When vacancies do come up -- like the current one on the North Side of Chicago -- it's usually those with time in a GM chair, either past or present, whose names are mentioned as successors. Case in point: Andrew Friedman and Theo Epstein are in the middle of the rumor mill.
Once upon a time, Friedman and Epstein were not established general managers, but rather part of an always-changing group of "GM prospects." Nearly every organization has some, younger scouting and/or player-development types who are on the rise and have what it takes to one day be the decision-maker for a Major League organization.
The Cubs might be looking for the splash of a big name, but that could open the door for another up-and-comer to infuse some new blood into the GM fraternity.
The list of those jockeying to be the next Epstein or Friedman is constantly evolving. A name can be mentioned for a while, but then the window of opportunity closes. Sometimes it opens back up, as was the case with Neal Huntington in Pittsburgh.
"Generally, it's certainly flattering and nice for people to say nice things about you, but my focus is that I want to do the job I have to the best of my ability," said Indians GM Chris Antonetti, once the focus of articles like this one. "If I do, then hopefully, other things will happen. I never focused on what was next, and that's been successful for me.
"I've obviously had aspirations, but that wasn't my focus. Every day I've worked in baseball, I've done something I've loved to do. That's where I get my fulfillment from. Whatever happened after that, great. It was easier for me to separate it out. You can go from being very smart to very dumb very quickly. If you focus too much on external things, it can start to impact who you are and what you do."
Who are some of the highly-thought-of young executives making their way up organizational ladders today? Here are the names often mentioned by front-office types as "GM: The Next Generation" candidates.
Mike Chernoff, Indians
Chernoff gets mentioned often and Cleveland has been a breeding ground of sorts for GMs. As an assistant to Antonetti, he possesses a broad background of experience that creates a very good foundation for a future decision-maker.
"I think Mike will be an excellent general manager," said Antonetti, who added that he thought farm director Ross Atkins also has future GM potential. "He's got a great array of skills. He's exceptionally intelligent. He's the complete package and has the chance to be a great leader in an organization. He plays an instrumental part in what we do here.
"He'll have a great breadth of experiences. Even if he won't have the individual domain expertise in all areas, he'll then surround himself with people who will complement him well."
John Coppolella, Atlanta Braves
Coppolella is the Braves' director of baseball administration and has his hands in a number of areas for Atlanta in scouting and player development. He knows the Braves system inside and out, but also has a keen sense of what there is in every organization. As current Braves GM Frank Wren said, Coppolella's understanding of the industry is impressive.
"The two key characteristics are that he's very intelligent and he has a very good feel for the industry talent," Wren said. "Evaluation, that's a skill he's acquiring. He really studies and stays on top of all of our reports from our scouts and has a good feel and understanding of the talent within each organization. That's where we utilize him the most.
"He's a really sharp, bright guy who's really valuable to us."
Mike Hazen, Boston Red Sox
Red Sox GM Theo Epstein is quick to point out that his staff currently has four strong GM candidates. Senior vice president/assistant GM Ben Cherington gets a lot of buzz, but Hazen is also highly regarded. The Red Sox also have former Royals GM Allard Baird, the VP of player personnel and professional scouting, and senior VP of player personnel and international scouting Craig Shipley, but Hazen's star is definitely on the rise.
Hazen was Boston's farm director for a long time and added amateur scouting about a year ago as the VP of player development and amateur scouting. It's given him the chance to use his scouting background and round out his skills, making him a very attractive candidate.
"He has a great feel for evaluation, personnel management and building a successful player-focused culture," Epstein said. "He has all the qualities you would want in a leader: hard-working, smart, selfless, comfortable taking on complicated situations. He is involved in all of our decision-making, including with the Major League team."
Jerry Dipoto and Ray Montgomery, D-backs
Dipoto, a former reliever, sat in the GM chair in Arizona last year, albeit in an interim capacity. He showed some acumen for the job and even though Kevin Towers became the guy, Dipoto, senior VP of scouting and player development, has been a huge part of what's been going on in Arizona this season.
"Jerry's worn pretty much every hat you need to wear in terms of baseball operations, including a closer's hat as a player," Towers said. "I don't think we'd be where we are today, or in the future, without some of the moves he made.
"He's got great people skills, very well respected in the industry. I don't think it would take him very long to hit the ground running as he showed last year. He's not going to sugar-coat anything; he's got strong convictions. He delegates well. I'm surprised he's not a GM yet. Keeping him on board was one of my key hires. It'd be a huge loss, but it'd be a deserving one. If I was an owner, he'd be at the top of my list."
Towers also saw Dipoto and Montgomery work well together on this year's Draft, with Dipoto earning points for stepping back and allowing his scouting director to do what he does best. Montgomery, for his part, showed a strong ability to run a Draft in his first year as a scouting director after coming over from the Brewers.
"He has tremendous presence," Towers said. "He was a big part of a lot of the great things they did in Milwaukee. He's got a great work ethic, he's on top of things. It was the first time in a long time I was able to sit back and wasn't even a QB in the back for the Draft."
"[Montgomery] has a pretty good network of people he knows. If either got an opportunity, they're likable, [and] it wouldn't take them long to get an organization up and running because of the strength of their networks."
J.J. Picollo, Royals
As an assistant GM who oversees both the player development and scouting departments, Picollo has plenty of experience listening to a variety of opinions. He has also shown a knack for finding common ground among the groups.
"The No. 1 job of a GM, in my opinion, is to create a great working environment where you can build and maintain continuity," Royals GM Dayton Moore said. "That's how to be successful in this game.
"J.J. has an unbelievable ability to build a consensus among the scouting and player-development departments. He's a terrific listener, a passionate worker with a lot of natural leadership qualities that I think is important to do this job."
Kyle Stark and Tyrone Brooks, Pirates
Working under Huntington, Stark need go only to his boss for evidence about how strange the business can be in terms of being a "bright, shining star." Not that Stark would shy away from it. The Pirates farm director gets high marks for his ability to have the "difficult conversations" and a drive to excel.
"Kyle is an outstanding candidate," Huntington said. "He is intelligent, driven and has a true passion for being great. He is mature beyond his years with an ability to communicate with people from all walks of life.
"He is an avid learner that pushes to improve those around him. He has a strong sense of self and is confident but humble. He has a well-rounded package of baseball experience and positions held. He is a terrific person with unquestionable character. He is driven to get the most out of those with whom he works."
Brooks joined the Pirates as the director of baseball operations prior to the 2010 season after serving as a professional scout for the Indians for three years. Prior to that, he worked in the Braves organization, including serving as its director of baseball administration back in 2006.
"Ty has a quality combination of intelligence, feel, people skills and experience," Huntington said. "He thrives on mentoring others. He has a great demeanor and a quality feel for the games. He has benefited from being around some of the best executives [John Schuerholz and Mark Shapiro]. He is also an A-plus person."
Others to keep an eye on: Chaim Bloom, Rays; Josh Boyd and A.J. Preller, Rangers; Billy Eppler and Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees; Jeff Kingston, Mariners; Bryan Minniti, Nationals; Tony LaCava and Jay Sartori, Blue Jays; Kim Ng, MLB; De Jon Watson, Dodgers; Josh Stein, Padres.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.