The Philadelphia Phillies, in the midst of their worst season since 1972, have brought on board long-time baseball executive Andy MacPhail.
MacPhail, who has served in some capacity or another for more than 30 years, will serve as a special advisor to current team president Pat Gillick, before taking over the role at the end of the 2015 season.
MacPhail brings a lot of credibility to a franchise that seems to be lacking in it. He’s served three tours of duty, each time rescuing a floundering organization and putting it back on track. He served ten years in Minnesota and has two World Series titles to show for it. He turned the Cubs into a consistent winner in the National League and guided them to multiple playoff appearances. He took on his most difficult job nearly ten years ago when he took over as team president in Baltimore, and while the results were underwhelming while he was there, he established a strong foundation that has helped turn the O’s into one of the top teams in baseball four years running.
A portion of MacPhail’s career that often goes overlooked is the impact he’s had on team’s drafting philosophies. The franchises he rescued wouldn’t have gotten to a better place without the talent that the First Year Player Draft provides, and at each stop of his career, he helped uncover multiple All-Stars, Rookie of the Years, Gold Glove winners and World Series champions.
He was especially adept at finding pitching talent, true to the motto he coined later in his career “buy the bats, grow the arms.” Drafts he oversaw produced some of the most productive pitchers of the past 25 years, including Scott Erickson, Brad Radke, LaTroy Hawkins, Eddie Guardado, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Ricky Nolasco.
Let’s take a look at MacPhail’s history as an executive, with an eye to his method of building through the draft.
Minnesota Twins (1985-1994)
MacPhail’s run in Minnesota ran from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, and while the Twins won only three more games than they lost during that span, one would have to qualify his run as a tremendous success. The Twins averaged 70 wins in the three years before MacPhail took over, but by the end of his third year, they were in the World Series for the first time since 1965. They won the title that year, and claimed another four years later, riding the wave of talent MacPhail had accumulated via trades, free agency and the draft.
Heading into the 1993 campaign, the Twins had averaged 83 wins during his tenure. Unfortunately, that was as good as things would get in Minnesota, as the Twins struggled to find their footing in the strike-shortened 1994 season, and MacPhail left to become the CEO and President of the Chicago Cubs.
Finding talent had always been a skill for MacPhail, so it’s no surprise that the Twins resurgence came around the same time that he installed minor-league manager Tom Kelly as the head-honcho of the big-league club. Kelly outlasted MacPhail and managed the club until 2001, retiring as the second winningest manager in franchise history.
During his time in Minnesota, MacPhail’s staff drafted and developed 78 players into Major Leaguers. During his era, he was responsible for the selection of both Chuck Knoblauch and Torii Hunter, two of the most successful 1st-round picks in Twins’ history.
He can also lay claim to two of the most impressive draft classes in franchise history.
In 1989, MacPhail’s Twins drafted ten players that would go on to play in the big-leagues, including Knoblauch, Scott Erickson, Denny Neagle, Mike Trombley, Denny Hocking and Marty Cordova. That sextet alone combined to appear in 4,835 games in the Majors (3,044 of which came in a Minnesota uniform), earn seven All-Star nods, two rookie of the year awards and six World Series rings. Erickson and Knoblauch were both key contributors to the Twins’ own championship run in 1991.
Two years later, the Twins were able to sign a draft class that produced eight big-leaguers, including Brad Radke, LaTroy Hawkins and Matt Lawton. Radke went on to become arguably the most durable pitcher in baseball from 1995-2005, and finished his 12-year with the fourth-most wins in team history. Hawkins pitched for the team for nine years, and is 13th on the all-time list for games pitched.
And while MacPhail’s scouting department was able to find a lot of talent in the first round, they were even better at finding hidden gems late in the draft. Trombley was a 13th-round pick in 1989. They uncovered “Everyday Eddie” Guardado in the 21st round in 1990, the same year they also found Damian Miller in the 20th. Hawkins and Radke were selected in the 7th and 8th rounds, respectively in 1991. And in 1994, his final draft in Minnesota, MacPhail was able to unearth Corey Koskie in the 26th-round.
Chicago Cubs (1995-2006)
MacPhail came to Chicago in 1995 to be the team’s CEO and President, but anyone who knew him, knew he would be the guiding hand of the franchise for the next decade. And he was. And just like in Minnesota, MacPhail worked wonders, utilizing every skill he had learned in the American League, to turn the Cubs into a contender.
