It is no secret, Andy MacPhail said Friday afternoon, that he plans to leave the Phillies after the 2021 season at the expiration of his three-year contract extension.
“As a matter of fact,” MacPhail, the team president, said. “I told [managing partner John Middleton] when I signed the last deal, this is it. It’s done.”
But MacPhail may leave the Phillies even sooner.
The 67-year-old said he is willing to step down if it allows the team to “land a big fish” in their search for a new leader for their baseball operations department. If so, the Phillies could then use MacPhail’s “president” title as a way to lure another team’s president of baseball operations and make the move be seen as a promotion.
“I would happily step aside,” MacPhail said.
MacPhail, who joined the Phillies in June of 2015, has primarily focused his attention on the team’s business side while former general manager Matt Klentak oversaw the baseball decisions. But since Klentak’s reassignment after five non-winning seasons, MacPhail said a significant transaction will not be made this offseason without being approved by him and Middleton.
The Phillies have started the process of finding a replacement for Klentak and have identified candidates, but they have not conducted interviews. The most likely scenario would be the Phillies hiring a president of baseball operations while another president oversees the business operations.
For now, the team’s baseball operations are being conducted by interim general manager Ned Rice, who was Klentak’s top assistant.
The Angels have started interviewing general manager candidates and the White Sox and Tigers both hired managers this week. But the Phillies, unlike when they hired Klentak three weeks after the 2015 season, do not see a reason to rush into hiring someone this offseason.
Their offices are closed until at least January, they did not hold their annual organizational meetings, the GM Meetings and Winter Meetings will not be held in-person, and the free agent market is expected to move even slower than normal.
So they will trust Rice - with MacPhail watching - to guide them for at least the first part of an offseason that is shaping up to be rather dull.
“I am very confident that Ned can get us through that,” 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?”
Rice, Middleton said after reassigning Klentak, could remain the interim GM into next season. Replacing Klentak with Rice is far from a shake-up. The two worked together in Baltimore and Rice was Klentak’s first hire after becoming GM. They see the game through similar lenses and worked in unison for the previous five seasons. Klentak’s still a part of the organization and his voice will be heard. It’s hard to imagine the Phillies approach with Rice as GM will be much different than it was when Klentak had the final say.
“They are somewhat like-minded, but they have very different personalities,” MacPhail said. “Ned is more extroverted, more likely to be hanging around the clubhouse. I think both of them are very bright and they are well-grounded in the game. I think the one thing you do have to look at is that for the time being most of the decisions this franchise has to make are internal right now. About 90% of them as it relates to what happens with our workforce, as it relates to our current personnel, so I don’t feel like we’re disadvantaged at all with Ned in having all the resources of all the people in the organization making those decisions that have to be made here in the relative short term or midterm.”
Free agency begins on Monday, but there is not expected to be much activity. Teams are already trimming payroll by declining options that would seem affordable in past seasons and placing successful players on waivers. The Phillies have slashed their scouting department and are expected this week to trim their minor-league staff while soliciting buyouts from full-time employees.
Owners are not in a hurry to spend after the league says it faces $8.3 billion in debt from last season. There is uncertainty about when next season will start — or how it will be played — and the collective bargaining agreement between the league and union expires after next season. It’s expected to be a cold winter for baseball.
“I’ll tell you that this is about as miserable a time in baseball as I have ever had by far,” MacPhail said. “And it’s not about me but it’s just a miserable process. We’ve tried to be as thoughtful as we can about this entire operation.”
Five years ago, MacPhail spent October interviewing 14 prospective general manager candidates in Chicago before flying three finalists to Philadelphia to meet with ownership. It was a quick process to find Klentak.
This time, it’s much slower and MacPhail does not want to have the input he had that October. He told Middleton that he needs to take a hands-on role and ownership needs to be “completely invested,” MacPhail said.
If MacPhail has his way, it will be Middleton making the decision. And it could be a decision that forces him out of Philadelphia a year early.
“I’m not going to be here in a year so it doesn’t matter who I pick,” MacPhail said. “They need to be invested in it.”