Touting the man seated to his left as "a rare combination of both old-school experience and new-age thinking," Phillies co-owner John Middleton made a rare public appearance Monday at Citizens Bank Park to introduce Andy MacPhail as the club's new president.
MacPhail, a longtime baseball executive, will succeed Pat Gillick after the season. In the three months between his hiring and when he takes the helm, MacPhail will serve as a special assistant to Gillick while familiarizing himself with the organization and discerning the changes that will be needed.
The timing of when the leadership shift takes effect means that Gillick, 77, will be the president to preside over a crucial July 31 trade deadline for the rebuilding Phillies. Ruben Amaro Jr., the club's much-maligned general manager who is in the last year of his contract, will remain in the role through the rest of the season, Gillick said.
MacPhail, 62, is the first Phillies president hired from outside the organization. He last worked as the Baltimore Orioles' president of baseball operations from 2007 to 2011. Before he left at the end of his contract, he made several key trades to help build an Orioles club that is on pace for its fourth consecutive winning season.
MacPhail was the general manager of the Minnesota Twins for their last two World Series championships, in 1987 and 1991. From 1994 to 2006, he served as president and CEO of the Chicago Cubs. He comes from a storied baseball family - both his father, Lee, and grandfather, Larry, are enshrined in the Hall of Fame as executives. He had been out of baseball since leaving the Orioles, spending time with his father, who died in 2012, and traveling the world.
"I think my three main functions are going to be to read, to watch and to listen," MacPhail said. "And then hopefully within three months I'll have a clear idea of what I think is appropriate and needs to be done."
It's expected that MacPhail will participate in trade conversations and offer his input, but ultimately the decisions will be left to Gillick and Amaro. The month leading to the trade deadline is critical for the Phillies, who boast a premier trade chip in ace lefthander Cole Hamels, are likely to trade closer Jonathan Papelbon, and also could deal the likes of outfielder Ben Revere and righthander Aaron Harang.
"Certainly, I'm going to listen to his opinion," Gillick said of MacPhail. "Even though, as he said, he's kind of a new guy on the block, he's been around the business for a long time. As I say, four or five heads are better than one.
"We're going to gather as much information as we possibly can and make what we think are the proper decisions. Really, the trading of players and the movement of players, that's in the hands of the general manager. But certainly we operate all-inclusively, and there are a lot of opinions sought out before we make a deal."
The Phillies' ownership group led by Middleton, Pete Buck, and Jim Buck pledged to MacPhail that he will "have access to whatever resources you need to succeed," Middleton said. Gillick, who in January took over on a permanent basis for longtime president David Montgomery, will have "full, complete operational control" until then, according to Middleton.
"The mandate is to win," Middleton said. "We're telling Andy and his team that you need to tell us what you need to win. We're not going to hand him a budget and say, 'You get to spend X dollars next year.' We're going to go to him and say, 'You tell us what you can do for this team in order to win.' "
MacPhail has a reputation for being patient - he likes to gather as much information as possible, he said. That includes incorporating advanced baseball metrics, also known as sabermetrics, an area in which the Phillies' front office has faced criticism for being slow to adapt.
Middleton said MacPhail's interest in sabermetrics was "hugely important" in his selection. The organization has been developing its own sabermetric-based computer system, which will be ready for implementation in September.
The appearance of Middleton on the dais alongside MacPhail and Gillick was the biggest surprise of the day. The billionaire part-owner has long avoided the spotlight, wielding his influence behind the scenes. He called reports indicating he desired majority control "erroneous," and explained the evolution of the Phillies' ownership group.
"I'm very happy where I am now," he said. "Listen, things change. Twenty-plus years ago when I joined the partnership, there were, I think, five or six owners. We're now down to two. So obviously things can change in the future just as they've changed in the past. But I'm not pushing for change."
Middleton said he, Pete, and Jim Buck have become more involved in issues at an earlier stage than they were five years ago. "And that's not going to change," he added.
It was December when ownership began discussing who would succeed Gillick, who came out of retirement to fill the role for the short term. MacPhail said he was approached in late December or early January. He formally received and accepted the job offer a week to 10 days ago, he said. He said he was not offered an ownership stake in the team.
MacPhail made clear Monday that he is not one for timetables. He would not offer one regarding when the Phillies, who Sunday became the first team to reach 50 losses this season, would contend again.
"It's going to happen," he said. "It's just a question of when, and how efficient we can be and effective we can be to make it happen sooner as opposed to later."