For much of the last two years, the Phillies have tried to straddle the line between competing for the playoffs and halfheartedly planning for the future. They have acknowledged the window was closing, but felt they still had enough time to jam a foot into it to prop it open.
They did not.
Despite mounting evidence over the last 18 months that the window had closed, Phils management shut their eyes and covered their ears, all the while insisting this team would never, EVER rebuild.
And their actions supported that. They signed free agents A.J. Burnett and Marlon Byrd to multi-year deals last winter. When the team fell out of the race this year, and the rebuild seemed a certainty, general manager Ruben Amaro was unable to unload any of his veteran players.
Whenever the conversation turned to "rebuilding," Amaro would break out into verbal hives and launch a rhetorical assault against the very idea. As recently as early July, Amaro said "rebuilding" was unthinkable (quotes per CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury.)
"For us to say 'okay, guys, this is what we're going to do. We're going to stop winning, or trying to win for the next five or six years and we're going to try and build a team from the ground up, or rebuild it from the ground up.' I think that's something that in our market place and with what our fanbase is all about, I don't think that's fair. I don't think it's fair to them. I don't think it's fair to the organization, I don't think it's fair to the players on the field.
My philosophy has always been, and you've known me a long time, I always want to win. I always want to put our team in a position to try and win every single year. There may be years, and we may be coming up on that, type of transition where we may have to say to ourselves, 'okay, we may need to take a couple steps back to move forward.' But for us to do a total blowup, I agree with David [Montgomery] in that regard, that it's just not something that our fans deserve or something necessarily that we need to do. What we do need to do is improve and get better and work on that everyday."
Fast forward to this offseason. David Montgomery is battling cancer and has been replaced as the team's president by former GM Pat Gillick, at least on an interim basis. And not coincidentally, the Phils are singing a different tune.
"I think we’re more toward rebuilding than reloading," Gillick told CSN Philly last week. "Where we are right now, it’s probably a couple years [before the team contends]. I wouldn't think ’15 or ’16. I think somewhere around 2017 or 2018. We’re listening on all the players on our roster. If it makes sense to us and it makes us better and gets us going in the direction we want, we’ll make that deal."
"We are doing things differently and we will do things differently," Amaro said last week. " It’s clear we made an effort to go for it many times and now we have to look at it in a different way and that's what we're planning on doing. It's clear there's room for us to get younger and give opportunities to younger players and build this thing from within. We have intelligent fans and I think many of them like change and I think that’s what we need to do. I believe in the people I work with, Pat and the ownership group. I'm looking forward to doing some things differently."
Everyone hopes David Montgomery beats this cancer diagnosis and returns to the Phillies sooner rather than later. But whatever happens with Montgomery's health, it seems for all the world that Pat Gillick is the man running things now.
Pat Gillick is the new Phillies alpha male.
The team held their year-end organizational meetings this week in Clearwater, and at that meeting, team officials distributed a handbook entitled "The Phillies Way," designed to give employees a sense of the team's direction.
Of course, the irony is that the man now running the show, Gillick, is not a Phillie lifer. He was not born and raised on "The Phillie Way." He came to the team in November of 2005 as the team's GM, and has stuck around ever since. But he did not start as an intern with the team in his 20s. He didn't work for 15 years in the team's PR department before getting a position in the front office.
Pat Gillick came to the Phillies with philosophies and influences from other organizations. And, he helped win a title by using some of those philosophies.
In order for this rebuild to be successful and as brief as possible, the new "Phillie Way," has to be radically different from the way the Phillies have ever done things before.
They have to embrace analytics, not just hire one guy and give him a couple interns. They need to invest big money into it, and put their faith in it, in order to catch up with what virtually ever other Major League team does. They need to continue to use the international market effectively, which they've done in Latin America. They need to be in on promising free agents from Cuba, Japan and South Korea. And perhaps most importantly, they have to figure out why they've had a hard time developing players into good Major Leaguers the last few years.
In a chat earlier this week, Philly.com's Matt Gelb said the team knows that has been a problem.
"There is some acknowledgement of that. All I hear from connected people is, 'Something has to change.' The problem is, innovation usually comes from the outside."
Pat Gillick isn't necessarily an "outsider." But his priorities are certainly different from those of Montgomery.
It's fair to wonder who exactly has been calling the shots over the last couple years. While the general manager is supposed to be in charge of the direction of the team and the product on the field, it seems as though Montgomery was largely responsible for the direction of the team these last couple years, focused on keeping his declining veterans in the hopes of keeping ticket sales and TV ratings up.
Gillick is not concerned about that, at least not at the expense of the team's future. And accordingly, there has been a drastic sea change in their public comments over the last two weeks.
Even though there has obviously been a drastic change in the team's priorities over the last few months, their refusal to move veteran players at the 2014 trade deadline was mystifying to many. Rival GMs ridiculed Amaro after the deadline passed, claiming he was drastically over-valuing his players and asking for too much in return, leading many to wonder if this team had any direction whatsoever. To those of us on the outside, it appeared the Phils had no idea what the heck they were doing.
Perhaps that is what happens when the general manager isn't really the one in charge.
Gillick's comments now indicate that every Phillies veteran is available. It is time to get younger. Apparently, that wasn't the case in July.
Phillies failed to trade players in July. Why will it work now? Amaro: "Our priorities now are a little different than they were in July."— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) October 30, 2014
So just what were the priorities in July? What has changed?
The only obvious change is Montgomery's departure and Gillick taking the reigns.
Now the arduous task of rebuilding has begun, and it finally appears as if everyone is on the same page and accepting of reality. Will that mean the team begins to create a real analytics department? Will it mean no more big-money free agent contracts to aging players?
The only big move the Phils could make this offseason is signing outfielder Yasmany Tomas, and that would be a coup. Perhaps they sign a mid-level free agent starter to a short contract, or Japanese hurler Kenta Maeda.
Other than that, expect A.J. Burnett to be back. Expect Cliff Lee to be back. Expect the Phils to listen to offers for Cole Hamels, with the understanding it's more likely he's back next year, too.
The Phils will try to trade Utley and Rollins, and then hope either player waives their no-trade rights. They will look at trading Marlon Byrd, Ben Revere or Domonic Brown.
And most importantly, they will probably move on from Ryan Howard, via trade or release.
Whatever they do this winter, one thing is clear. Montgomery is no longer running the show. Gillick is. And that change, no matter what the Phillies may say, is likely permanent.
It's also what is best for the team's future.