A lot of bad news, or perhaps just pre-bad news, in today's mlb.com story about the Phils' GM search. After initial speculation about Gerry Hunsicker, the likely front-runner for the position, Ken Mandel reveals the following:
Unlike last season, when the Phillies announced each of their managerial candidates and scheduled interviews with each, the search for a general manager will be largely private.
To that end, team president David Montgomery has huddled in meetings since Tuesday, researching possibilities, though he took a break on Wednesday to talk about a contract with free-agent closer Billy Wagner.
What's not to like here? Plenty.
Let's start with the candidate list. What do they all have in common? The words "general manager" on their resumes. Of course, this also means they've been fired from those jobs.
Jim Duquette is the mastermind who brought Victor Zambrano to New York before the 2004 all-star break, parting with Scott Kazmir in the process. Apologists for the move--the precious few who'd even try to defend a deal that sent a dominant lefty at the outset of his career for a mid-rotation starter in his late 20s with chronic control issues--tend to blame Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, who didn't believe in Kazmir. It's not much of a defense; what self-respecting executive takes his cues from the pitching coach? The Mets were on the outskirts of the race at the time of the trade; within weeks, they were buried, and wound up losing 90-plus in 2004. The Kazmir deal was surely the nadir of Jim Duquette's Mets tenure, but when you're 10 or more games under .500 a few years running with one of the game's highest payrolls, it's a safe bet that other things went wrong too.
But at least he's experienced.
Jim's cousin Dan Duquette, late of the Red Sox and previously a Montreal Expos executive, might be the best of this bad bunch (aside from Hunsicker). He added a lot of talent to the late-90s Red Sox, and probably deserves more credit for Boston's 2004 world championship than he commonly receives. His two most high-profile moves, which undercut his support in New England, were severing ties with Mo Vaughn and Roger Clemens. He got it right on Vaughn; with Clemens, he made a mistake of historic proportions, and suffered the added indignity of the Rocket directly sticking it to the Sox for seven years with the Blue Jays and Yankees. He also shredded the Boston farm system, Wade-like, forcing his successor Theo Epstein to go outside the organization in finding the last few pieces to the championship puzzle. Duquette's an arrogant guy, and while he earns it more than Wade did, he would likely prove too abrasive for the painfully PR-conscious Phillies.
John Hart would have been a great choice... ten years ago. Hart built the great Indians teams of the 1990s on which Jim Thome (and Charlie Manuel) rose to prominence. He locked up guys like Thome, Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Charles Nagy, Carlos Baerga and Sandy Alomar Jr. at the outset of their careers, and made some canny additions like Eddie Murray and Orel Hershiser, and later Marquis Grissom and David Justice, that twice brought the Tribe within arm's reach of a title. Then he started making deals like Brian Giles for Ricky Rincon. Then he went to Texas, and shipped out players like Travis Hafner. Like Brian Cashman in New York, Hart had a hands-on owner to contend with in Arlington; at least he's known to hire great people around him, and he would likely sweep out the Greens and Vukes who are still clogging up the Phillies offices... and informing the GM search. I guess that's something.
Then there's Washington GM Jim Bowden, who gave Cristian Guzman one of the worst contracts in baseball history last winter, also added Vinny Castilla and later traded for Junior Spivey, then complained this season about how his team couldn't hit. Need I say more?
Totally absent from the list are some of the good young assistants from around the game--Byrnes, Antonetti, Krivsky. Can't have any of those young whippersnappers telling Dallas Green that maybe it's not a good idea to blow out pitching arms, or that strike-zone command isn't a sign of absent testicles.
I'm now officially praying for Hunsicker. With this Phillies braintrust, the best you can hope for is that they'll make the right decision for the wrong reasons.