La Russa starts GM search
Cards exec LaRocque among D-backs' candidates
PHOENIX -- Tony La Russa began the process of hiring a general manager to replace Kevin Towers on Friday, as the D-backs chief baseball officer reached out to several organizations to ask for permission to speak with their employees.
Among the candidates in which La Russa confirmed his interest were former A's ace Dave Stewart, Cardinals director of player development Gary LaRocque, Angels director of pro scouting Hal Morris, Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler and D-backs scouting director Ray Montgomery.
There are likely other candidates as well, but those were the only ones La Russa confirmed. One name to cross off the list is Reds GM Walt Jocketty, who worked with La Russa in Oakland and St. Louis. Jocketty, La Russa said, was committed to remaining in Cincinnati.
It seems that LaRocque, with whom La Russa is familiar from his time with the Cardinals, will be the first candidate who will get a face-to-face meeting. La Russa is currently in Mobile, Ala., watching the D-backs' Double-A team take on Jacksonville in the Southern League playoffs.
"I have contacted [Cardinals GM] John Mozeliak, and he has given permission, and in fact I will see Gary tomorrow in Florida when we travel from Mobile to Jacksonville for Game 3 of this playoff," La Russa said. "So he will be one of the first interviews."
Stewart is a unique candidate in that he has most recently served as an agent for players like the Dodgers' Matt Kemp. He has also served as a big league pitching coach and assistant general manager since retiring as a player.
Stewart played for La Russa in Oakland when the A's went to three consecutive World Series from 1988-90.
"I have always admired that Dave has had a love of the game and a willingness to work at it," La Russa said. "I have a background with him, of course, as a player, but since then I've stayed in touch. I know his work with Toronto and San Diego and other places and other types of responsibilities, so Stew is one of the guys that I have contacted about interviewing.
"He showed his business side. He's been a successful agent. That's a good background, and I know he knows the game, so he was one of the first people that I thought of that would be a good fit."
Montgomery impressed La Russa with the way he ran the D-backs' Draft room in June, and Eppler was a finalist for the Padres' GM job that eventually went to A.J. Preller.
Morris, who is out of the country at the moment, came highly recommended and a time to talk with him will be set up when he returns.
La Russa had no front-office experience before joining the D-backs, so his process of hiring a GM might end up being unique.
"I'm not bound by a formula that I would have learned over the years," he said. "This is brand new. What I'm going to do in some cases is just have a conversation before an official interview, just to see if there's enough of a reason from both our sides to get more formal."
Ideally, La Russa would like to have a candidate in place by the end of the season, and that person will have input as to whether manager Kirk Gibson is asked to return in 2015.
"I'll solicit everybody's opinion, but I know I get the final say," La Russa said.
La Russa said he thinks that analytics is one aspect of the D-backs' baseball operations department that needs to be improved upon and that there is great value to numbers. Where La Russa draws a hard line on the subject is when it comes to a front office using advanced metrics to dictate in-game managerial strategy.
In the name of balance, La Russa said that if the GM he chooses does not have a heavy background in advanced metrics, then he will look to bring in others in supporting roles who do.
"I know that there's an awful lot of attention, and it's kind of popular to look at some of the general managers that have been hired and look at what their academic credentials are and not so much what their baseball experience credentials," La Russa said. "I don't want to disrespect what you get academically, but I also definitely want to respect the education you get in the game from watching the type of players that produced and helped contribute to a champion and the way championship baseball is played. So that's why I think it's smart for us to have an open mind that each candidate comes in with a list of talents and then you make an assessment of who fits the best."