In a surprise move Friday afternoon, the Phillies announced that manager Pete Mackanin would not return to the dugout next season and instead move into a front office role as special assistant to general manager Matt Klentak. He leaves the dugout a year early—his contract expired in 2018—but his contract has been extended for his new role.
Taking over the team on June 26, 2015, after Ryne Sandberg quit on the team halfway through his second full season as manager, he's posted a record of 172-237. This year the team is 64-95, but that isn't the whole story of this team. They're 35-37 since the All-Star break and 21-18 since August 18.
Mackanin's record was never how his time in Philly would be judged. He took over when the front office finally pulled the trigger on the team's long-overdue rebuild, and his job was to break in the team's burgeoning group of prospects as they rose from the minors to the big leagues.
It's hard to say he hasn't done that. There have been growing pains—sometimes excruciating ones—bit while the first of the big prospects to reach the majors, Maikel Franco, has hit a major skid, others like Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, J. P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro, and Aaron Altherr have all staked a claim as part of the Phillies' new core, while relative veterans like Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera have solidified their positions as potential cornerstones. There are other jewels on the farm, like second baseman Scott Kingery and outfielders Mickey Moniak and Dylan Cozens. If Roman Quinn ever stays healthy, he will also look to reclaim his spot in the pipeline.
Taking the next step
If Klentak and the rest of the front office believe the team's new core is truly in place, they may have decided that it's time to take the rebuild into its next phase.
There has been talk since July of the Phillies' interest in both Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich of the Marlins. Klentak is reportedly a Yelich fan. The Phillies have plenty of pieces to make such a move. The farm system is well-stocked, and even an established major leaguer like Hernandez could be a part of a deal to clear the way for Kingery.
They also have an insane amount of payroll flexibility. They only have two salary obligations next year: Herrera's salary ($3.5m), a small chunk of Cole Hamels' salary ($2.5m) payable to the Rangers. After factoring in arbitration raises and the contract renewals of those not yet eligible for arbitration, the total commitment for players on the current roster for next year's payroll will be, at maximum, $30m.
Apart from playing in a large market, the Phils landed a massive cable deal in 2014, something that has largely flown under the radar because it came just as the team began its teardown and, consequently, hasn't really been used. They're perfectly positioned to make a big splash in the stacked free agent market in the 2018-19 offseason. Manny Machado would be a particularly enticing target, especially if Franco fails to realize his potential.
If the Phillies are ready to jump back into the deep end, replacing Mackanin, a transitional manager whose mandate was to shepherd the new young core into the major leagues, is a logical step. Klentak said as much when announcing the move today.
"The way the rebuild is evolving, a new voice in the dugout and a new style is necessary," he told the media, while also praising him and expressing obvious pleasure that he agreed to stay on in the front office.
It looks fairly clear that Klentak believes Mackanin's job is done. He thinks this team is ready to move toward contending, and he thinks a wartime consigliere is necessary to do it.