It does not seem as if John Middleton is in a hurry to hire his next general manager. If that’s the case, it’s OK as long as the Phillies' managing partner and most visible owner uses his time wisely while he methodically searches for Matt Klentak’s replacement.
That means Middleton, for at least the next month, should spend every waking moment picking the brains of baseball people from a broad variety of teams and backgrounds. He should talk to people who have worked with teams that are heavy on analytics and try to find out what they might be doing differently than the Phillies, who have been unable to translate new-age numbers into victories. Middleton should also talk to old-school baseball lifers who might be able to suggest some ideas that still work but were abandoned by the ballclub under Klentak’s leadership.
The rest of this month needs to be a reconnaissance mission because it’s a rare opportunity for the Phillies to find out how a lot of other teams and smart baseball men do things.
A good place for Middleton to start, if he has not already, would be to bring in a couple of influential people from the Phillies' past. This won’t be a popular opinion, but Middleton should have long conversations with Ed Wade and Ruben Amaro Jr., the two general managers who formed a sandwich around Hall of Famer Pat Gillick’s three-year tenure as the GM.
We already know that Middleton still seeks Gillick’s input. He said Saturday that Gillick will be involved in the search for the next GM, as will team president Andy MacPhail and Terry Ryan, the longtime Minnesota Twins GM who has been a special assignment scout for the Phillies since late 2016.
Wade and Amaro, at the very least, could offer some insight about a job they both once held. Let’s not forget that Gillick gave Wade a very justified shout-out when the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 because the core of that team had been put together under Wade’s watch. Klentak fired Wade from his scouting job with the Phillies after the 2017 season and he has been out of baseball ever since.
That’s a shame and a reflection of how little more traditional baseball people are valued in this day and age. Jeff Luhnow, the man who replaced Wade as the general manager in Houston, received a ton of credit for turning the Astros into a World Series champion. That title, however, will forever have an asterisk because of the sign-stealing scandal that cost Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch their jobs. The only core player left from the Wade era in Houston is George Springer, but he is at least the Astros' best player.
One more interesting fact: If this year’s eight-team playoff format had been in place during Wade’s tenure as GM, the Phillies would have qualified for the postseason in each of his last five seasons.
A resounding criticism of Klentak during his five seasons as the Phillies' GM was that he had a disregard for the franchise’s history and for seeking advice from anyone outside his very limited inner circle. That was his right even if it was wrong, but Middleton would be wise to seek input from someone like Wade, who was a masterful organizer, a deeply loyal Phillies employee and the man who hired Charlie Manuel as manager.
Speaking of deeply loyal Phillies employees, Amaro’s blood type might just be P-positive. In returning as a team broadcaster this season, Amaro did not need any transition period before he started referring to the Phillies as “we” again. We know how unpopular Amaro was when he left here, but time and five more seasons without a playoff berth should have softened that point of view some.
What should make Amaro interesting to Middleton is the fact that he has been with two other teams since being fired as the Phillies' general manager near the end of the 2015 season. He knows about the thought process in Boston and with the New York Mets. He also got a firsthand look at the game from on the field as a first-base coach with the Red Sox and Mets and that’s helpful when trying to get a feel for the way modern-day players think.
Amaro’s greatest weakness was considered to be analytics when Middleton decided the Phillies needed to take a sharp right turn in that direction five years ago, but now he not only has a better feel for that aspect of the game, he also knows what some players feel is the best way to utilize the information.
Why not at least pick his brain?
Of course, it’s important for Middleton to also speak with candidates who have worked with some of the most successful teams in baseball. Who wouldn’t want to know how the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s consistently remain playoff contenders despite payrolls near the bottom of baseball? And why wouldn’t you want to talk to New York Yankees special assistant Jim Hendry? WWNYYD — what would the New York Yankees do? — should be a question every big-market team asks itself.
Brian Sabean, winner of three World Series in San Francisco, David Dombrowski, winner of a World Series in Miami and Boston, and Dan Duquette, who built winners in Boston and Baltimore, should be on the must-talk-to list as well. I’m also already on record as saying what a good candidate Kansas City assistant GM J.J. Picollo would be, especially since he would come with a glowing recommendation from former Phillies scouting director and assistant GM Mike Arbuckle.
Considering there are so many good candidates out there, it’s highly unlikely that Middleton would decide to restore the title of general manager to either Wade or Amaro. Having one or both of them back with the ballclub in some manner, however, would not be a bad idea. They are both good baseball men who belong in the game.