The Phillies are looking for someone to lead baseball operations again, someone who, in the short term, can help the team break a dispiriting nine-year playoff drought and, over the long term, build sustained success.
It’s not clear what kind of candidate ownership is looking for. A year ago, when it fired manager Gabe Kapler, an experienced candidate with a winning resume was prioritized. The team interviewed three men who had those qualifications and hired Joe Girardi over Dusty Baker and Buck Showalter.
Girardi has to be a key figure here. He will be entering the second year of a three-year contract in 2021 and has the managerial chops to be around here for a while and get the club where it wants to go. Girardi is a team building block, similar in that regard to Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Alec Bohm, so the Phils must hire a head of baseball ops that complements him and shares his mix of old-school and new-school baseball values.
The Phillies’ last two general managers were quite different. Ruben Amaro Jr. leaned on old-school values and scouting in building teams. Matt Klentak gave the old-school stuff lip service but was devoted to analytics from game strategy to roster construction to player development.
It will be interesting to see which way the Phillies go with this hire. Will they go with a numbers guy or a baseball guy, descriptions that irritate some but represent the vernacular of the times in a game that is as philosophically divided as the nation’s political scene.
Managing partner John Middleton is the voice that matters most in the organization. He pushed for the Phillies to move into the analytics age and Klentak delivered on the mandate to build a department devoted to that science. After spending millions to develop the program over the last five years, Middleton isn’t about to abandon that area or the team’s devotion to it.
And he shouldn’t.
However, it’s possible that Middleton could modify the team’s approach and attempt to strike more of a balance between the old and new. That was a stated goal of club president Andy MacPhail five years ago, but the Phillies, under Klentak, always seemed to be a team that placed too much of a premium on analytics and not enough on the experience and smarts that good scouts and player development folks can offer. In fact, the front office under Klentak always seemed a little threatened by experience.
Hey, this isn’t meant to be a rant about old-school baseball vs. new school baseball. There’s room — and need — for both in building a winner. This is meant to be a look at some possible candidates to lead the Phillies baseball operation, a handful of people that Middleton might want to chat with in the coming weeks:
The former Chicago Cubs GM is an old-school guy who has spent the better part of the last decade working for the New York Yankees, a team with an old-school brand but a new-school approach, as a special assistant to GM Brian Cashman. Hendry already has some fingerprints on this Phillies team. He recommended to MacPhail, his former Chicago boss, that the Phils hire Brian Barber as scouting director last fall and MacPhail made sure that happened. Hendry’s people skills could be a real unifier of personnel and the experience he gained with the analytics-driven Yankees could foster the blend the Phillies need.
The former Boston Red Sox infielder is vice president of baseball operations with the Yankees and spends a lot of time out there scouting. He understands the place analytics have in the game but doesn’t drown in them. Like Hendry, he’d bond immediately with Girardi, the former Yankees skipper. Naehring has long been viewed as a potential star GM, but with a young family might not be ready for the intense commitment.
He’s an old-schooler, but a good-schooler. How can you not at least talk to a guy who won three World Series rings leading the San Francisco Giants baseball fortunes?
The Tampa Bay Rays do a lot of things right, especially when it comes to unearthing and unlocking talent, and Heck is a highly regarded special assistant with them. He was also responsible for some good drafts in Houston.
While we’re talking about Tampa Bay, could the Phillies throw a president of baseball operations title at Neander, the Rays’ highly regarded executive vice president, and lure him to Philadelphia?
Former major-league outfielder blends old and new as Milwaukee’s vice president of scouting. He’s the lead evaluator on every acquisition the Brewers make.
Cherry Hill, New Jersey native is Kansas City’s vice president of player personnel. He’s considered a blend guy. He interviewed for the job when it went to Klentak five years ago.
Longtime executive with the A's, Mets, Giants and former Blue Jays general manager has a well-rounded skill set that includes scouting, player development and analytics.
Oakland is one of those teams that always finds a way and Owens has been an important part of that front office for a long time.
The ultimate old-school guy, he knows how to turn around a team quickly and get it to the postseason. He’s won the World Series in Miami and Boston and got to another one in Detroit. He and MacPhail are close. It would be worth Middleton’s time to hear what Dombrowski had to say.
Veteran builder of franchises in Montreal, Boston and Baltimore was a blend guy before there even was such a thing. He’s got that Amherst College thing going with Middleton.
Arizona vice president and assistant GM is often mentioned as a hot name on the list of rising executive stars.
Longtime Phillies assistant GM was here when it was good and here when it went bad. He knows the organization and where it went off course. Putting him back in the inner circle might straighten things out in a hurry.
Ruben Amaro Jr.
For PR reasons, this probably wouldn’t happen, but the guy has all kinds of experience from the field to the front office and he’s opened his eyes and brain to the analytics movement since being fired in the summer of 2015. He drafted Aaron Nola and traded for Zach Eflin and still has strong knowledge of the roster and minor-league system. Middleton is known for soliciting many different perspectives. A conversation with Amaro wouldn’t hurt and who knows where it would lead.