Byrnes back in the game, assisting GM Hoyer
Former Arizona GM now SD's senior VP of baseball operations
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Ten days after being dismissed as general manager of the D-backs last July, Josh Byrnes attempted to unplug from the game during a hastily arranged vacation with his family on the island of Maui.
By all accounts, Byrnes played the part well, detaching himself from reality like so many of the other vacationers, complete with repeated trips down the hotel water slide with his daughters, Avery and Darby.
"That was," Byrnes said the other day, "the first vacation I've ever taken as an adult."
But a funny thing happened to Byrnes along the way to disappearing into such an idyllic backdrop -- the game of baseball kept calling him.
And Byrnes -- Hawaiian shirt be damned -- kept answering.
The game came to Byrnes in the form of text messages from other general managers who wanted to pick his brain. It came in the form of phone calls, too, conversations that were often preceded by a familiar and apologetic refrain.
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"Josh, I know you're on vacation, but ..."
"He told me where he was, so I tried not to bother him much while he was there," Padres general manager and close friend Jed Hoyer said. "But knowing Josh, there's no way that he could totally detach himself [from baseball]."
Charity Byrnes, who with Josh will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary on July 14, just smiled whenever her husband's phone would ring or vibrate across the table.
People find comfort and relaxation in many forms, whether that be barreling down a hotel water slide or sipping drinks by the pool.
But for Byrnes, his idea of a getaway will probably always involve the game of baseball.
"The rest of us can go on a vacation and we can turn our brains off," Charity Byrnes said. "But Josh is too competitive for that. He doesn't function any other way. It's in his blood.
"Josh would go on the water slide with our oldest daughter, then talk to [Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein]. Or he would go kayaking and then talk with [Hoyer]. He was happy to do it."
In the days that followed his dismissal by Arizona, with whom he spent five seasons, Byrnes became a sounding board of sorts for other general managers across the game, especially since his Hawaiian vacation coincided with the push for the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"I stayed in touch with a lot of people, especially since it was the trading season, and also visited some places, trying to decide where my next job would be," Byrnes said. "I tried to stay involved."
Which brings us to today, now that Byrnes has resurfaced with the Padres as the senior vice president of baseball operations, where he will assist Hoyer and will also work in conjunction with the scouting department in preparation for the First-Year Player Draft in June.
It's a new organization, although Byrnes is surrounded by familiar faces, such as Hoyer, whom he shared a cramped Fenway Park office with while both were working for Epstein and the Red Sox.
"Josh is just a great baseball mind and someone who loves the game as much as anyone," Hoyer said. "He works extremely hard and he's been great for me out here. I'm thrilled to have him."
Then there is Padres vice chairman and CEO Jeff Moorad, who hired Byrnes in Arizona in 2005 and, three seasons later, gave him an eight-year contract that runs through '15. Tom Garfinkel, San Diego's team president and COO, was in Arizona during the Byrnes regime as well.
Finally, A.J. Hinch, handpicked by Byrnes as manager of the D-backs and who was dismissed the same day as Byrnes, is also with the team, running the professional scouting department.
Byrnes was a finalist for the Mets' vacant general manager opening during the offseason, a post that went to former Padres CEO Sandy Alderson. Byrnes also looked at other opportunities, but there was always a strong attraction to San Diego.
"As I thought about it, I had a lot of strong relationships here," Byrnes said. "I thought I could help without being in the way. Hopefully, I can be a resource in a lot of different directions. Primarily, it's with Jed and helping him. I certainly know the job.
"But anywhere I can help him, either handle a situation, be a sounding board or a devil's advocate, I'll do it. That's the main focus for me."
For this spring, that means working in the same city (Phoenix) where he essentially was a pariah a year ago after the D-backs got off to a slow start, torpedoed by baseball's worst bullpen and an underachieving roster.
"There's been mixed feelings. I'm certainly disappointed with the way it turned out and don't like losing," Byrnes said. "That leads to job changes in this business. But I love the game and the competition involved with this job and being around people who I really like and respect.
"I've always been hard on myself. Some of the decisions we can maybe second-guess, but I think the overall strategy was sound. Some years it works, some years it doesn't. Jeff [Moorad] leaving changed the dynamic some, and there were a couple of seasons where we struggled. I understand it's the nature of the business. But in the end, we didn't win enough to quiet down the criticism."
Byrnes, who counts baseball executives John Hart, Dan O'Dowd, Mark Shapiro and, of course, Epstein as some of the biggest influences he has had since starting a front-office career in 1994, said he's looking forward to being involved in the Draft, where the Padres will have six picks among the top 60 selections.
"As a GM, you don't really have the time to get into it. But it's such an important part of every organization, especially ours," Byrnes said. "Now I'll have time to get into it, especially this year with the extra picks. It's going to be an important year. I think the Draft is the backbone of every organization."
Hinch thinks that Byrnes will flourish in his new post.
"He's as talented an individual that I've been around," Hinch said. "He's always thinking about ideas of how to improve an organization. He doesn't have an off button. He's one of the best competitors I've been around."
As for making another run at a GM job, Byrnes pulls no punches: He would be interested in helping run a club, making decisions that shape the roster and being responsible for it all, in good times and bad.
"One of the things I like most about it is the challenge of it, the accountability of it and that there are no places to hide," Byrnes said. "If those opportunities come up, I would take them seriously.
"But I'm very energized to take on this next challenge. ... We'll see where things go."