True to their corporate beliefs, the Phils have remained quiet during the Fall Classic. This has always been an unofficial edict from the commissioner's office and the Phils are nothing if not devoted to the highest office in baseball. Thus, despite much gnashing of teeth and muffled cries from a concerned Phillie phan base, Managing General Partner Dave Montgomery remained silent for the past few weeks, despite rumors that had fan favorite Gerry Hunsicker ready to bolt for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays executive position.
While certainly still a possibility, it seemed then and remains now highly unlikely that Hunsicker, a lifetime Philadelphia Phillie phan, would leave before the Phils process is completed. Sure enough, once the World Series ended, Hunsicker was called in for an interview. This is significant on two fronts. Number one, the official word, the one that had Phillie phans so concerned, was that Hunsicker had not even been contacted for an interview. I found this then and find it now almost unbelievable considering that Hunsicker is from Philadelphia and certainly knew the pulse of the team.
Number two, this was significant because if what was said is to be believed, Hunsicker was called on Wednesday night, probably right around the time the White Sox were celebrating their four game series sweep, to come in for an interview the following day. Now, this might not normally be a problem except that Hunsicker was in Houston at the time, and had to fly half way across the United States for the interview. I wonder if he had time to say good bye to the dog and kids.
My point is not to be facetious, it is to underscore the fact that Hunsicker was always on the radar screen from the beginning and no doubt knew it. He also understood that nothing would happen until Cashman made his decision, which not so coincidentally occurred on Wednesday also. This and the series ending sweep by the ChiSox made it easy for Monty to do what Phillie phans had been clamoring for in the first place...bring in the skilled Hunsicker for a much deserved interview.
While both Hunsicker and the Phils are being tight lipped about the talks, suffice it to say that they were no doubt thorough and wide ranging. Hunsicker was undoubtedly asked his philosophy on such diverse items as the direction of the major league club, his feelings about the pharm system, and his thoughts on Manager Charlie Manuel and probably even his feelings about the current dimensions of Citizens Bank Park. As a man who had the opportunity to watch the Phils all summer, with the expectation that this interview would eventually take place, chances are excellent that Hunsicker provided knowledgeable answers.
My guess is that he mentioned that the Phils are probably a third baseman and starting pitcher from a playoff birth, bringing back closer Billy Wagner is important but not imperative and that the pharm system is two solid drafts from being where it was five years ago. He also probably said that he could work with Manuel and understood the reasons for the manager's return. If he is as bright as I think he is, he no doubt mentioned that while he understood the reasons for Manuel's return, he would reserve the right in the future to reevaluate everyone's job and make the proper moves.
In short, Hunsicker no doubt provided answers that Phillie phans everywhere might have applauded had they been inside the interview room themselves. Truth be told, this is a very talented executive, one that could rival the ranks of the legendary Paul Owens before he is through. Of course, that assumes he gets the job, which seems likely but is not yet guaranteed.
First things first, there are a few more interviews to take place, among them, current acting GM, Ruben Amaro, Jr. and a few other candidates next week. Among those rumored to be in line for interviews are Mariners’ advisor Pat Gillick and former Ranger and Indian GM, John Hart. Of course, current Phillie Assistant GM, Mike Arbuckle also was interviewed early in the week, but no one seriously expects anyone from within the organization to get the job.
While certainly no indictment of either Arbuckle or Amaro, the prevailing thought is that the team needs a fresh voice, and "outside" eyes to fix what is broken within the organization. Frankly, this seems quite wise as Phillie phans would not react pleasantly if the perception of “staying the course" were to take place with this choice. Certainly, there is much to like about this current Phillie club, but the organization as a whole needs some revamping if it is to keep from falling behind the advances of such forward looking adversaries as the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets and Florida Marlins.
