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Pat Gillick will be moving on in the near future. So said Gillick to Bob Brookover on Sunday. The current team president will introduce an heir apparent some time in the near future. And it could be Andy MacPhail. Originally rumored to be the next GM, MacPhail’s hat has now firmly landed in both rings.
So, it’s worth asking the question: What does a future with Andy MacPhail mean?
Unlike the other three franchises in Philadelphia, it’s hard to imagine the Phillies going outside of the box. Unlike Chip Kelly, Sam Hinkie and Dave Hakstol, Andy MacPhail would be a known commodity and a move you’d absolutely expect the Phillies to make. He’s been doing this for a long time. He won two World Series championships as GM of the Twins (in ’87 & ’91). He was president/CEO of the Cubs from ’94 to ’06 and during his tenure, the Cubs went to the playoffs twice but MacPhail stepped away after the team produced the worst record in the National League.
Not only did MacPhail step away, he took ownership:
I’ve been here 12 years, and we’ve had two postseasons. That’s not what I came here to do. I haven’t been as effective as I wanted to be. I’m the CEO, and I’m responsible.
Maybe I’m reading too much into what he said after announcing his resignation from the Cubs but compared to the current GM, this sort of personal accountability is refreshing.
After Chicago, it was Baltimore. He took over a losing franchise (nine consecutive losing seasons), fans were no longer fascinated by a shiny ballpark and the minor league system was a mess. (Sound familiar?) Granted the current Phillies did not have nine losing seasons but it’s been a death spiral since ’08. Ultimately, MacPhail failed in Baltimore… sort of. The O’s returned to the playoffs the year after his departure with many of the pieces placed by him.
MacPhail is a baseball lifer. With the Phillies at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to being progressive and embracing new concepts, the thought of a baseball lifer in the current landscape is sort of, well, chilling. But MacPhail isn’t exactly like the current regime. There is plenty out there about his resume. He’s been a President or GM (sometimes both) in all but 27 of the last 31 years. There are plenty of examples of good, bad and ugly in his past.
Instead, let’s look at how MacPhail matches up with the current direction. What would change and what would stay the same?
(To help shed some light, I reached out to Jeff Zrebiec who covered the Orioles for the Baltimore Sun during MacPhail’s tenure.)
Andy MacPhail, Tough Decisions & The Fans
In 2001, MacPhail attended a Cubs Convention to address the fans of the Cubs and field questions. It was a skewering. In 2000, the Cubs were awful. During the offseason, MacPhail turned over half the roster and let fan favorite Mark Grace walk. It was the opposite decision the Phillies made in 2013 with Chase Utley. And MacPhail faced the anger head on and gave a rational explanation. Grace wanted to reach 3,000 hits and the Cubs were eventually going to move on to top prospect Hee-Seop Choi. Seeing that Grace might end up on the bench, they cleared the way for Choi, added a short-term solution in Matt Stairs and moved on. He acknowledged it was a tough decision but didn’t want to have to face the possibility of having to ask Grace to sit. When the team excelled that season, they traded for Fred McGriff. In 2002, they held on to McGriff and when Choi didn’t show signs of being next, they added Eric Karros in 2003. That team went to the NLCS and, well, Bartman.
In 2010, the Orioles started out 9-23. Here’s MacPhail’s address to the fans of Baltimore.
At 15-39, MacPhail fired manager Dave Trembley and replaced him with Juan Samuel on an interim basis. At 32-73, Samuel was out and a permanent replacement — Buck Showalter — was found.
MacPhail’s reception from the fans was mostly positive but he wore on the fans. Here’s Zrebiec’s take:
When he was hired, fans were thrilled. MacPhail’s honesty about how far the Orioles were from being legitimate contenders [was] well received. In the last year and half of his tenure, he started getting criticism and people were losing patience. Even though it was clear he added some good, young talent and the Orioles were headed in the right direction, fans can only deal with losing for so long and the Orioles were in the midst of 14 straight losing seasons. Fans weren’t too upset when he left. I think most Orioles’ fans rate his performance quite positively.
It’s important to note, MacPhail interacted with fans frequently. He hosted online Q&As, attended fan gatherings and was readily accessible, especially when it was going poorly.
MacPhail & The Media
What would a press conference with Andy MacPhail being introduced to the Phillies look like? Probably the one from his 2007 introduction to the Orioles.
Professional, honest and well respected are the universal descriptions. Here’s Zrebiec’s spin:
The best way to put it is he was fair. He’s generally accommodating but he’s not going to be a GM that is on the field every day, seeking recorders or cameras. He keeps things pretty close to the vest. Occasionally, he’ll surprise you but there will be plenty of times he’ll talk but won’t give juicy headlines.
MacPhail & Analytics
The Orioles hired an analytics guy under MacPhail. So did the Phillies. Unlike the Phillies, most indications were the Orioles actually relied on theirs. However, it wasn’t until after MacPhail left that the team went more aggressive in this area. Most scouts were reassigned under MacPhail’s replacement Dan Duquette but they weren’t fired.
Progressive is probably a little too strong but they certainly used analytics. I don’t think they were doing anything that most other teams weren’t doing, though. But MacPhail hired and analytical guy and they certainly relied partly on his work. I would describe MacPhail as an old-school GM but he certainly embraces some of the analytics and see where and when they best come into play.
MacPhail & The International Market
On the plus side, under MacPhail, the Orioles became active in the Asian market. Both Koji Uehara and Wei-Yin Chen to bolstered their pitching staff. This is a burgeoning market where the Pirates were able to find Jung-Ho Kang, an infielder with a little pop who was a steal at less than $4 million a year. In 2016, first baseman Byung-Ho Park is likely to jump to the Majors. He crushed 52 homers last year in the KBO (here’s one). In 2015, he’s hitting .336/.426/.637 with 21 homers in 68 games. It would be nice to be in the running for a 28-year-old slugger to replace Ryan Howard.
What’s concerning is his track record with players in the Latin market. Although the bigger concern might be the lack of attention given to the Latin market. But some of that, according to Zrebiec, might have been financial:
MacPhail just didn’t think they had enough resources in terms of payroll flexibility and Latin scouting to give out huge bonuses. I guess the best way to put it is he felt that the team’s available money would be better spent elsewhere. I think his philosophy with that was more based on what resources the Orioles had and wouldn’t necessarily be the same with Philadelphia. He’s a smart guy. I’m sure he understands with all the talent coming out of the Latin market every day, you can’t just ignore it.
Overall, comparing the current state of the Phillies front office and how MacPhail would change the dynamic, it looks like a step in the right direction. There are positives with MacPhail that aren’t there now. There’s evidence of analytics, success in a market the Phillies are currently and have never been existent in (Chan Ho Park and So Taguchi don’t count) and, overall, he looks more capable of dealing with the media and the fans. Based on the Brookover interview with Gillick, though, there are no guarantees that the addition of MacPhail (or anyone) means the subtraction of Ruben Amaro or Ryne Sandberg. The only thing that seemed to be certain was as long as Gillick is in charge, both men are safe. Until there’s a change there, the future prognosis is negative.