The announcement came down this afternoon with a bolt-out-of-the-blue suddenness: the Phillies have decided to remove the “interim” tag from Pete Mackanin.
The club announced that he will return with a contract for the 2016 season, one that includes a club option for 2017 as well.
Ironically, it was exactly two years ago today that the Phillies removed that same “interim” tag from Ryne Sandberg, hiring him as the full-time skipper.
Prior to this announcement, most reasonable speculation seemed to be that Mackanin would finish out the 2015 season. Then at some point, probably in October, the club would name a new general manager.
That new GM would then sit down with club president Andy MacPhail and make a decision on the managerial position, possibly after a series of candidate interviews.
To some, the Phillies appear to have jumped the gun a bit, putting the cart of a manager before the horse of a general manager. Not necessarily so.
With MacPhail in the driver’s seat of the presidency, it has become fairly obvious each time he speaks or releases a public statement that he will be active in making most decisions.
Whomever the Phillies ultimately decide to hire as their GM is going to understand when he or she takes the position that they are working with MacPhail in that role, not just for him. The difference is subtle, but distinct.
So bringing back Mackanin comes down simply to MacPhail being comfortable with what he has seen over the last 76 games.
That not only involves the on-field results, where the team has gone 30-46 under Mackanin, but also in the dugout and the clubhouse.
“Since assuming the interim manager position in June, Pete has developed an excellent rapport with our players and has also connected well with the media and our fans,” MacPhail said, per CSN Philly’s John Finger.
From my perspective, there are three main considerations for fans who might be questioning this move to ponder over: First, what are your realistic expectations for 2016, no matter who is the manager? Second, how much have the Phillies really committed to here? Third, what other options are available?
The answer to the first question for any reasonable fan has to be that 2016 is going to be yet another losing season. Sure, we can expect some amount of progress, but what does progress mean in this situation?
The club surely cannot finish worse next year under Mackanin. They are the worst team in baseball now. You cannot get worse than the worst.
“We will not pout. We will not feel sorry for ourselves. If you want to, then you don’t belong here.” ~ Mackanin
Secondly, the committment is almost nothing. Mackanin gets to pilot the ship during what is sure to be another losing season where the primary focus will be on evaluating and developing young players.
At the end of next season, and unless he resigns or commits some serious transgression he surely will complete the full season, he can be evaluated on a more longterm basis at that point.
The question of other possible managerial options is almost a moot point. If you thought that this team was perhaps a year or two away, that the current skipper was mediocre, and that bringing in the “right guy” to help push them over the top was all that was needed, then perhaps you wait and interview the top available candidates.
However, the Phillies are still at least two, and possibly three to four years away from serious contention. If Mackanin shows something special in the next year or so, perhaps he is the longtime guy to stay as they begin to contend.
If not, then a year, two years from now, there will be good candidates available to help take that next step at that time.
The bottom line here is that, while it might not be the sexiest move, keeping Mackanin around for the 2016 season as a “caretaker” manager of sorts is not a bad idea at all.
He seems to be a loyal organizational soldier. He seems to have made a connection with the players that Sandberg was never personable enough to make.
As a concrete example of the change in the locker room, Mackanin pulled outfielder Odubel Herrera from a game in Atlanta on Sunday in the 4th inning when Herrera slammed his bat to the ground in anger and frustration, and then failed to run out a fly out to left field.
As quoted by Jake Kaplan at Philly.com, Mackanin’s post-game statement regarding his reasoning for pulling Herrera was typically no-nonsense:
“Boys play Little League. Men play Major League Baseball. We will not pout. We will not feel sorry for ourselves. If you want to, then you don’t belong here. He had to learn a lesson. To me, he’s been pouting for a few days, and I just wanted to make sure that he gets the message…You cannot afford to pout or feel sorry for yourself at this level. You’ve got to play like a man.“
In response, Herrera is reported to have gone into his manager’s office today and apologized, stating that it won’t happen again.
The 23-year old has been a revelation of sorts on the field and at the plate for the Phillies during his rookie season. But there have been similar immature outbursts previously.
Mackanin laid down the law, and now perhaps the young many can learn a lesson and grow into an even better player and person.
Mackanin will take the Phillies to spring training in Clearwater in February of 2016. There will be no expectations for his team, other than the interest and excitement around watching young players such as Herrera and Maikel Franco, and pitchers such as Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff, continue their development.
There will also be increased interest in the possible arrival of more strong young pitching, possibly including the talented trio of Jake Thompson, Ben Lively, and Zach Eflin. And, of course, perhaps most interesting of all, the countdown to the arrival of top prospect J.P. Crawford.
Whichever young players step up in the spring and during the 2016 season, Mackanin will be their manager. When 2016 is over, well, we’ll see.
Will Mackanin turn out to be just a caretaker, helping shepherd the Phillies through another difficult season or two before being replaced by the guy who will help make them a winner again?
For the first time in his career, Mackanin is a big league manager without the word “interim” as part of his job title.
However, he only has that job guaranteed for one year. If he wants more, he needs to continue demonstrating the traits that are getting him this longer look to begin with.