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Front office rumors: Billy Owens, J.P. Ricciardi in headlines for Oakland A’s

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One could be on the way out, and the other could be on the way back.

The Oakland A’s began their offseason by locking in their top decision-makers, with long-term contract extensions for vice president Billy Beane, general manager David Forst, and field manager Bob Melvin. However, the rest of their front office may yet receive a shakeup, not by choice but due to outside influences.

The catalyst in this case is the Giants’ hiring of Farhan Zaidi as their new president of baseball ops. He previously ran the Dodgers, but before that he was an assistant GM for the A’s under Beane, having been inspired to pursue a career in baseball after reading Moneyball. Zaidi is one of the most respected minds and overall people in the sport, and in Oakland he was considered instrumental in the signings of All-Stars including Yoenis Cespedes (link) and Brandon Moss (the famous Moss Manifesto).

Now that Zaidi has a new gig in San Francisco, his next step is to fill in the staff below him. Most importantly, he needs a new general manager. Upon his hiring there were whispers that he might turn to A’s current AGM Billy Owens, and now that rumor has been officially confirmed by John Shea of the S.F. Chronicle.

To be clear, the news is NOT that Owens is being hired yet. He is merely a candidate for the job at this moment, and he’s the first one to be named publicly. However, it makes sense that he’d be heavily in the conversation. From Shea:

Owens, a Bellarmine graduate, has been in the A’s organization for 20 years and is an assistant GM and director of player personnel.

“He’s definitely a consideration for us,” Zaidi said. “I imagine we’re going to talk more specifics about him. He’s a terrific guy and terrific with what he does. I imagine we’ll talk more in the coming week.”

Losing Owens would be a bummer for the A’s. He’s clearly become an important figure in the front office, even if he’s not the very top name nor longest-tenured — after all, he’s spent more than a dozen years as the director of player personnel. But on the other hand, you’d have to be happy for him if he did get the nod for his first GM position, and just down the road in his native Bay Area to boot. All of that makes this a bittersweet rumor for the green and gold faithful.

There may be a silver lining to this unexpected storm cloud, though, with another name from Oakland’s past entering the conversation. J.P. Ricciardi could be returning to the A’s, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Like Owens, Ricciardi once served as director of player personnel (1999-2001) before moving up to AGM (2001), and along the way he was mentioned in Moneyball as part of the A’s revolutionary data-driven executive group.

Ricciardi eventually left Oakland to become GM of the Blue Jays. He spent nearly a decade at the helm in Toronto, but his tenure there is generally considered somewhere between shaky and terrible (more details at B-Ref Bullpen). After being fired from that job he did a brief turn as an ESPN analyst for Baseball Tonight in 2010, and from there he returned to the front office, this time with the Mets. He’s been in New York ever since, currently with the Schrutian title of “special assistant to the general manager,” and last summer he was part of the trio that stepped up to fill in for ailing GM Sandy Alderson.

It’s not a spotless record for Ricciardi. He didn’t repeat Oakland’s small-budget success in Toronto, and the Mets haven’t exactly been a model franchise lately despite a World Series appearance in 2015. But he has roots with the A’s, and he’s spent the last two decades being employed at the highest levels by MLB teams, so it’s certainly an intriguing possibility.

As for the odds of Ricciardi returning, Nightengale claims that he appears to be leaving the Mets this winter at the very least. Otherwise, the phrasing of the rumor is as such: “Look for valued Mets executive JP Ricciardi to join the Oakland Athletics, particularly if Billy Owens leaves Oakland and becomes GM of the Giants.”

Finally, one more top A’s official has been mentioned in offseason rumors. AGM Dan Kantrovitz is a candidate in the Orioles search for a new GM, according to Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun. However, the list is long and features some other much higher-profile names, so this is not yet something to worry about until further notice. Kantrovitz, who replaced Zaidi as AGM after 2014, is a particular favorite here at Athletics Nation.

Oakland has three people with the title of AGM. In addition to Owens and Kantrovitz, there is also Dan Feinstein.