Good Job. You’re Fired.

Many Phillies fans were surprised when manager Pete Mackanin was fired on September 29, just a few days before the end of the regular season. The old adage dictates that all major league managers are fired the day they are hired, and it seems like a gallon of milk has a longer shelf life than most MLB skippers. John Farrell, fired today as manager of the Red Sox, has a World Series championship, 3 division titles, and a 432-378 record, which is sixth best in club history.

If he can’t keep his job, who can?

It seemed like Phillies GM Matt Klentak was establishing a foundation for the next step in the rebuilding process when he awarded Mackanin a contract extension in spring training, extending the skipper through the 2018 season.

Pundits are weighing in that Klentak wanted “his guy” as manager, in order to put his stamp on the team.  When you sign a guy to an extension, doesn’t that make him Matt’s guy?

This team played hard for Pete. After a dismal first half (29-58, .333), the youth movement took hold and the team finished strong (37-38, .493). They played nearly .500 at home (39-42, .493).

Big data is driving small decisions.  Matt Klentak is one of the younger GM’s in the league, and wants to pick a manager that is using data to drive decisions large and small, from where to position players on defense, to calculate the optimal number of pitches that should be thrown, or when to remove pitchers from the game.

There are plenty of reasons not to like the decision, but the decision having been made, what happens next?

Klentak’s comments at the Mackanin firing press conference, with Pete sitting right next to him, was poised, polite, and professional.  He was making a hard decision that affected a good man, and good manager.  Why he was doing it was less clear.

If he is replacing his manager, does he have another candidate in mind specifically, or does he have a framework where he wants someone to check all of the boxes?  There are some compelling candidates out there:

  • Dusty Wathan. Dusty’s case is a good one. He has managed most of the Phillies younger players at Reading and Lehigh Valley, and has won with them at both AA and AAA, including two Eastern League division championships.
  • John Farrell. His case is a good one as well.  Farrell has already played within the confines of a data-driven organization, and took a young, rebuilding team and won two consecutive division titles with them.  He has a large world championship ring on his finger as well. The fact he might bring Ruben Amaro along with him as a coach should not influence our thinking on this.
  • Brad Ausmus. Ausmus is coming off of a less than stellar performance as manager of the Tigers (314-322, .486), but does have a division championship under his belt (2014, 90-72). He is a former player and former catcher, which fits the mold of managers that have had success in the game. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College, also the alma mater of Klentak, but I don’t think that the secret handshake connection will win the day here. He was hired by Dave Dombrowski, who just fired his manager (see Farrell), so the Red Sox job might be a fit for him.
  • Joe Girardi. Let’s wait and see how the Yankees fare the rest of this postseason, but his contract is up, as is the patience of many Yankees fans.
  • Terry Francona. Tito has already had the Phillies top job, but blew a 3-1 lead in the 2016 World Series, and is on the brink of blowing a 2-0 division series lead in 2017. He may be walking the unemployment line by the end of this week.
  • Buck Showalter. Buck was hired by Andy MacPhail in 2010 when he ran the Orioles, and Buck did what Buck does, which is to turn around young, rebuilding franchises. He is under contract by the O’s in 2018, and MacPhail is likely to give Klentak the room to make his own mark on this hire.

Whatever Matt Klentak decides to so, this call is his, and the impact of the decision is on him.  As his boss, Andy MacPhail said after Pete was let go, “the GM only gets so many managers.”

Photo credit: Bill Streicher, USA Today.

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