Padres start GM search, but OK not hiring before trade deadline

Omar Minaya is one of two internal candidates for the Padres' GM job.

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To hear club president Mike Dee tell it, the Padres are getting a head start. Other teams might fire their general managers in the months ahead. The Padres, after dismissing Josh Byrnes on Sunday, will get the first crack at the best available candidates.

Ownership already has set that process in motion — the Padres, according to major-league sources, have requested permission to interview at least six current vice-president/assistant GM types. They also plan to interview two internal candidates, assistant GM A.J. Hinch and senior VP of baseball operations Omar Minaya, as well as former Marlins GM Larry Beinfest, sources said.

Dee, in an interview Tuesday with FOX Sports, refused to confirm any of the candidates that the club sought permission to interview. He acknowledged that teams rarely change GMs between the amateur draft in June and the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31. But the Padres, he said, are preparing for business as usual.

The team does not expect to hire a GM in time for him to make trades before the deadline, Dee said. For now, the club will rely on three co-interim GMs — Hinch, Minaya and assistant GM Fred Uhlman Jr. Dee said that he, too, will be part of the decision-making process, helping to build consensus.

“We want to move as quickly as possible but also as prudently and sensibly as possible,” Dee said of the search for a new GM.

“It’s hard to imagine that we can have someone in place prior to the trade deadline but we’ll have to wait and see. It is also possible that we could make the hire prior to the deadline with the understanding that the individual remains with his current team through July 31.

“It is unusual timing, though not unprecedented,” Dee said. “We’ve consulted with the league office about that and ways to go about the process.”

The Padres, through the commissioner’s office, have requested permission to speak with Yankees’ Billy Eppler, Athletics’ David Forst, Cardinals’ Michael Girsch, Red Sox’s Mike Hazen, Rangers’ Thad Levine and Cubs’ Jason McLeod, sources said.

Two teams have already have granted permission for the Padres to conduct interviews, according to MLB.com. Other candidates also are on the list, and it is standard practice in baseball for teams to allow their employees to interview for promotions. If clubs balk at losing top executives during the busy trading season, the Padres seem willing to wait.

“Pre-deadline in terms of having the person in the seat is a longshot,” Dee said. “Pre-deadline in terms of having identified the person or even selected him is not out of the realm of possibility. The deadline is five weeks away. We’re asking permission, setting up interviews. We’ll be at it pretty aggressively.”

As the deadline approaches, the Padres will lean on Hinch, the former major-league catcher and Diamondbacks manager who served as Byrnes’ right-hand man during the GM’s 2½-year tenure. Dee said the team had a conference call with its employees on Monday, and outlined the plan for the weeks ahead.

The Padres could be among the most active teams before the deadline. Their trade candidates include outfielders Seth Smith, Carlos Quentin and Chris Denorfia, third baseman Chase Headley, closer Huston Street and right-hander Ian Kennedy.

Smith, Denorfia and Headley are potential free agents. The Padres hold a $7 million club option on Street. Kennedy, earning $6.1 million, has one more year of arbitration remaining. Quentin, signed through 2015, has no-trade protection in his contract.

“The message was, ‘Do your jobs, keep your nose to the grindstone, keep everything running on schedule. If you need something, call A.J,’” Dee said, referring to the conference call. “He’s really close to the major-league roster. He travels with the team. He’ll be the first guy as far as trade discussions with other GMs.

“Fred Jr. will be more focused with (VP of player development Randy Smith on the (farm) system, (minor-league) player movement, things of that nature — more administrative. Omar is sort of a Swiss Army knife. He can fill a number of different capacities.

“As we decide on trades, my job is to build consensus. Challenge them to be aggressive, listen to everything that each person brings and try to get a consensus built so that the group is in agreement on moves that we can then take up to ownership.”

The new GM, then, likely will inherit a roster depleted by the work of his interim predecessors, though it is possible that one or more of those executives will remain with the club. On the other hand, a GM who takes over in August will gain one distinct advantage: The ability to assess the talent in the Padres’ organization before the end of the season.

Dee and other Padres officials believe candidates will view their GM opening as quite attractive. The team’s ownership, in its second season, increased the 2014 Opening Day payroll to a club-record $90.1 million. That figure ranked only 21st in the majors, but team officials project that they could move into the 13-to-17 range long term.

The Padres, who annually draw more than 2 million for a losing club to Petco Park, believe they could increase that total dramatically by fielding a contender. The team, however, is a long way from reaching that goal. It currently stands a distant fourth in the NL West, and its offense, to this point, has performed at historically poor levels.