Why, and how, Phillies GM Pat Gillick will hand in his resignation after one season.
As 2006 spins further into a sinkhole, much of our focus has shifted toward next season, when the Phillies will liberate themselves of albatross contracts and fossils from the old regime.
Conventional wisdom indicates Pat Gillick, considered one of the smartest men in baseball, will have enough elbowroom then to work his magic, to pull off the same miracle work that earned the expansion Toronto Blue Jays two world titles in 1992 and 1993.
The 68-year-old USC alumnus signed a three-year contract, but likely targeted this season as his best, last-ditch opportunity to guide a team to a championship. It may not seem like it now, but the Phillies had a legitimate shot at the playoffs, and an outsider’s shot at a title. The fact is, when you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. Nobody knows that better than Gillick. The Phillies were only one win away in 2005, and Gillick pounced.
But he knew they were just short. He needed a front-line starter and made it his offseason focus. Without one, a third World Series ring would be nearly impossible to attain. He tried trading his best player for one. He tried to resign Billy Wagner, too.
Mission failure on both counts. Plans were significantly compromised. Gillick allowed that frustration to boil over during Phillies Winter Caravan stops, when he told members of the press that without pitching, they were not a contending team.
Today, nearly three months into the season, the Phillies are no longer close to contention. A post-season berth is only a dream. Their best pitcher, Brett Myers, has taken a leave of absence. Jon Lieber, their opening-day starter, has been out since May. Two starters from April's starting rotation, Gavin Floyd and Ryan Madson, have been dropped from the mix, and two rookies who never pitched higher than Double-A have seen significant time with the club. On Friday, they will send Adam Bernero to the mound, who last pitched in the majors as a bad reliever with Atlanta. On Sunday, they will cobble together a start from relievers.
Simply put, the season is only a shadow, a reflection of the no-show GM. Since spring, Gillick has been noticeably absent from the team's dealings. Without top pitching, he kept all the expensive players in place and turned on the autopilot. What else could he do? After all, the long-term deals were the team’s burden. He wasn't given a penny more to spend, which is why Ryan Franklin, Abraham Nunez, Sal Fasano and Alex Gonzalez were signed from the scrap heap. Jim Thome? Nothing more than a formality.
The defeatism shows more than ever after one of the worst weeks in Phillies history. Readers unfamiliar with the club would assume Ruben Amaro Jr. was in charge. In these desperate times, he's quoted most. Gillick's lone soundbyte on the Myers situation was rightfully attacked venomously by press and fans alike.
The Phillies knew they needed to replace Ed Wade, and knew it couldn't be someone from the inside. That's what the team would have preferred. That's how they operate. They wanted Ruben. He'll get his chance soon.
Next year, the Phillies will reduce payroll even more, and Gillick will step aside with lukewarm job approval at best. The manager situation will be someone else's problem. The Phillies will insert Amaro as fans no longer have enough fingers to point, and understand the team can no longer go forward with one of the largest payrolls in baseball.
Additional factors enter into the mix. Gillick is in the wrong part of North America. He has no ties to this area. Gerry Hunsicker, who was beaten out for the job, is a Bucks County native and would have been the obvious choice for a long-term replacement.
Gillick has not made a single, significant change in scouting, player development, coaching or management. He can literally pack his bags and disappear without a trace.
For Gillick, this is fortunate planning. There’s still time to be remembered as one of the greatest GMs in modern baseball history.