UNDERSTAND THIS: The only way the Phillies' latest shell-shuffling makes sense is if they have settled on Pat Gillick as their architect for the future. Also, this: Making sense doesn't always seem to be a prerequisite at One Citizens Bank Way.
Chances are, the Phillies' decision to move David Montgomery out of the president's office in favor of Gillick is nothing more than cosmetic alteration designed to buy time while offering the fan base an illusion of significant change. Gillick was already in the fold. Ruben Amaro Jr. has had a direct line to him since Gillick handed him the reins in 2008. Gillick has been in the draft room. He's been at spring training. He has steadfastly insisted that he is not interested in being the president for the long haul. He has said the Phillies won't be good again until 2018, when he will be 80.
And that raises the question: What, exactly, is the purpose of the time the Phillies are buying? What evaluations will the organization be able to make a year from now that they aren't already able to make? The biggest issue, then or now, is the shortest path between futility and respectability. Who do the Phillies trust to identify it? Whose blueprint will the Phillies be following over the next 3 years?
The three options for Gillick:
1) Sign Amaro to a contract extension and charge him with cleaning up the current mess.
2) Hire Amaro's replacement.
3) Handpick his own successor as president, and leave the rest of the baseball-ops department up to the new guy.
In each scenario, an evaluation of Amaro is in order, and any decision to postpone that evaluation beyond the present is a suggestion that there is something Amaro can do in the next year to dictate his fate. But any such suggestion is ludicrous, because the only decisions that Amaro can make over the next year are ones that will require at least 3 years to evaluate, because every decision that Amaro makes will be geared toward making the Phillies competitive 3 years from now, and, well, the whole thing just hurts your head if you think about it too hard.
In other words: If a year from now, then why not now?
Maybe the Phillies really do see Gillick as their architect. Maybe they really do think changing the Hall of Famer from Phone-a-Friend to Boss Man is the only change in direction required by an organization that could soon require a second executive box to accommodate everybody with emeritus status.
And that raises a most delicate question.
Is he really the right man for the job?
Over the last few years, we've watched many of the Phillies' big-market brethren reshape their front offices in dramatic fashion. The Dodgers and Braves did it this year. The Cubs and the Mets did it a few years ago. The Phillies still seem to be erring on the side of inertia. That's no knock on Gillick. I'd say he's forgotten more baseball than most of us have ever known, except the man doesn't forget anything.
But the Phillies will face a slew of potentially franchise-altering questions over the next few years, and if they do not refer to the proper blueprint when answering them, they could very easily reduce Operation 2018 to a pipe dream.
Right now, Gillick and Amaro are just selling off parts to the highest bidder. The tricky questions are still to come: How much money should they bid on Yoan Moncada? How aggressive should they be on the international market? How can they optimize their draft picks given the constraints of the collective bargaining agreement? If Domonic Brown has a big year, should they trade him? What about Ken Giles? Maikel Franco? Everybody keeps talking about building a new core - the Rays and A's are acting as if there is no longer such a thing as a core. Do they know something everybody else doesn't? What does the data say?
As a wise man once said: The game done changed. Identifying the proper blueprint for a sustainable future in the new world order is the most important part.
The last time Gillick was charged with building a roster from the ground up, there was no luxury tax, no hard slotting system, no international bonus limits, no analytics; hell, no Internet. There were six fewer teams. The first Blue Jays team he took to the ALCS did not have a starting pitcher who averaged more than 5.7 strikeouts per nine innings. No major league team has finished a season without a starting pitcher over 5.7 K/9 since 1996.
At each of his last three stops, Gillick's brief tenure as GM has been followed by a lengthy stretch of futility. After winning 88 and 98 games in his first 2 years with the Orioles, Baltimore went 14 straight seasons without a winning record. The Mariners have not reached the playoffs in the 11 seasons since Gillick's last as GM. And, of course, we all know the Phillies' situation.
While there is an argument to be made that the losing was a result of Gillick's departure, there is also an argument to be made that it was a result of the moves he made while he was in control. Take, for instance, the 10 drafts he oversaw with the Orioles, Mariners and Phillies. In five of those drafts, Gillick forfeited his first-round pick in order to sign aging free agents. Two of those picks were No. 16 overall. In 2000, he not only sacrificed his first-round pick, but his second- and third-round picks as well.
