The Phillies announced Tuesday that Pete Mackanin will remain manager through at least the end of 2016.
Signing a one-year contract with a 2017 option, Mackanin has the opportunity to become the fulcrum of the next great Phillies team. But is that the right move? Should the Phillies have secured the field manager role this early in the franchise rebuilding process? Let’s address some of the open questions.
1. Why sign Pete Mackanin now, before a new general manager is named?
Phillies President Andy MacPhail, tonight at Marlins Park, indicated he’d rather a new general manager focus more on putting a front office team together in his or her first few months on the job. Two things on this: First, as Corinne Landrey smartly pointed out, MacPhail said “he or she” when discussing a future general manager. There has never been a female baseball general manager (though Kim Ng is a solid candidate for a GM opening), so MacPhail’s sheer acknowledgment of considering women speaks volumes. Good on you, Andy.
Second, let’s say MacPhail’s general manager search begins, in earnest, after the season wraps, when focus switches to roster building. It could take a month or so to fill the position. Say a new GM is in place by November 10; he or she would have to assemble a staff, then prepare for the winter meetings and arbitration hearings, all in a short window. As MacPhail noted, the aim is to ensure the new GM is focused more on turning the franchise around in scouting, farm system player development and roster construction. Without these things you don’t have consistently good major league teams anyway.
2. But isn’t it weird that a new general manager couldn’t choose his or her field manager?
Not necessarily. Again, the new general manager would want to focus on building a front office team that best reflects the new strategy of the franchise. Then the GM would want to construct a team that fits that strategy. In time the new GM could potentially select a manager he or she thinks would be best for the team. Until then, Mackanin is a solid choice. He knows the team already, has a rapport with the players – especially the young guys – and would signify a calm in the middle of a stormy process of rebuilding. Players won’t necessarily feel cautious if they know their manager is entrenched for the year; a new manager means more time to feel things out and allow nerves to play a larger factor.
3. So what would Mackanin be expected to do?
Do what he’s been doing: keep a loose clubhouse; continue to develop rapport with players; and teach young players various facets of the game.
4. What shouldn’t Mackanin do?
As we saw this week, Mackanin isn’t shy about expressing his frustration to his players. He benched Odubel Herrera for sulking after hitting a pop-up, which isn’t a bad move, but then used chauvinistic language to describe the move. So with that, Mackanin should be careful with the words he chooses and the type of environment he wants to help foster. It’s not about being “a man.” That language sends plenty of mixed signals.
Also, Mackanin shouldn’t disregard his rookie players. As other teams (Houston, San Francisco, Minnesota) have taught us, rookies can do as much damage as veterans – if not more damage – to opposing pitchers. So, play them! See what the young players have to give; allow the new general manager an opportunity to know his options.
5. Does this move change anything for 2016?
It may signal that the Phillies will play it conservatively in regards to offseason roster building. In fact, they probably should. The new general manager would want to assemble his or her team, then begin working with and understanding the tools at his or her disposal. Plus 2016 may be a year where we see what we have from both young prospects (J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin) and from players in make-or-break mode (Cody Asche, Cameron Rupp, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez). It may not be time yet to throw into the mix a well-paid free agent, much as the prospect of Jason Heyward in right field looks tempting.
6. What are Mackanin’s chances of staying on through 2017 and beyond?
If the young core of the 2016 Phillies (Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, Odubel Herrera, Ken Giles) makes improvements, and you see a generally higher quality of play over the season, that would solidify Mackanin’s 2017 status. As would a miracle run toward the postseason, led by the young core. But if we see the same old mix of old and young, and bad fundamentals, and questionable in-game strategy, Mackanin’s status is much more up in the air. It’s possible, too, that Mackanin does a decent job in 2016, but the new GM has a few ideas for beyond 2016 and wants to change the field manager to his or her preference.
For now, though, it’s good that there’s a form of consistency in the rebuilding process, and at a place where plenty of the young makeup of this team can use it.