Josh Byrnes remains one of the more likely candidates for the Chicago Cubs open general manager job, but, for some reason, you don’t hear a whole lot about him. Maybe it’s because he’s not a current GM, or because he doesn’t have the cachet of an Epstein, a Cashman, or a Friedman. Maybe there’s a reason to which we’re not privy.

Whatever the reason, I’ve been gathering links on Byrnes over the past week, and, in reviewing them, a clear sentiment emerges: he’s not many folks’ favorite to land the gig. That’s not to say he’s unlikely; it’s just that it doesn’t sound like too many people are a fan. I’m not sure I understand why.

At worst, I’m ambivalent on Byrnes. At best, I like him in the upper tier of candidates.

Just two years ago, I’m certain he would have been headlining many lists. At the time, he was a hot-shot, first-time GM, building an impressive stable of prospects on a cost-conscious team in Arizona. He had made his bones with the Rockies and then with the Red Sox when they finally won it all (he was Ben Cherington before Ben Cherington was Ben Cherington). He was a “new breed” GM, valuing emerging statistical models blended with scouting. By most accounts, he was an honest man of high integrity. What’s not to like? That guy certainly fits Tom Ricketts’ criteria for the Cubs’ job.

As near as I can tell, the primary reason Byrnes doesn’t excite as a candidate is because, despite that background, he was fired by the Diamondbacks mid-season last year. Brief Googling will tell you that the firing was shocking, and considering a huge mistake by many at the time.

For example, a Fangraphs article from just after the firing argues that the team’s woes at the time were not reflective of Byrnes’ tenure as GM – which had been considered largely successful. The article also notes things that ESPN’s Buster Olney was hearing from rival executives at the time, decrying the move as “a brutal decision,” and “absolutely crazy.” One executive said, “[The Diamondbacks] just tore apart one of the best front offices in baseball.” It’s no surprise, then, that Byrnes quickly caught on as the Director of Baseball Ops with the San Diego Padres, where he’s employed today.

Many would argue that the Diamondbacks’ current success is the product of Byrnes’ five years as Diamondbacks’ GM (November 2005 to June 2010). Most of the young core upon which the Diamondbacks have built their NL West-leading squad were either drafted, developed, or acquired under Byrnes’ watch, or are the product of trades involving players drafted, developed, or acquired under Byrnes’ watch.

So, if he was building such a solid base, why was he fired? No one knows for certain, but the most popular explanation is that upper management ordered Byrnes to fire then-ineffective manager AJ Hinch, and Byrnes refused. Thus, both were fired.

That explanation doesn’t put Byrnes in the most favorable light – indeed, it paints him as the kind of stubborn, loyal-to-a-fault type of GM with which the Cubs are all too familiar – but neither does it demonstrate he’s anything but the brilliant executive his past would otherwise indicate.

In any event, these are all things to keep in mind when considering the candidacy of Byrnes, and reading links like those that follow. I’m still not sure how I feel about Byrnes as a candidate, but I know that there are a lot of reasons to like him, and only mysterious, hard-to-articulate reasons to be wary. Byrnes is likely to remain in the discussion for a while, though, as he’s been rumored to be interested in the Cubs’ job for more than two months.

Some recent links of note:

  • Phil Rogers puts his position bluntly: “You can always spread around credit for a team’s success, and Byrnes certainly made moves that are still paying off, but this is a franchise that had been run into the ground before Kevin Towers restored credibility after Byrnes’ firing midway through 2010. Here’s hoping Tom Ricketts won’t get oversold on Byrnes. There are better candidates out there.” Harsh, bro.
  • Jon Heyman explains, in a list of prospective candidates, that Byrnes was the runner-up for the Mets job last year. Considering that he had just been fired, clearly the rest of baseball didn’t have its impression of Byrnes colored by the Diamondbacks’ abrupt decision.
  • Gordon Wittenmyer calls Byrnes a “flame-out” story, without any discussion. I would love to know why Wittenmyer considers Byrnes a flame-out. Does he know something about the reason for Byrnes’ termination that we don’t?

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  • Coal

    Here’s hoping that Ricketts isn’t going to make the decision based on nebulous reporting. I’m pretty sure he can (and will) find out what went on in Arizona behind the scenes if needed. Thus, if Byrnes is interviewed, or if he is named GM, let’s trust that the due diligence was done and move forward instead of crucifying Byrnes (or anyone else not named Theo) before they even get going. It’s going to take a little bit of a leap of faith here on all fronts. And a culture change not only within the organization but also within the fan base. Success for the Cubs won’t happen overnight.

    • Brett

      Well said. So far, Ricketts has earned my trust.

      • Deez

        I respect Ricketts but I don’t trust him until we field a winner. Time will tell

        • Jason

          Yes but the problem is that if he is hired the Chicago sportswriters absolutely won’t let last years abrupt firing go and we all know that. They’re likely overreacting as they do on everything but it will be a circus nonetheless.

          And o don’t like him for one reason – AJ Hinch. That was a terrible hire

  • Jeff

    Brett, you’ve really stepped up your game lately.  This was the best writeup on a prospective gm that I’ve seen anywhere.  I have to agree with you on Byrnes on all accounts, he just seems to be flying under the smoke screen of the big names and local favorites.  It probably doesn’t help that he’s working in San Diego, which doesn’t get much publicity aside from when someone is about to be traded away.  If Byrnes ends up as the new gm, I would be happy with the decision.

    • Brett

      Thanks, Jeff. I do what I can.

  • DaveB23

    Anyone short of Epstein will be a disappointment. Nothing against Byrnes, I just don’t think he will have what it takes to turn around an organization like this into a World Series champion. We DO know that Epstein does have what it takes to do that, because he succeeded in turning around a Boston organization that was in a similar situation that we are now.
    Brett, while I agree that Ricketts has earned my trust, I feel that he should be doing anything and everything in his power to pry Epstein from Boston.
    Ill reiterate my belief that Epstein will only consider leaving Boston if offered a president of baseball ops position. While I trust Ricketts, I’ll reiterate my fear that he will not back down from his plan of running the baseball side himself, which will cause me to no longer trust Ricketts because he will not be doing what is in the best interest of the Cubs to turn them into a World Series champ. I don’t think anybody can argue that Ricketts is more qualified/better candidate to run the baseball side of things than Epstein would be. And sorry, but Brynes, Hahn, Ng, or whoever else is not going to cut it. How many World Series championships do all of the prospective GMs have combined? (Im pretty sure its zero). Now compare that to how many Epstein has on his own

    • Brett

      I’m not saying I disagree that Epstein would be the top choice, but, if you consider anyone other than Epstein a failure, there’s a 98% chance of failure.

      • DaveB23

        I totally agree the possibility of Epstein leaving Boston are very remote (maybe not as low as 2%, but very low). However, as a Cubs fan I’m used to 100% chance of failure, and I feel any other candidate getting hired will continue that 100% chance of failure trend. None of the other candidates have been able to win a WS with an organization that wasn’t the lovable loser-Cubs, so I don’t see how we can expect them to win their first here. Epstein is the only guy whose proven he can do it (considering Boston was the only other organization that was ‘cursed’ like we ‘are’).
        I’ll take making a run at Epstein with 98% chance of failure over the 100% failure that will ensue with any of these other World Series-less candidates. But therein lies the problem, will Ricketts sack up and offer the president of baseball ops gig to Epstein? Even if it is only a 2% chance that Epstein will take it, Ricketts has to make the offer in the first place (gotta buy a ticket to win the lotto) and I’m afraid Ricketts won’t even buy the ticket and simply offer him the GM spot (which puts the chances of Epstein leaving Boston at zero percent)

        • Brett

          That’s all fine, and I know what you mean. I’m just saying that, if Epstein takes *himself* out of the running (which is highly, highly likely), there’s nothing the Cubs could have done differently. And, in that case, there are plenty of other candidates about whom I can get excited.

          • DaveB23

            This is true, and I’m sorry if I sound like I’m going overboard with the pro-Epstein-love parade. I guess I should clarify my argument to say that, while I understand its highly, highly likely that Epstein takes himself out of the running, I guess my biggest fear is that Ricketts himself takes Epstein out of the running by not offering Epstein the president gig.
            Even if its only a 2% chance that Epstein agrees to leave Boston, we’ll never truly know unless Ricketts offers him the President gig (because we know Epstein won’t leave Boston for a mere GM gig).
            If Ricketts does not offer him this position, then I will have lost trust/respect for him because he would be putting himself ahead of the organization and what is in the organization’s best interest to win a WS. Even though its only a 2% chance, Ricketts still needs to try it because it would be the best possible scenario for the organization. If Ricketts actually DOES offer the pres. gig and Epstein still says no, than so be it, at least we would know that Ricketts did everything in his power, and we could move on. But I’m starting to think more and more that Ricketts will not do this.

            • Brett

              A hypothetical that tests your resolve:

              Let’s imagine that Epstein refuses to give Ricketts any kind of indication, one way or another, whether he’s interested in the Cubs. At most, he says, “wait until November, and maybe we’ll talk.”

              In the meantime, Andrew Friedman lets Ricketts know through back channels that he’s interested. In fact, he’s so interested, that he’d take the gig. But there’s a catch: if Ricketts doesn’t pull the trigger by mid-October, Friedman is going to Houston.

              It’s mid-October, and you’re Ricketts. What do you do?