Then there is the matter of the players that Gillick did pick. His last 10 drafts have produced exactly two everyday major leaguers, neither of whom matured into said everyday player with the organization for whom Gillick drafted him. His best pick during that stretch - ie., the pick that the Phillies would most like to grab in their current situation - was Adam Jones, whom he selected at No. 37 overall in 2003. In 1997, he picked Jayson Werth at No. 22 overall. Jones finished 2014 with 23.9 career WAR, while Werth had 31.1 WAR.
Behind Werth and Jones, the players Gillick drafted who have the highest career WAR? Jerry Hairston (13.7), Eric O'Flaherty (6.6), Jarred Cosart (5.2), Vance Worley (5.0) and D.J. Carrasco (4.6).
Look at it another way: If you were to cobble together a lineup and rotation out of the 400-plus players drafted in Gillick's last 10 years as general manager, it would look something like this:
1. Anthony Gose CF (2008). . . 1.2 WAR
2. Jason Donald SS (2006). . . 1.3 WAR
3. Adam Jones LF (2003). . . 23.9 WAR
4. Jayson Werth RF (1996). . . 31.1 WAR
5. Travis d'Arnaud 1B/C (2007). . . -0.1 WAR
6. Jerry Hairston 2B (1997). . . 13.7 WAR
7. Domonic Brown DH (2006). . . -1.0 WAR
8. Gaby Sanchez 3B (2002). . . 3.0 WAR
9. Rene Rivera 1B/C (2001). . . 3.4 WAR
1. Travis Buck (2006). . . 3.1 WAR
2. Darnell McDonald (1997). . . 1.0 WAR
3. Quintin Berry (2006). . . 0.9 WAR
4. Rene Rivera (2001). . . 3.4 WAR
5. Luis Matos (1996). . . 4.7 WAR
1. Jarred Cosart (2008). . . 5.1 WAR
2. Vance Worley (2008). . . 5.0 WAR
3. Josh Towers (1996). . . 2.2 WAR
4. D.J. Carrasco (1997). . . 4.6 WAR
5. Bullpen game
BULLPEN: John Axford, Eric O'Flaherty, Mike MacDougal, Doug Slaten, Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, Doug Mathis.
His first-round picks: John Mayberry Jr. (2002, did not sign), Rick Elder (1998, did not reach majors), Darnell McDonald (1997, 1.0 WAR), Kyle Drabek (2006, -0.2 WAR), Joe Savery (2007, -0.0 WAR), Anthony Hewitt (2008, did not reach majors).
Don't misinterpret any of this. Gillick achieved what he was hired by the Orioles, Mariners and Phillies to do: take underachieving, veteran teams and add the pieces required to make them contenders. He added Roberto Alomar and B.J. Surhoff to Rafael Palmeiro, Cal Ripken, Brady Anderson, Bobby Bonilla and Mike Mussina. He added John Olerud, Mike Cameron, Mark McLemore, and Aaron Sele to Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner. He added Greg Dobbs and Werth to Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Cole Hamels. And he built a solid bullpen at all three stops.
The point is, for the last 20 years, Gillick's specialty has been mining the margins of the free-agent market: identifying and signing the right players to complement a team with a veteran core of players already intact. That doesn't mean he can't succeed at building a team from scratch in the current environment. It just means he has never done it.
In Baltimore, he had the highest payroll in the majors in two of his seasons and the second-highest in the third. In Seattle, the Mariners' payroll expanded by 63 percent during his 4 years at the helm. At all three of his stops since Toronto, Gillick left it to his successor to turn over a roster that was among the two or three oldest in the majors. Now, he is on the receiving end.
Or is he? Gillick has steadfastly insisted that he has no desire to oversee a long-term rebuilding project. Just last week, he told reporters that he could not envision himself in his current position 1 year from now. Maybe he was just being polite to Montgomery. After all, the team announced that it had removed the interim tag for a reason. If Gillick wasn't planning on sticking around, you'd think they would have announced a search for a new president.
But, then, we're back where we started. It could become a familiar feeling.