What is known about the Angels GM search based on 14 candidates interviewed
As the Angels pare down a list of at least 14 baseball executives who have interviewed for the opening of general manager, a few things are clear about their candidate pool.
Experience as a former general manager is not a prerequisite. And a focus on scouting and player development appears preferred to a reliance on analytics.
The goal of the new general manager, who is expected to be hired by Thanksgiving after one to two more rounds of interviews, won’t just be to deliver the Angels their first playoff berth since 2014. It will be to build a sustainable team heading into a 2021 season that figures to present the best opportunity in years for a shift in divisional power.
The Houston Astros saw four players become free agents last week, including outfielders Michael Brantley, George Springer and Josh Reddick. The Oakland Athletics had 10 players declare for free agency. Among them were 2019 MVP finalist Marcus Semien; All-Star closer Liam Hendriks; relievers Joakim Soria and Yusmeiro Petit; and starters Mike Fiers and Mike Minor.
Neither the A’s nor the Astros, who spent the last three seasons jockeying with each other for the top spot in the AL West, are known for handing out pricey free-agent contracts.
And neither team has a strong farm system. Baseball America’s latest organizational talent rankings had the Athletics 15th and the Astros second-worst.
The Angels also received poor ratings on the minor league side, coming in 17th following the 2020 amateur draft.
It is not yet clear how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the Angels’ 2021 payroll. The league experienced operational losses of about $3 billion, Commissioner Rob Manfred said last week in an interview with Sportico. Like other teams, the Angels have previously furloughed and laid off employees because of the decline in revenue and consolidation in the minor leagues.
But the Angels, known for splurging, have $428.2 million tied up in contracts for perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout and elite third baseman Anthony Rendon through 2026. They cannot tear down the organization and rebuild. Team President John Carpino, who is leading the GM search with the help of senior advisor and former Angels GM Bill Stoneman, said in September the organization feels a responsibility to surround Trout with talent, “to be able to perform on the game's greatest stage.”
So the Angels could pull ahead of their main division rivals if owner Arte Moreno gives his new general manager some financial wiggle room.
Of course, it will take more than a spending spree to position the Angels for long-term success. That’s where the credentials of the new head of the baseball operations department will come into play.
Most of the candidates, whose interviews were confirmed by several people with knowledge of the search, have decades of experience in scouting. Dan Jennings and Billy Owens have long been considered among the game’s best talent evaluators. Logan White, Jason McLeod and Amiel Sawdaye were the architects of drafts that brought in Clayton Kershaw (White with the Dodgers), Kris Bryant (McLeod, Chicago Cubs) and Mookie Betts (Sawdaye, Boston Red Sox), among many others.
Kansas City executives Scott Sharp, JJ Picollo and Gene Watson helped build the Royals teams that went to back-to-back World Series and won the championship in 2015. Jared Porter, Ruben Amaro Jr., Bobby Evans, Michael Hill, Sawdaye, McLeod and Jennings also won World Series titles as members of the front offices in Boston (Porter and Sawdaye), Philadelphia (Amaro), San Francisco (Evans), Miami (Hill and Jennings), Chicago (McLeod and Porter) and Washington (Jennings).
Justin Hollander, a vice president and assistant general manager of baseball operations in Seattle who previously worked for the Angels' front office, and Matt Arnold, a senior vice president and assistant general manager in Milwaukee, also have dabbled in scouting and gained experience in player development and roster construction.
Amaro, Jennings, Evans and Hill are the only ones of the 14 who have previously served as general managers. The rest have, at a minimum, attained the title of vice president.
The candidates have two commonalities: All have put together winning MLB teams and helped develop minor league systems that consistently produce top-tier talent.
Dave Dombrowski, currently part of a group trying to bring Major League Baseball to Nashville, Tenn., was speculated to be a leading candidate even before the Angels fired general manager Billy Eppler during the final weekend of the 2020 season. But it seems as though Dombrowski, who won the World Series as the GM of the Marlins in 1997 and the president of baseball operations of the Red Sox in 2018, might not be in the running. The veteran has always preferred to operate with autonomy, which might be difficult to arrange in Anaheim where Moreno wields heavy influence on baseball decisions. And, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dombrowski is more interested in the Philadelphia Phillies’ GM vacancy.
Whoever gets the Angels' job will build out the baseball operations staff as he sees fit. Eppler's assistant general managers, Jonathan Strangio and Steve Martone, left the organization once their contracts expired last week.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.