What now? Who are the likely candidates to head the Red Sox baseball operations department?
With Red Sox team owners quiet on the topic aside from their acknowledgement that they’ll begin a search immediately, it’s challenging to narrow the potential pool. Indeed, there’s little more than guesswork regarding the search criteria.
That said, it’s worth noting that the last time the Red Sox contemplated a restructure of their baseball operations department, they aimed high. During the 2015 season, principal owner John Henry and then-GM Ben Cherington talked frequently about the possibility of adding a president of baseball operations to whom Cherington would report.
Potential candidates whom they imagined for such a role included decision-makers and organization leaders with established track records such as Cleveland executives Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti, Billy Beane of the A’s, and Pirates GM Neal Huntington. Then, when Dave Dombrowski became a free agent following his firing by the Tigers, Henry and team chairman Tom Werner moved quickly to hire him, comfortable in the knowledge of what they’d be getting.
That precedent harbors some relevance as the Red Sox look for the next leader of their baseball operations department. They won’t necessarily tiptoe around the availability of individuals who already are leading other organizations if they can find someone who checks all the boxes of the upcoming roster challenge of (a) reshaping the core while (b) reining in big league payroll to duck under the luxury tax threshold sometime in the coming years, (c) maintaining short-term competitiveness, and (d) strengthening the team’s long-term outlook.
“No big deal,” joked one former general manager.
On top of that, the organization faces some questions in selecting Dombrowski’s successor. Do they want to give autonomy to an executive such as what they conferred upon Dombrowski, or do they want someone who will collaborate with team owners and president/CEO Sam Kennedy? Do they want someone who offers continuity for the team’s front-office culture, or will they consider an external hire who might shake up the organization from the top down? Is experience a prerequisite, a preference, or would the team trust a GM/president of baseball operations newcomer in hopes of finding the next Theo Epstein?
These are questions that will inform the interview process. But with that backdrop in mind, here are some potential candidates:
Eddie Romero and Zack Scott: Both have been in charge of the modernizations of critical Red Sox departments, and both have strong relationships throughout the organization. For now, neither is viewed by industry members as a frontrunner, but until Billy Beane turned down the Red Sox GM job after the 2002 season, few considered Theo Epstein likely to move up the ladder, either. Romero, in particular, has spent the last three years working alongside Dombrowski across departments.
Outside established candidates
Here’s where it gets tricky. Would executives already in charge of baseball operations departments — particularly those with young families — consider uprooting to an organization that pushed aside Cherington less than two years after he won the World Series, and that moved on from Dombrowski less than a year after a historic season? That remains to be seen, but the Red Sox almost surely will ask to talk to a pool of executives who have shown an ability to balance short-term and long-term challenges. A number of people in other organizations might get some nice title improvements and pay raises to stay around rather than considering the Sox.
Mike Hazen (Diamondbacks GM): The former Red Sox GM has overseen an impressive three-year run in the desert, and his ability to build a contender while shedding stars Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke has been remarkable — precisely the sort of moves that the Red Sox will need to make moving forward. He would also be able to work well with the Red Sox front-office infrastructure, both to preserve its strengths and modernize it where necessary. Some in the industry believe he’s the ideal target for the Red Sox. But even though he’s from New England, Hazen — someone who is tremendously loyal to the places where he works — might be loath to leave the Diamondbacks at a relatively early stage of his tenure.
Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom (Rays GM and VP of baseball operations): Neander and Bloom have done a remarkable job of running the little engine that could, an organization that competes with the best teams in the game on a budget that is a fraction of their competitors. Their trades in 2018 — particularly Chris Archer for Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow — positioned the organization for short- and long-term success. They’ve also built a spectacular pitching infrastructure, noteworthy for a Sox team that flopped this year because of its mound shortcomings.
Jed Hoyer (Cubs GM): Hoyer was briefly a co-GM of the Red Sox along with Cherington in 2005-06, during the Gorilla Suit Interregnum of Theo Epstein’s tenure. He’s been part of championships in Boston and Chicago, knows the Red Sox organizational culture, and is widely considered a terrifically creative mind.
Derek Falvey (Twins chief baseball officer): Falvey, a native of Lynn, and a Trinity College alum, has helped to build modern, analytics-driven organizations in both Cleveland and Minnesota.
Jeff Luhnow (Astros GM) and Andrew Friedman (Dodgers president of baseball operations): It’s hard to imagine either Luhnow or Friedman leaving the organizational cultures they’ve built. But on the theory that it never hurts to ask, it wouldn’t come as a total shock if the Red Sox at least inquired about the possibility of interviewing one or both leaders of the teams that have been the most consistently dominant in the game.
Outside first-time GM candidates
Jared Porter and Amiel Sawdaye (Diamondbacks assistant GMs): Like Hazen, Porter and Sawdaye spent years in the Red Sox organization before joining Hazen in Arizona (Porter had an interim stint as part of the Cubs championship front office). Both remain close with many members of the Red Sox organization, and both have done work since departing that has elevated their profiles and broadened their range of experiences.
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org