The Cubs finished with the third worst-record in baseball in 1994, and could only claim three winning seasons in the previous 22 years, before MacPahil assumed decision-making duties. He and his staff turned the franchise into a winner the very next season, and after suffering a setback in 1996-97, the Cubs were 90-game winners in 1998. They won 88 games a piece in 2001 and 2003, the latter resulting in a playoff run that ended with a heartbreaking 4-3 series loss to the Florida Marlins, in a series of games most remembered for Steve Bartman. They won 89 games in 2004, but missed the playoffs, and two seasons later MacPhail left the Cubs after a 96-loss campaign.
MacPhail’s drafting record wasn’t as impressive in Chicago as it was in Minnesota, but there’s no doubt that he brought in some players that would help shape the franchise for the next decade. He made the biggest splash in his first draft with the club, selecting Kerry Wood in the first round. The next year he was able to find Kyle Lohse in the 29th-round. The following year, he grabbed Jon Garland in the first and in 1998, he grabbed three players that would go on to find varying levels of success in the majors, Corey Patterson, Eric Hinske and Will Ohman.
He added Dontrelle Willis in 2000, and in 2001 he had arguably the finest draft class of his tenure, securing Mark Prior, Geovany Soto, Ricky Nolasco, Ryan Theriot and Tony Sipp. Thirteen members of the Cubs 2001 draft class went on to reach the big-leagues.
In 2002, MacPhail handed over personnel decisions to Jim Hendry, and unsurprisingly the Cubs drafting efforts took a turn for the worse. From 2002-06, the Cubs drafted and developed only 28 players that eventually reached the majors, and aside from Jeff Samardzija there were no real impact players.
Baltimore Orioles (2007-2011)
Less than a year into his retirement, MacPhail was lured back to the game by Baltimore owner Peter Angelos, whose franchise was in the midst of it’s ninth consecutive losing season. Some might look at the fact that the O’s didn’t win more than 69 games in any of MacPhail’s four-and-a-half years, and consider his time spent there a failure, but that would be a great disservice to the foundation he put into place.
MacPhail’s greatest acquisition during his time in Baltimore was, without a doubt, Buck Showalter. The O’s blew through three managers in MacPhail’s first three seasons, and towards the end of the third he was able to persuade Showalter to also come out of retirement. The transition took some time, but less than a year after stepping down as the President of Baseball Operations in Baltimore, the Orioles were in the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. Under Showalter’s guidance, the team has compiled a winning record every season since MacPhail’s departure and made two appearances in the playoffs, reaching the ALCS in 2014.
MacPhail was also at the center of another move that created the current nucleus of the team. In early 2008, he traded Erik Bedard to Seattle for Adam Jones and Chris Tillman. He also orchestrated the deal that brought Chris Davis to Baltimore from Texas, along with Tommy Hunter. Those four players have been arguably the most important or any four over the past few seasons.
Finally, it was in Baltimore that MacPhail cemented his legacy as one of the savviest draft managers in baseball history. In four drafts, he only selected 14 future big-leaguers, but he managed to snag a few that have been crucial to the reemergence of winning baseball in Baltimore. His first draft saw the selection of Brian Matusz and Caleb Joseph, two cogs in the team’s run to the American League East crown in 2014. But the major coup was the selection of Manny Machado, who was become a Gold Glove, All-Star third baseman, in 2010.
Philadelphia Phillies (2015-)
So, what can fans expect MacPhail to bring to an organization that has gone from back-to-back World Series appearances to the worst team in baseball in just six years?
For starters, expect MacPhail to turn the reigns of the team over to an experienced manager. He’s worked with such respected baseball minds as Tom Kelly, Don Baylor, Dusty Baker and Buck Showalter.
Then, expect him to start ridding the team of older players that are doing the team more harm than good, especially financially. Expect Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels to be playing somewhere else, or not at all, two years from now.
And last but not least, expect MacPhail to raise the standards of the team’s scouting and player development departments. While the team hasn’t drafted poorly as of late, they haven’t hit a home run with a franchise-type player since Hamels was selected 13 years ago.
It might take some time, but MacPhail will get the Phillies back on track. That’s just what he does.