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What will Terry Ryan do for the Phillies?

Photo by Bryan Green

Photo by Bryan Green

No one will be asking new Phillies front office employee Terry Ryan to oversee the kind of masterful deconstruction and low-budget rebuild he performed with the Minnesota Twins multiple times during his two terms as the team’s general manager.

But isn’t it good to know there is someone in the Phillies front office who has done it before?

Ryan is the newest member of the Phillies front office, hired last week as a special assignment scout. The hire reunites him with Phillies President Andy McPhail, as the duo worked together in the Twins’ front office in the 1980s and early ’90s. Ryan actually succeeded McPhail as Twins’ GM in 1994.

Cloak of mystery

What Ryan’s role with his new organization, exactly, is up for debate. The Phillies didn’t shed much light on it in their announcement, though according to TwinCities.com (the St. Paul Pioneer Press), Ryan won’t be moving from Minnesota, and much of his work will be scouting the teams that come through Target Field.

The role of a “special adviser” generally is one of baseball’s great mysteries. Reserved almost exclusively for friends of the franchise or of the front office leaders, it’s never clearly defined and always generally accepted as “a good guy to have around.”

Look just in the Phillies’ division, and you’ll find similar “arrangements” of teams bringing in people they trust. The Mets have J.P. Ricciardi as “special assistant to the general manager” – he and GM Sandy Alderson worked together in Oakland for 12 years. The Marlins have Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Jeff Conine all with the title “special assistant to the president.” Bobby Cox is a special assistant to Braves GM John Coppolella. In Washington, GM Mike Rizzo hired his dad Phillip, a long-time scout, to be his “senior adviser.”

What Ryan means

Regardless of the nature of his role, what isn’t up for debate is Ryan’s dynamic credentials: Two stints as general manager of the Twins totaling 18 years, a track record of developing prospects picked from the scrap heap, and high levels of success built with a budget just a fraction of what the Phillies have available to them (or at least will have available when the time is right). He plucked Johan Santana from the Rule 5 netherworld and turned him into one of the best arms of the early 2000s. He shrewdly nabbed Francisco Liriano as a throw-in for a 2003 trade of A.J. Pierzynski, a trade that also netted before-he-was-a-closer Joe Nathan. Yeah, a young, injured and under-performing David Ortiz left Minnesota for nothing under his watch, but every executive has that one-that-got-away story. It’s absolutely safe to say Ryan’s successes outweigh his failures. Ryan’s vast baseball knowledge is now available to a franchise that resembles the 1998 Twins he turned into division champions four years later.

And for as much faith as the Phillies have put in GM Matt Klentak and the front office to guide this rebuild, there is undoubtedly a lack of true baseball scouting experience and success. Klentak already has proven himself to be, at the very least, a capable general manager, and he and his staff seem to be on the same page moving forward with the daunting rebuild of the team he inherited. But he’s one of the new generation of general managers, the Theo Epstein-types embracing the new analytical world, but with a lack of classic baseball scouting credentials.

His top two lieutenants, assistant GMs Scott Proefrock and Ned Rice, aren’t exactly household names. Proefrock is holdover from the Ruben Amaro era, and the fact that he survived the former general manager’s dismissal probably tells you that he may not have seen eye to eye with Amaro on everything, and also that he’s well liked by ownership. But we really don’t know much about him or what his exact role in the organization is, other than to take calls from fans once a week with Jim Jackson on the Phillies radio pregame show. Rice is an analytics specialist, the franchise’s correction for years of analytical ignorance.

But that doesn’t mean any of them have the kind of baseball experience and acumen that intimidates another team out on the scouting trail, and maybe more importantly, in trade discussions.

A voice for the voiceless?

That’s where Ryan comes in, the same place the team’s three other well-known advisers fit. While Pat Gillick scouted top draft prospects before the Phils made their No. 1 overall pick last June, no one really knows what Dallas Green and Charlie Manuel, the Phillies’ other front office special advisers, are telling Klentak or McPhail or John Middleton or the Phantic, for that matter. The most recent thing we know about their roles with the team is that Manuel helped light the Christmas tree last weekend at Citizens Bank Park. That’s not exactly the kind of “print the World Series tickets” kind of contributions fans are looking for.

What we do know is all three are symbolic holdovers from the Phillies’ two golden eras. So forgive McPhail if he may feel a bit left out at board meetings when the three of them are droning on about the 2008 parade for the 476th time. If McPhail thought he needed someone in the room he could trust and to bounce ideas off, more power to him. The more proven baseball people in the room, the merrier.

At the same time, it could be a little distressing if McPhail didn’t think that he needed someone he could trust in the room, but that he thought he needed someone he could trust. Are his rules not being followed? Is his baseball voice too muted in a front office filled with analytical wonder boys?

That’s a pretty big stretch, bordering on conspiracy theory, since Ryan is staying in Minnesota and not doing a lot of traveling. It certainly doesn’t seem like he’s going to be flying to Philly twice a week to chew out some front office underlings and enforce McPhail’s marching orders to the letter.

Bottom line is he’s a seasoned baseball professional with a track record of success in similar situations to the one the Phillies face now, whose salary, whatever it is, doesn’t count against any luxury tax and won’t raise the price of beer. Let’s all just call him Terry “Fresh Pair of Eyes” Ryan and move along.

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