwhile the Angels fared better between 2012 and ‘15. What Klentak had to do with it is not altogether certain – since Mike Scioscia seems to pull a lot of the strings out there – but according to stories published about him during the time, he handled contracts and utilized advanced metrics in player evaluation. He openly said he wasn’t strictly interested in advanced metrics, but embraced it enough to use it in the front office.

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J.J. Picollo
Current: Vice president and assistant general manager of player personnel, Kansas City Royals

Being a top executive in the front office of the reigning American League Champions (and current ALCS competitor) is a solid way to become a general manager candidate. Picollo has demonstrated aptitude in this role, which began in 2008 as the director of scouting. Born and raised in Philadelphia – later moving to Cherry Hill, N.J. – Picollo’s career in baseball began with Atlanta in 1999, where he moved up to the role of director of minor league operations.

The Royals are the model of a long turnaround, which has been led by General Manager Dayton Moore. He took over in 2006 and after trying, and failing, to build a winner early, Moore began an aggressive rebuild that coincided with Picollo’s first years on the job. In 2012 they traded Mike Montgomery and Wil Myers, among others, to Tampa Bay for James Shields and Wade Davis, among others.

Myers was drafted by Picollo in 2009, as was Aaron Crow. In 2008 he drafted a pretty good player in Eric Hosmer, with the third overall pick. In 2010 he drafted, with the fourth pick, Christian Colon, who has failed to break out in Kansas City. But also in 2010, the Royals traded Zack Greinke to Milwaukee for a number of players including Lorenzo Cain. That has worked out well for Kansas City, even as Greinke has remained one of baseball’s top pitchers.

Picollo – who by the way was a big fan of the Phillies during the 1970s and ‘80s – is the product of a patient organization. He clearly helped put together the team that’s now an elite group, and he did so in a small market with plenty of player movement.

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Matt Slater
Current: Director of player personnel, St. Louis Cardinals

Slater has been near the top of the Cardinals’ front office since 2007. That’s pretty much as good as it gets in baseball.

His time in baseball goes back to 1991 as a teen scouting assistant with the Brewers. He became administrator of scouting for Baltimore in 1995, then joined the Dodgers as their director of scouting operations and, later, director of baseball operations. He also has experience working with Japanese clubs, serving as consultant to the Orix Buffaloes.

As director of player personnel, Slater likely has his hand in acquistions and player development. Because of his scouting background, we can assume he’s had a say in draft picks, including Matt Carpenter, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Trevor Rosenthal, Kolten Wong, Michael Wacha and the late Oscar Taveres.

The Cardinals are known to have a substantial analytics department, built more than a decade ago. And as we know, they get a lot out of their young talent.

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Rumored but not serious: The following names have come up in rumors regarding the position:

Both Ben Cherington and Kim Ng have been reported as candidates, but questions of veracity and seriousness have been raised.

Cherington was general manager for the Red Sox from 2011-15, and his tenure may actually be better than people think. The metrics-inclinded general manager first saw a floundering team fall apart in 2012. He rehabbed that club quickly, amid media and fan pressure, and assembled a machine of spare parts that won the 2013 World Series. Then he disassembled the machine to focus on youth. That youth is part of a great farm system now, but of course, Cherington added some odd free agent parts (Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez) without addressing the pitching staff. So he was ousted. Good at times, bad at others, always working against the big-market circus of Boston.

Ng, meanwhile (prononuced Ang), is senior vice president for baseball operations in Major League Baseball. Previously she served as vice president and assistant general manager of both the Yankees and Dodgers. With the Yankees she served between 1998 and 2001, a time of major success for the Bombers. She was with the Dodgers for 10 years, during which they reached the postseason four times, losing twice in the NLCS to the Phillies. Among everyone rumored as a candidate, Ng has the most experience in a major market. Her expertise seems to be in finance and negotiation, though with the Dodgers she also worked in scouting and ran the team’s Dominican development system.

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Who’s right for the job?

Well, that’s hard to say. It actually seems as if all the candidates listed are viable and strong candidates. I love that Kim Ng has major-market experience and has dabbled in multiple facets of running a front office, but it’s uncertain that she’s even a serious candidate. She would probably be my favorite if she was.

If not, though, each candidate offers something worthy. I like Matt Slater because of the Cardinals’ track record of success. I also like Matt Klentak because he would likely push analytics to the forefront. Then again, you want someone with a good natural scouting eye, so a Ross Atkins looks good, too.

Picollo, to me, is the interesting one. He’s a local guy, plus he is partially responsible for putting together a pretty solid group of young players in Kansas City. But it took a long time for him and Dayton Moore to get there.

I’m not that high on Beinfest, though. Cherington? He could be interesting, and I think he got an unfair shake in Boston, but then again, maybe he shouldn’t be in Philly then.

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