If you are still reeling from another depressing end to the Phillies season, we regret to inform you that the offseason could be even worse.
In place of the hot stove, the Phillies are giving us cold leftover Ned Rice as the interim general manager until further notice. And if you’re expecting Matt Klentak’s former assistant to cook up something fresh and exciting, it’s probably not going to happen.
At least that was the forecast coming out of Maryland, where lame-duck team president Andy MacPhail offered up his annual postseason state-of-the-team address by casting a pall on the state of his entire sport.
“I’ll tell you this is about as miserable a time in baseball as I have ever [seen] by far,” MacPhail said Friday afternoon during a Zoom call with reporters. “And it’s not about me. It’s just a miserable process.”
MacPhail was speaking specifically about the process of laying off employees both on the baseball operations and business side, a pandemic-forced exercise the Phillies started last week and will continue for the coming days and weeks.
It is indeed sad that so many good people are going to be out of work at a time when jobs are difficult to come by. But the cold reality from a public perspective is that most fans just want to know how the COVID-19 situation is going to impact the ballclub.
The answer is a lot.
“Finances are different and that allows me to bring up something that I wanted to talk about,” MacPhail said "I’ve read some of this stuff that’s critical of the owners. You take the money when times are good, but now when we run into a big problem, the players bear the brunt of it or employees need to go.
“I can only speak for the Phillies, but when our revenues were what they were our ownership reinvested everything back into the club. We hired an additional 130 people, we grew the major-league payroll. They put the money all back into the club. Ownership makes money when they sell the franchise, not when they operate. At the same time, the losses we accrued in 2020 and what is reasonable to assume for 2021, it’s not pretty. It’s not pretty.”
More sympathy might be forthcoming if those investments had led to something other than miserable finishes. The bottom line is that fans want the team to be better and that has not happened during MacPhail’s time as president. He cited some Baseball Reference WAR (wins above replacement) numbers since the 2016 draft that portray the Phillies in a good light. But a history of blah trades and a failure to construct a competent bullpen prevented the Phillies from posting a winning season during the Klentak era, which is directly married to the MacPhail era.
Now, according to MacPhail, the Phillies are in no hurry to replace Klentak with either a new general manager or president of baseball operations because they believe the free-agent market is going to move at a snail’s pace as it did in 2017 and 2018. In other words, they might lose catcher J.T. Realmuto to free agency, but they believe the calendar is likely to at least say January or maybe even February 2021 before that happens.
“I think the one thing you have to look at is that for the time being most of the decisions this franchise has to make are internal right now,” MacPhail said. “About 90 percent of them relate to what happens with our work force and our current personnel, so I don’t feel like we’re disadvantaged at all with Ned. 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?”
You probably need a couple of dozen hands to count the number of people willing to don a mask, get on an airplane, and interview for the job of president of baseball operations or GM with the Phillies. I bet you can find some really good ones, too.
Wait-until-later thinking is insane and we’ll use some Friday roster moves as an example why. The Phillies allowed relievers David Robertson, Adam Morgan, Blake Parker, Heath Hembree, and David Phelps all to become free agents Friday as well as outfielder Phil Gosselin. Perhaps a new GM might have viewed one of those value-at-the-margin guys as worth keeping. It’s a little thing, but a lot of little decisions the Tampa Bay Rays made helped them win the American League pennant.
In the bigger picture, the sooner you get a new president and GM, the sooner that new team of decision-makers can start to evaluate the current talent and formulate an opinion about what needs to be done to end the Phillies' interminable playoff drought.
MacPhail acted as though COVID-19 makes it impossible to bring in someone new even though the Los Angeles Angels are in the process of doing it and the 76ers managed to add a new coach (Doc Rivers) and team president (Daryl Morey) since their season ended.
“We’ve already gone through the preliminary stages of a search,” MacPhail said. “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 going longer. Certainly through until 2021, when you have a little more clarity what we are facing. I just try to underscore this: 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 that they could affect positive change it’s just borderline not fair to them.”
What’s even more unfair is that Philadelphia has now gone nine seasons without a playoff baseball team. No other professional team in this city has made its fans wait that long for a return to the playoffs over the last half century.