Obsessive Cubs GM Watch: Why Isn’t Josh Byrnes a More Popular Candidate?

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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Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

35 responses to “Obsessive Cubs GM Watch: Why Isn’t Josh Byrnes a More Popular Candidate?”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. Obsessive Cubs GM Watch: Beane, Friedman, DiPoto, and Other Bullets | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary

    [...] Rogers says Arizona assistant GM Jerry DiPoto (who served under Josh Byrnes) should be a candidate for the Cubs’ GM gig. DiPoto was named MLBTradeRumors’ top GM [...]

  10. dreese

    Really good article Brett!