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Phillies appear to be taking same old approach to change

Nothing's inherently wrong if Phillies hire 62-year-old Andy MacPhail, except he's not as progressive as other young team execs.

Andy MacPhail doesn’t seem to be the type of forward-thinking front-office leader the Phillies need. (Associated Press)
Andy MacPhail doesn’t seem to be the type of forward-thinking front-office leader the Phillies need. (Associated Press)Read more

HERE IS WHAT I know, from years of experience: Progress is like a freight train. It starts off slow enough that if you miss it at the beginning, you can sprint down the platform and jump onboard. But if you do not start running until you see the caboose, then you probably will end up face-down in the gravel next to the hobos who skipped gym class.

If the smoke signals billowing out of Citizens Bank Park are to be believed, the Phillies still don't even understand that there is a train. According to the reports, the first of them by CSNPhilly.com, the organization has targeted longtime Twins, Cubs and Orioles executive Andy MacPhail to join their front office, presumably as a permanent replacement for interim team president Pat Gillick. For fans hoping for a radical overhaul of a franchise that has fallen well behind many of its more progressive counterparts, the news should be discouraging on a number of levels.

That MacPhail is 62 years old - or, in Phillies terminology, "a young whippersnapper," - is irrelevant. Plenty of forward-thinking 62-year-olds possess a keen understanding of the talent evaluation, technological innovation and market projection necessary to inhabit the upper margins of a sport structured to minimize the variance between its participants. They just usually aren't hanging around waiting for their latest chance to run a ballclub.

Maybe MacPhail is an exception. Maybe the Phillies are targeting him because they desperately want to build a modern baseball organization and they think he knows exactly how to do it. This isn't about hiring a 62-year-old vs. hiring a 26-year-old. I have nothing against old people, apart from the crippling education and health-care costs they have inflicted on a generation that they then have the temerity to call selfish. I love my parents, and they are old. They also watch CBS, and if I hired them to run HBO, each episode of "Game of Thrones" would end with Tom Selleck imparting a life lesson to somebody. Their idea of an instant video app is the public library. Again, I love them.

Maybe MacPhail hates CBS. Maybe he is a long-lost descendant of House Targaryen. He does have blond hair. But considering the Phillies' track record, it is difficult to convince oneself that they are targeting a member of one of baseball's oldest executive lineages because of his progressive credentials. The problem with MacPhail is that he is the exact guy you'd expect them to hire. If you hired a sketch artist to draw a picture of the Phillies' next president based on their usual profile, the sketch artist would say, "Why am I drawing you a picture? We both know they are going to hire MacPhail."

Card-carrying member of Club Baseball? Check. Connections to the organization? Check. World Series berth in the 1980s and '90s? Check and check.

Nothing is inherently wrong with any of those things. MacPhail does have plenty of experience building an organization the way the Phillies are trying to build one. And while he was run out of Baltimore after four seasons of fewer than 70 wins, his fingerprints are all over an Orioles roster that is looking for its fourth straight winning season.

Yet most of those fingerprints originate in two of the more lopsided trades in recent history, which combined to land Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter for the soon-to-flameout Erik Bedard and reliever Koji Uehara. It isn't clear whether the Phillies understand just how much the game has changed since those deals. If they want to hire MacPhail because they think he can trade Cole Hamels for a return similar to Bedard, then they will be disappointed. Or they will not trade Hamels.

As Ruben Amaro Jr. noted last July, teams value elite prospects, particularly hitters, higher than they ever have. That's because the television money in the sport has increased to the point that every team can afford to sign its young stars to big-time contracts. That has led to a huge talent shortage on the free-agent market, which has forced teams to lavish exorbitant contracts to land one of the few players who do hit the open market. The huge luxury-tax penalties imposed has further closed the gap between small- and big-market teams, and the draft and the international markets are completely different from what they were in 2011, meaning the calculus required to maximize performance in each has changed.

Maybe MacPhail's experience running the Twins in the '80s and the Cubs in the '90s and the Orioles in the 'aughts somehow prepared him to match wits with the Andrew Friedmans, Theo Epsteins and Jeff Luhnows of the world. The concern for fans should be the possibility that the Phillies do not want that kind of guy, because those kinds of guys tend to make the old guard feel uncomfortable, and the Phillies' old guard is a veritable legion.

One of the best and worst things about this organization is that it does not fire people - it collects them, like babushka dolls, or angel figurines. One day you open up the closet and something falls off the shelf and hits you in the head and, oh, hey, that's where I stored Ed Wade. Again, not inherently bad. The three former managers and two former general managers still on the payroll are all good people with impressive track records and invaluable institutional knowledge. But if you study history, you'll notice that there are very few instances of regime change in which the new guys say to the old guys, "Say, chaps, why not stick around and monitor our progress? We'll fix you a room."

There is a reason you sand away the previous layer before painting the next one. The more people who have a voice, the more likely you are to end up with a leader whose top qualification is that he makes all of those voices feel comfortable.

This is what I know: When the Dodgers decided they needed a change, they targeted somebody widely regarded as one of the brightest minds in the sport and handed him the keys to the kingdom. They said, we are the Dodgers, and we will do whatever it takes to land the most qualified guy. When the Cubs decided they needed a change, they did the same. Maybe that's what the Phillies are doing. Maybe MacPhail is that guy. But they long ago exhausted their claim to the benefit of the doubt.

On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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