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GM Search: the home stretch?

Though Randy Miller seems to think that the Phillies might not hire a new general manager in time for the GM meetings, set to begin a week from tomorrow, it does sound like the team has identified the finalists. They are:

  • current assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr.

  • current assistant GM Mike Arbuckle

  • former Blue Jays, Orioles and Mariners GM Pat Gillick

  • former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker

Amaro interviews today; the rest have already sat down with team president David Montgomery. Cleveland Indians assistant GM Chris Antonetti reportedly will interview as well, but it's hard to imagine the team hiring a first-timer, particularly one with a so-called "Moneyball" mindset. If you'll indulge an SAT-type analogy, Antonetti is to the GM search what Terry Pendleton was to last year's managerial hiring process.

So who gets the job?

The best guess, here and elsewhere, is that this is essentially a two-horse race between Gillick and Hunsicker. It's known that the team wants "a name" and someone who's won before; both guys qualify, Hunsicker with Houston's playoff teams of 1995 through last year and Gillick with various Toronto, Baltimore and Seattle clubs of the '90s and early 2000s. Both executives had above-average but not unlimited budgets to work with, just as the Phils are likely to maintain over the next several seasons. They built from within, but were able to pull off the bold in-season moves that Wade never managed: Gillick added guys like David Cone and Rickey Henderson for the Blue Jays' world champions, while Hunsicker brought in stars like Randy Johnson and Carlos Beltran to put the Astros into the postseason.

Hunsicker has local ties (he grew up and went to college in the area), is younger (55, while Gillick will be 68), and is reportedly close to Bill Giles. I'm just not sure that the last two traits help or hurt with Montgomery, the man making the decision. Add in that Hunsicker clashed with Astros president Drayton McLane, who liked to be involved with personnel/budget decisions just as Montgomery does, and I have a hunch that Monty would prefer Gillick.

As an older GM, he could have a better chance to keep the 40 year-old Amaro, whom the organization still holds in high regard, as the heir apparent, if he chose. And as a guy who has won in three different cities, he would have the juice to bring in his own management team--hopefully spelling the end of the Dallas Green "advisory" era and the Phils' cronyism habit, which at this point almost rivals that of the Bush White House as a disadvantage.

I also wonder if the Gillick/Hunsicker choice might be decisive in terms of what happens with Billy Wagner. The closer filed for free agency this week, but has all but said he wants the Phils to hire Hunsicker, for whom Wagner played in Houston and who traded him to the Phillies in December 2003--reputedly at ownership's behest. If the team hires Hunsicker, will it be a signal that retaining Wagner--who could get offers approaching $10 million a year from the Mets and Red Sox--remains the top priority? For that matter, would the team predicate their choice of the man to lead the organization for the rest of this decade in part on whether it would help them resolve one contract issue? That seems insane, but with these guys, it's hard to say for sure.

Even so, I think either Gillick or Hunsicker would be a strong hire. The Phils might have stumbled into a good move by virtue of some less happy options, like Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden, going elsewhere. But after eight years of Ed Wade, it will be nice to have someone on the job with a track record of success, credibility with his peers around MLB, and independence from the management/ownership group. Both men qualify on all three counts.