              I know what I’d do, as much as I might pine for Epstein.

              • Cheryl

                Don’t the Diamondbacks have a reputation of firing people? I think I’ve read of three managers and fired in the last eight years. I still prefer someone other than Byrnes, but wonder if he’s getting an unfair rap?

              • DaveB23

                Touche Brett, this is quite the hypothetical. I guess in this situation I’d agree with you that Ricketts has to pull the trigger in mid-October and couldn’t wait on the chance to talk to Epstein while letting Friedman slip away (outside of Epstein, Friedman is really the only other candidate that excites me).

                Friedman is from the Houston area and has been tied to the Astros in the past though, correct? Part of me believes that Houston would be his first choice anyway, meaning he wouldn’t tell Ricketts he’d take the Cubs GM position unless the Houston position was somehow no longer available. This would give Ricketts more time to wait on the RedSox season ending/feeling out Epstein. But on the other hand I have a hard time thinking any GM would want to turn down the opportunity that the Cubs gig presents, and maybe if Ricketts pounced early then Friedman wouldn’t be able to pass up such an opportunity.

                I guess our best hope is that the RedSox flame out of the playoffs early (like, first-round early), giving Ricketts a chance to feel out Epstein once the RedSox season is over, while still having the remaining candidates on the board because its early enough that no one else has hired anyone away.

              • Mike Foster

                In 2005 after 3 years with Boston, hiring Francona and winning in 2004 Epstein resigned the last day of his contract with Boston. Then he signed as manager again in early 2006. He wanted something, he got something, but not Pres of Baseball Operations. I bet he still wants that, and prolly feels he’s now earned it. Hard to disagree there. So now the Cubs want him, and he wants Pres of Ops again. I bet he uses that to leverage Boston to give it to him, unless Ricketts can match that and sign him first. So, if October 15th comes and no talkie with Theo, you sign Friedman. My 2 cents.

        • Jason

          Right but Epstein also hadn’t won a world series when he was hired by Boston – that seems to have worked out for them?

          The mentality that we absolutely fail if we don’t land Epstein is exactly the type of attitude that needs to change around this organization. He isn’t the only GM that can lead this team to a WS and to suggest that that is the case is false.

          • Jason

            Also, let’s not forget that Epstein’s tenure with the Sawx started at the same time the new owners started to spend a lot of money. There’s probably a slight correlation between the two.

            Sure, Epstein won with a big payroll while Hendry couldn’t but that’s also why Hendry is gone

            • DaveB23

              The reason that Epstein hadn’t won a World Series prior to coming to the Red Sox was because he was frickin TWENTY EIGHT years old, youngest GM in baseball history, and he hadn’t been a GM before that. It was his first gig, and he cashed in on it almost immediately. None of the other GM candidates (in their careers so far) came close to having the type of success that Epstein had in the amazingly short period of time that Epstein did so in. He proved right off the bat he’s got it.
              The money argument really proves nothing. He had the payroll, but so have many other clubs that haven’t done diddly squat.

              And as I attempted to clear up in my previous post, I’m not advocating the mentality that “we absolutely fail if we don’t land Epstein.”
              Im advocating the mentality the Ricketts simply should do everything he possibly can to land Epstein, even if the possibility is remote. Doing everything he possibly can means offering Epstein the president of baseball ops gig. Like I stated earlier, if Ricketts does this and Epstein declines, then so be it, at least we know Ricketts did all he could to try and land the best possible candidate, and at that point we could move on to the next best option.

              HOWEVER, my point has been that I fear Ricketts won’t swallow his pride and offer this position to Epstein, because Ricketts will refuse to allow anyone but himself hold that title. In this case Ricketts wouldn’t even be giving the Cubs a chance to see if Epstein would come, and thus Ricketts would fail at at least taking a shot at putting the organization in the best possible position to win (because whether you like it or not, Epstein IS our BEST option to help us win. Hes not the ONLY option that could succeed in doing so, but he has the BEST shot of anyone to do so)

              • Mike Foster

                Dave, I don’t think it’s about Ricketts swallowing his pride, it’s about protecting his investment…..until he is sure about the guys ability to prove his worth, and he gets to watch him operate.. I’m betting Ricketts will offer a short term to Epstein with performance requirements and then give him the Pres of Ops when we make the playoffs 2 consecutive years, something like that.

              • Jason

                But there are a ton of GM candidates that haven’t had the chance yet, how do we know that they don’t “have it”?

                And if you haven’t noticed, the team that Byrnes has largely constructed is likely going to win the NL
                West this year.

