Josh Byrnes has had a busy last year-and-a-half. He was let go as the general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks in July 2010. The new owner of the team, Ken Kendrick, wanted to install his own manager and GM, and the D'backs were 12½ games out of first place at the time. He was subsequently hired by the Padres after the season, who not coincidentally had Jeff Moorad, former D'backs managing partner and Byrnes' old boss as the CEO, to fill the role of Vice President of Baseball Operations.
Considering Moorad's Diamondbacks had signed Byrnes to an eight-year extension in 2008, this reunion was high on the list of most predictable offseason moves. Now, less than a year after his hiring with the Padres, he's the team's new GM, replacing the departed Jed Hoyer.
The Padres had a clear plan under Hoyer (as well as assistant GM Jason McLeod, who also went to the Cubs with Hoyer) to develop the farm system and complement those players with low-cost free agents. This is a necessity in San Diego, given that they require one of the league's lowest payrolls while Moorad and company finish paying off the team. That necessity still exists, but, unlike Hoyer, whose first GM job was with the Padres, Byrnes has a history as a GM that we can look at to see if he's up to the task.
Byrnes got his start back in 1994 with the Cleveland Indians, an organization that thrived in the 90s due to a strong player development core that produced the likes of Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Bartolo Colon. As this was his first baseball job, he started as an intern and moved into scouting, and finally to the position of scouting director in 1998. His next gig came in 1999, when Dan O'Dowd, who was also with the Indians, became GM of the Rockies, and took Byrnes with him to be the assistant. He stuck in that position for two years until moving on to the Red Sox to be Theo Epstein's assistant GM through the 2005 season.
All three of those organizations showed a commitment to building through young talent, even if there were occasional mishaps, such as when the Rockies signed Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle to long-term, expensive contracts. Byrnes' background in scouting and as a scouting director also gives him credit in this area, as he would know first hand that developing an in-house product is important.
With the D'backs, Byrnes had something of a mixed record. The team made the playoffs once in the five years he was in charge, and finished under .500 three of the other four seasons. There is evidence to suggest he didn't have complete control of his own team, as Moorad personally negotiated a three-year, $30 million contract extension with a no-trade clause with Eric Byrnes (no relation), not long after Josh Byrnes had stated the team had no plans to re-sign him. This deal eventually made trading top prospect Carlos Quentin, an outfielder now blocked by Byrnes, something of a necessity, and the Diamondbacks received Chris Carter in return for him from the White Sox.
Before the 2008 season, Byrnes dealt Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Carter, Aaron Cunningham, Dana Eveland, and Greg Smith to the Athletics in exchange for Dan Haren. Haren ended up being one of the game's very best starters, and Byrnes even signed him to a team-friendly deal -- one that made Byrnes' temporary successor's trading of him even worse. That's a lot of talent to give up for one pitcher, but given none of those players involved have blossomed into anything as valuable as Haren has -- Carlos Gonzalez is a career .265/.317/.427 hitter on the road in 872 plate appearances, so he's Coors-made more than anything -- it's at least a justifiable move for a team in contention. Given the D'backs had just won the division, they fit the bill at that moment, and the deal would look better if Haren weren't wearing a Halo in Anaheim right now.
Byrnes also dealt Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth in a three-team trade that netted them Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson. Kennedy has turned out to be as fine of a pitcher as Scherzer, and while Jackson ended up struggling in Arizona, the sentiment of improving the rotation behind Haren by adding two more arms was justifiable.
You might notice a theme here. Byrnes acquired a vast amount of talent through the draft -- players like Anderson and Scherzer -- but he also traded away a significant portion of the minor league talent he both inherited (Quentin, Gonzalez) as well as that of his own selection. In addition to those guys, Byrnes was also GM when Paul Goldschmidt was picked in 2008, Jarrod Parker in 2007, and he also selected Josh Collmenter, who had a surprising 2011 season that helped Arizona win the division once again, so it's not like he traded everything away.
The Padres can't supplement their drafts with high-cost free agents, meaning trades are necessary in addition to calling up their own players. Byrnes has been there before, and while his track record in that regard isn't amazing, it is solid. He's already been in San Diego for a season as well, and has seen what Hoyer and McLeod accomplished. Given both of their histories, it's likely Byrnes will continue the job started by his now twice former co-workers. Assuming Moorad doesn't hire Eric Byrnes to be the team's new assistant GM, anyway.