Josh Byrnes grew up in Washington. He went to college on the Main Line. He worked for the Boston Red Sox when they won their curse-busting World Series in 2004.
But with a chance to possibly return to his East Coast roots, he passed.
Byrnes, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ senior vice president of baseball operations, has withdrawn from consideration for the Phillies’ head of baseball operations job, a source said Wednesday, confirming multiple reports. He’s the second candidate to bow out in the last few days, joining Minnesota Twins general manager Thad Levine. Byrnes and Levine are both Haverford College graduates.
The Phillies have kept details of their search private. Byrnes and former Miami Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill are the only candidates known to have interviewed for a job that opened 68 days ago. Kansas City Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo and Dodgers assistant GM Jeff Kingston — both natives of South Jersey — have been linked to the Phillies in reports, but it’s not known if either has interviewed.
Six weeks ago, Phillies president Andy MacPhail predicted that making a hire this winter would be challenging, wondering aloud, “Who’s going to want to uproot in the middle of a pandemic?” Considering the Sixers had just brought in Daryl Morey to be president of basketball operations and the Los Angeles Angels were closing in on hiring general manager Perry Minasian, MacPhail’s comment sparked ridicule within the fan base.
But the New York Mets have had difficulty filling front-office vacancies. And while Hill is reportedly still in the running, it’s also possible the Phillies will keep interim GM Ned Rice in place for most of 2021. (Rice has declined interview requests, and MacPhail hasn’t spoken publicly to reporters since Oct. 30.)
Byrnes, 50, likely had multiple reasons for staying put. He enjoys the “hands-on” nature of overseeing the Dodgers’ scouting and player development departments, former Haverford coach Ed Molush said recently, at a time when Los Angeles has won eight consecutive division titles, three pennants, and a World Series championship. Byrnes also has two teenage daughters and has already been a general manager with the Arizona Diamondbacks (2006-10) and San Diego Padres (2012-14).
Likewise, Levine, 49, and his wife are said to be happy raising their three children in Minnesota. He signed an extension with the Twins in 2019 and is under contract through 2024.
Unlike Byrnes and Levine, Hill has been out of work since the Marlins didn’t renew his contract in October. Coincidentally, he worked with Byrnes and Levine in the Colorado Rockies’ front office 20 years ago.
“Mike is one of the more adaptable executives in the game,” former Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd said this week. “He has very little ego. He works well with people of different backgrounds and different levels of intellect, or lack thereof. I think he finds the best in people all the time, and I think that works in creating a cooperative process within a front office.”
A Harvard graduate and 31st-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers in 1993, Hill kicked around the minors for three years as a first baseman/outfielder before taking a job in scouting and player development with Tampa Bay.
At the recommendation of a few friends, O’Dowd took a chance on Hill to run the Rockies’ farm system. After three years, Hill left to become the Marlins’ assistant general manager.
Hill, 49, stuck around Miami through free-agent spending sprees and everything-must-go teardowns (he made the J.T. Realmuto-Sixto Sanchez trade with since-demoted Phillies GM Matt Klentak). He was there for nine managers, including Joe Girardi in 2006, and an ownership change, and was a rare link between the Marlins’ 2003 World Series championship and their unexpected postseason run this year.
In surviving so much change, Hill proved he’s able to collaborate with all personality types in any circumstance. But some within the game have watched him go with the flow so well and wondered if he isn’t better suited to carry out an organizational direction rather than being the one to set the course. If that’s the case, would he have enough support from MacPhail (and senior advisers Pat Gillick and Terry Ryan) to succeed with the Phillies?
Whatever the Phillies decide, whether they make a hire or stick with Rice, O’Dowd cautioned that it might take time to bring about the changes that are necessary. Phillies managing partner John Middleton claims the pandemic has weakened the franchise’s financial standing, and the new head of baseball operations likely will have a directive to reduce payroll.
“Usually when you jump into these roles, you want to make an immediate impact,” O’Dowd said. “I think the reality is there may be some limitations from an expectation standpoint on how you’re really going to affect the outcome of the 2021 season. We’re just in such a unique situation in our game right now.”