Tom Ricketts took two years to make his first correct step into remaking the Chicago Cubs into something resembling a functional baseball organization. Now he has to make the second correct step.
Yet, unless he goes well out of his way to screw this up -- something he's completely capable of -- it won't be all that hard to make a very good hire. Why? Because GM of the Cubs is still one of, if not the most coveted jobs of its type.
The Cubs still reside in the baseball stratosphere of teams. It's the third biggest market in the league, and the biggest team in that market (sorry Sox fans, but you know it's true, and you've sewn it into your identity).
In terms of class, they are among the Yankees, the Red Sox, the older but not this version of the Dodgers, Cardinals, Phillies, and possibly Mets as one of the pinnacle teams.
What makes the job better: there isn't the meddlesome ownership situation you'd have with the Yankees. There aren't the payroll problems the Dodgers and Cardinals do, and will continue to have, nor the clownish ownership that belies the Mets.
Tom Ricketts is essentially yearning to hand over complete baseball control. You can live in the best city in the country. And there's that little carrot that if you're the guy who finally solves the Rubix Cube that is the Cubs and the World Series, your name goes down in baseball lore forever. Any competitor with any sort of ego would salivate at that.
There's some out there who think that no GM would want to have to deal with the loon that is Crane Kenney. No question, Kenney should have been launched to the moon long ago. But really, what does Kenney do to the baseball side? Even if he thinks he has influence, what decision did he shoot down? What did he make Jim Hendry do? If he's sitting in on the baseball meetings, is he actually putting forth opinions? Is anyone listening to them? Ricketts doesn't seem to think anyone is, and I don't think it's a concern at all. Especially when Ricketts comes out and says that the GM is going to report directly to him. That castrates Kenney on the baseball side.
Anyway, the names you've heard:
Andrew Friedman - Currently GM of the Tampa Bay Rays and currently sick of being so. He can opt out after this season to take another job, and he simply may want to have more to play with than the shoestring Rays who play in a market where no one cares. Has built one of the best farm systems around to sustain the Rays simply miraculous success, but may want to take a gig where he can hold on to the players he produces. Young too, only 34, may not be daunted by all that went before. My first choice.
Brian Cashman - One would find it odd to leave the most successful organization in American sports to head for its most pathetic, but Cashman may be tempted. First, he is downright sick of having to put up with meddling from the Steinbrenners, who continually make moves without his say. Second, he may want to prove, and badly, that he can run a team that doesn't have a limitless payroll. Cashman doesn't get a lot of credit for building a farm system that's pretty good while constantly having to be replenished. He also knows that the core of the Yankee dynasty -- Jeter, Rivera, Williams, Posada, Pettite -- was built from within. A fine 2nd choice behind Friedman.
Rick Hahn - You're hearing this one a lot from the local media, as they deal with him regularly in his role as assistant GM to Kenny Williams on the South Side. Most with knowledge will tell you that Hahn is the real brains and should have struck out on his own long ago. But he comes with some flags. A) He's never had the big job. B) The Sox farm system hasn't been confused with prolific recently. Of all the Sox regulars in the starting lineup, only Gordon Beckham and Brent Morel are products. Beckham has been a savage representation of woefulness for two years now, while Morel looks like he could be useful one day. As for pitchers, only Mark Buerhle is a product. Now, the Sox have made some larcenous trades in Hahn's time, getting Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Carlos Quentin, and Paul Konerko for essentially a bad karaoke tune. But if Ricketts is being truthful and wants to build a system, Hahn doesn't have much of a resume with that.
Some Names You Haven't Heard
Billy Beane - The man who started this revolution in team building. While the A's haven't been competitive now in a while, a lot of that can be attributed to the serious financial hardship they face. Beane may finally have had enough of that. He almost took the Red Sox job before going back on it at the last minute. One of the biggest egos around, he may be out to prove that the guy who started Moneyball is still the best at it by taking on its biggest challenge.
Kim Ng - Don't think the Ricketts would not be enamored by hiring the first female GM in any sport. But Ng is more than just a diversity hire. She's heavily qualified, being the assistant GM for the Yankees and Dodgers. She was a finalist of the GM jobs in LA, Seattle, and San Diego. She's worked at the right hand of Brian Cashman, and is well versed in the new sabermetric world. It won't be her sex that keeps her from the job, but rather never having had the big job ever. Still, if the Ricketts dip into the assistant GM world, Ng might be a better candidate than Hahn. And let's face it, we've had 102 years of someone with a Y chromosome having the job and gotten nowhere, a woman couldn't possibly be worse.
Sam Fels is the proprietor of The Committed Indian, an unofficial program for the Blackhawks. You may have seen him hocking the magazine outside the United Center at Gate 3. The program is also available for purchase online. Fels is a lifelong 'Hawks fan and he also writes for Second City Hockey .