By all appearances, Tom Ricketts is a very lucky man.
Good family, good job, good clothes, maybe even has a dog that rests its head on his knee every evening.
Sam Zell came along, and Ricketts was fortunate enough to be standing nearby when Zell, to no one's surprise, discovered he had no stomach for sun-drenched bleachers, a ballpark named Wrigley and that sort of nonsense.
So, for something like $845 million in October 2009, the Ricketts family purchased the Chicago Cubs. Tom became chairman, siblings Laura, Pete and Todd became board members, and the dog won a roster spot out of spring training.
But that isn't even the lucky part.
This is: Change has found the Cubs, and therefore it has found Ricketts, and that is a good thing.
The team is 27 games under .500 in the "My family and I are Cubs fans" era. The iconic manager retired last summer. Many of the players are overpaid or not very good or both. Fifth place in the NL Central, for a second consecutive summer, sounds about right. Of the remaining 35 games, the Cubs would have to win 20 to finish with a better record than last season, which was a total disappointment.
That's in spite of spending $280 million on payroll over the past two years.
Jim Hendry, the general manager, was fired Friday after nine years, some of them competitive, too many of them not. Tom Ricketts explained that he wanted to win more baseball games, which doesn't seem too much to ask. Presumably, he'll also be seeking a team with more composure, more focus, more selflessness and less Carlos Zambrano(notes).
For the moment, he'll settle for the wins, though it is again too late to save this version of the Cubs, which does not pitch well, fields worse, and suddenly can't create games big enough to hold its shortstop's attention.
All of this means change. Again. Fast. And, hopefully, this time, smart.
This means Ricketts, because while buying a franchise means you get to walk the bleachers for free, it isn't the same as running the franchise or making something of it.
It starts here, with hiring a general manager for a job that's ended poorly for more than a century of guys just like Hendry, most of them desperately trying to clean up after the last guy, who was only trying to clean up after the guy before him.
Ricketts has stated he prefers an outsider from a winning culture with a track record in player development and fluency in the newer evaluation metrics.
If that doesn't narrow the field for you, it shouldn't, as that describes a lot of people. Ricketts also seems to be leaning toward candidates with prior experience as general manager, presumably not because they might have prior experience in being fired, too.
For a franchise going on its sixth generation of misfortune, it's a great job. Or could be. The Cubs regularly outspend the rest of the division. People never stop coming to the ballpark and pretty much figure on losing. You get lots of evenings off.
So, with so much of the game leaning on his shoulders, Ricketts gets to remake the Cubs with a new leader in the front office, and probably a new leader on the field, and that'll just leave the clubhouse, which is a whole different story.
Broken into divisions, here's a list of potential candidates, should-be candidates and a couple sleeper candidates who would deserve consideration:
Old Guard Division
Pat Gillick, special adviser, Phillies. Four-time general manager, three World Series champions, one Hall of Fame induction. He's 74 and reportedly satisfied with his current job.
Terry Ryan, senior adviser, Twins. The longtime Twins general manager is worth a phone call.
Winning Culture Division
Andrew Friedman, GM, Rays. The favorite among industry types who believe his philosophy and style are exactly what the Cubs need. His work in St. Pete borders on miraculous.
Brian Cashman, GM, Yankees. Five championships in, Cashman is under contract through the end of the season. He has told reporters he has no interest in moving to Chicago.
Theo Epstein, GM, Red Sox. Signed through 2012, there's little reason to believe Epstein would leave Boston, but the challenge could intrigue him.
What They Could Do with a Payroll Division
Kevin Towers, GM, Diamondbacks. A year into a two-year contract (with two options that could take him to 2016), Towers required about two weeks to make the Diamondbacks relevant.
Ned Colletti, GM, Dodgers. Chicago-(and Cub-)bred, Colletti gets the culture of the city and its team. He had the Dodgers on the verge of the World Series twice before the franchise collapsed around him.
Larry Beinfest, president, Marlins. While the Marlins skimp, Beinfest consistently puts electric talent on the field.
Billy Beane, GM, A's. A huge name with a contract through 2014 and an ownership stake in the A's, Beane has shown little desire to leave Oakland.
Mike Rizzo, GM, Nationals. He's been out in front of the Nats' plan to rise in the NL East through scouting and development.
Next Up Division
Rick Hahn, assistant GM, White Sox. Considered by many the most qualified assistant-in-waiting in the game.
Thad Levine, assistant GM, Rangers. Has had a hand in turning the Rangers into the new beast of the AL West.
Ben Cherington, assistant GM, Red Sox. Baseball people describe him as an adept listener and problem solver.
David Forst, assistant GM, A's. Beane relies on Forst to handle more than the typical assistant.
Kim Ng, VP, MLB. The former Yankees and Dodgers assistant has the end-to-end skills to turn a franchise.
Wild Card Division
Josh Byrnes, senior VP, baseball operations, Padres. The former Diamondbacks GM was a finalist for the Mets job that went to Sandy Alderson.
Allard Baird, VP, player personnel, Red Sox. A savvy baseball man who knows and grows talent, Baird, the former Royals GM, will get a second chance.
- Tom Ricketts