                I’m not suggesting that n that Epstein isn’t good because he has put those teams together but you simPly can’t discount the fact that he’s playing with the second highest payroll in baseball. He should have a top team every year

          • miggy80

            You beat me to the punch Jason, Theo wasn’t on anybody’s radar when he was hired as the youngest GM. He didn’t even play highschool baseball and having the mentality of “%100 failure if we don’t sign him” has probably lead us to some of the contracts we wish we could get rid of.

  • Os Ursinhos

    As a San Diego resident, anyone that worked for the Padres should not be considered for the Cubs GM spot. Unless you know you like lineups that have 8 hitters that bat .200. Just sayin.

  • Lou

    I’ve had a change of heart on Byrnes. Initially, thought he was solid, but after I heard (mainly from harsh Phil Rogers) that he burned bridges in Arizona, don’t think I want him. The guy I think is flying under the radar, John Coppellela.

    • Brett

      He’s definitely an intriguing option. A lot of those assistants in top organizations are. My gut, and it’s nothing more than that, tells me the Cubs end up either with Byrnes, or one of the top assistants.

      • Lou

        I just think he makes more sense. Coppellela has Chicago connections and I think the Cubs need to pattern their team after the Braves. That, IMO, just seems to be more realistic. Let the Red Sox be the RED SOX. And let them spend, spend to cover their bad contracts. Why? because they can.

        • Jeff

          I wouldn’t mind seeing Coppollela as gm either.  I think his work in Atlanta speaks for itself and he also has the Yankee pedigree going for him.  If a big name doesn’t work out, he wouldn’t be a bad fall back candidate.

  • Coal

    Let’s remember that there is a huge gap between Theo (or whoever the most attractive candidate might be) and Jim Hendry. Lots of room for an upgrade. I still maintain that we need somebody with something to prove – the level of effort required is going to be off the charts. As much as I like him, I don’t think Theo needs to prove anything to anybody anymore.

  • NL_Cubs

    Byrnes is so far down on my list that he’s not even on it!

    Here’s my short list (in no particular order, well, maybe it is) for next Cubs GM.

    1. Theo Epstein (Bo-Sox GM)
    2. Brian Cashman (NYY GM)
    3. Ben Cherington (Bo-Sox AGM)
    4. Jerry Dipoto (Ranger AGM)
    5. Rick Hahn (White Sux AGM)

    Best case scenario; Ricketts gets a portion of the needed $400M renovation funds from the city within the next two months. Crane “Clown” Kenney has been behind the scenes to help get this deal done and once the “rehab the old maid” funding program is secured, Kenney is expendable.

    The next Cubs GM will more than likely be seated in promoted status, meaning a GM won’t accept a lateral GM title An assistant GM would take a GM position. A current GM would need a title / responsibility upgrade to President / Vice President of Baseball Operations.

    So with renovation funding secured and post season complete, all candidates are now available for job discussions / offers. Out goes Kenney, in walks Epstein who wears two hats for a couple years as he puts his mark on his new project and grooms “his” future GM before taking over as full time prez.

    If my best case scenario fails to play out, then just go after Cherington. It’s the next best thing to Theo plus, he’ll have a direct, speed dial line to his old boss in Beantown.

    • Brett

      Why don’t you like Byrnes? I can absolutely see choosing those five guys ahead of him, by the way. But I’ve yet to hear a convincing reason not to also be ok with Byrnes.

  • hardtop

    “…but I know that there are a lot of reasons to like him, and only mysterious, hard-to-articulate reasons to be wary.”

    It seems to me the major knock on byrnes is more about what he didnt do, or rather who he didnt keep.

    he signed Eric Byrnes to an extension that maybe prevented him from keeping some future stars and forced him to trade others.

    he traded carlos gonzalez (ouch!) among others, for dan haren (and a big contract).

    traded away jose valverde for a bucket of nothing

    lost uggla to the rule 5 draft thingy

    traded away carlos quentin

    hindsights 20/20.. who could know what kind of players these guys would turn out to be…  but i guess the point isnt it? a good GM does know what kind of player a guy will turn out to be.

    I don’t know… he doesnt really do it for me.  But I will say arizona has some awesome, athletic, young players and I do like that.

    • Brett

      Thanks for that, ht. The only thing is, and I’m not trying to become the “Byrnes Defender,” but you could come up with a list like that for any GM who’s worked for more than a year. Even Epstein has some pretty serious skeletons.

      • hardtop

        yep.  for sure.  im just sharing what his critics have said… not suggesting its a legit reason to leave him off the list.  Thats the only bad i’ve heard.   i totally agree with you: one can find an *uh-oh* list for pretty much anyone.  i think, with uggla and cargo going nutso the last couple/few years, his “mistakes” are just a little more tangible… for the moment. 

        ive heard some bad about kim ng though… total hearsay.  ill share it sometime soon.

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  • dreese

    Really good article Brett!

    • Brett

      Thanks, dreese. I was pleased with it.