Of course, there is one remaining "wild card" not yet in the picture and unlikely to be in it at all. The "wild card" remains the still distant figure of current Boston Red Sox GM, Theo Epstein. Despite adversarial negotiations between Epstein and the club, it appears they will remain united for three more years, with an announcement expected this weekend. If, however, some last minute snags develop and Epstein becomes a GM free agent on Tuesday, look for the Phils to at least cast a casual glance his way...much like they cast a casual glance at Cashman last week...and Hunsicker before that.
Still, it remains my view that when the dust settles, Hunsicker and the Phils will have a happy press conference to announce a deal, probably for 3-4 years and with the understanding that Manuel and his coaches will be back, but that many of the other organizational decisions will fall directly into Hunsicker's lap.
If and when this occurs, watch for these things to possibly take place. Expect an announcement concerning the left field fence and possible ways that it can be moved back to make home runs a bit more difficult to hit. This is already being discussed, but Hunsicker will no doubt have some say in the final decision. Watch for Hunsicker and free agent closer, Billy Wagner, to attempt to work out a three-year deal. They know and respect each other very well and Hunsicker's arrival may guarantee Wagner's return.
In fact, if Wagner leaves, one can assume that Hunsicker preferred the two compensation draft picks to the 100 MPH fastball that Wagner occasionally exhibits. Remember one thing...for all the professed mutual admiration that Wagner and Hunsicker have displayed, it was former Astro GM Gerry Hunsicker who traded Billy Wagner to the Phils back in late 2003. Of course, this was due to the problems between Wagner and owner Drayton McLane, but nevertheless, it was Hunsicker who brokered the deal. He may believe the draft picks and the savings of up to 30 million dollars is worth the departure of Wagner.
My feeling is this on the subject. If Wagner leaves, it will be because the Phils decided to let him go, public pronouncements to the contrary. The same is true of the other current Phillie free agent reliever, Ugueth Urbina. Although the team has given thought to bringing him back as a closer if Wagner leaves, some domestic problems have left Urbina's Phillie phuture very much in doubt. The team may well decide that $4 million dollars can more wisely be spent on starting pitching and outside relief help.
Decisions will have to be made, and soon, about the future of Ryan Howard, be it infield or outfield, and the future home of slugger Jim Thome. Arbitration seems in the offing for talented but erratic starting pitcher, Vicente Padilla, and the Phils will enter the free agent market in search of a third baseman [Bill Mueller], a starting pitcher [A.J. Burnett, Jarrod Washburn, Matt Morris?] and a closer if Wagner walks the plank.
Final decisions will soon need to made concerning the makeup of the 40 man roster and the December Rule 5 Draft that might help fortify the Phils with new help, or cause a further erosion of their pharm system. For those thinking this draft unimportant, keep in mind that the Phils lost Milwaukee Brewer's super closer, Derrick Turnbow and acquired International League MVP and possible starting center fielder, Shane Victorino in the same way.
Clearly, there is much to be done in November and only when a general manager is in place can real Phillie action begin to unfold. As was seen with the recent interview of Hunsicker, the Phils realize, despite their public posture, that the sooner they hire a qualified candidate the better. Watch for the process to move in earnest now and it would be surprising if there wasn't a hiring within ten days to two weeks. Theo Epstein is really the last barrier to be crossed, and that could happen as soon as this weekend. Once that does, there is no need to tarry any longer.
Be it Hunsicker or Arbuckle, Amaro, Hart or Gillick, this much is guaranteed. Phillie phans will still gnash their teeth and mumble in frustration until the selection is made. Once this happens, chances are we will see a new debate as to the chances for success of said candidate. As for me, it still says the selection will be Gerry Hunsicker and he will do an outstanding job. Arbuckle and Amaro will remain with the club, and the Phils will move forward as they haven't moved since the winter when Jim Thome, David Bell and
Kevin Millwood were added to the squad.
In summation, the series is history, the interviews have now begun and Daylight Savings Time is about to end. This can mean only one thing for Phillie phaithful, the real excitement is about to begin. It seems there is nothing more to say than...let the games begin!
Columnist's Note: Please send all questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast