A month after rearranging the deck chairs in the leadership of their baseball operations department, the Phillies still aren't ready to go all the way and make full, meaningful change.
Club president Andy MacPhail, speaking with reporters in a video conference on Friday, echoed the stance set down by ownership when it demoted general manager Matt Klentak earlier this month:
There is no firm timetable for hiring a new leader of baseball operations.
In fact, the process of finding a new one could take some time, possibly stretching into the new year and beyond.
The new leader could come in the form of a president of baseball operations with a new general manager reporting to him.
And, in the meantime, the organization's hierarchy is comfortable with Ned Rice, Klentak's former assistant, leading the department and running all decisions through MacPhail and managing partner John Middleton.
"Most of what is in front of us in the short- and mid-term relates to current personnel," MacPhail said. "We can do that internally, and I am very confident that Ned can get us through that."
Klentak was hired in October 2015, about a month after Ruben Amaro Jr. was let go. MacPhail led the search for the new GM and interviewed 14 candidates before sending three finalists to ownership and ultimately recommending Klentak, who had once worked under him in Baltimore. It was imperative that the Phillies move quickly in replacing Amaro because the fall of 2015 was busy with in-house organizational meetings, general managers meetings and winter meetings all on the docket.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put all of that on hold this fall and that, along with what MacPhail believes could be a slow-moving free-agent market has eliminated some of the urgency to make a quick move.
"Hell, our offices aren't even going to be open until January and that might be a little optimistic," MacPhail said.
"And the other item that you've got to think about is who's going to want to uproot in the middle of a pandemic? But we've already gone through the preliminary stages of a search. We've already identified people. If what is easily apparent to us is a good fit, we'll move right away. But I could see this thing going longer.
"You want the next regime to do well. You want to put them in a position to succeed. In my estimation, if you brought somebody in here right now with a limited capacity to affect positive change, it's just borderline not fair to them."
The pandemic has cost all MLB teams significant revenues. Middleton has said the Phillies will lose "significantly more than $100 million," this year. The organization parted with a handful of experienced scouts last week and a number of player-development staffers this week. Office workers could be next. MacPhail's contract runs through 2021. It sounds likely that he will leave the organization when his deal runs out — if not sooner. He favors the hiring of a president of baseball operations and said he'd "happily step aside" if ownership could land a "big fish" to run the baseball side of things before his contract is up.
MacPhail put the onus on ownership, Middleton in particular, to make the call on the next head of baseball operations.
"Our ownership has to be completely invested," MacPhail said. "I think John needs to be more hands-on early on (in the hiring process), and I've told him that. Because I'm not going to be here in a year, so it doesn't matter who I pick. They need to be invested in it."
Middleton earlier this month scorched the organization for its historically poor record of player evaluation, save for a couple of periods around the World Series championship years, and said he wanted his new head of baseball to have a background in scouting and player development. But Middleton also pushed for the Phillies to establish an analytics department over the last half-decade and the organization is not about to abandon that.
"I still think the same thing as when I was introduced (in the summer of 2015)," MacPhail said. "You have to look at everything. You can't ignore scouting. You can't ignore analytics. Why would you deny yourself the opportunity to look at everything?
"No one person is going to know everything about everything. But you are looking for people that know how to get things done from both sides and understand how to put the whole thing together. That would be what I'd be looking for."
Five years ago, Middleton said MacPhail was being hired to oversee the entire organization "but his focus was baseball and his mandate was to win." The Phillies have not had a winning season since 2011.
"I didn't expect to be here in year five and still be under .500," MacPhail said. "That is a severe disappointment to me. I don't know why we play like we do at the end of September for the last three years, but I thought our team was relatively well-positioned to go to the postseason (in 2020). It did not.
"In the end, if you look at the directory, you see John Middleton — that's ownership — then it's me. I'm ultimately responsible for the management of the franchise on the baseball and the business side. So that is a great source of disappointment to me that by this time we hadn't done better than we did."
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