The winds of change continued to sweep through the Phillies on Thursday afternoon as the team announced it will not renew the contract of general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
"The conclusion I reached was that we needed a fresh perspective in the baseball operations department," Andy MacPhail said at a press conference Thursday afternoon. "I think in fairness, it would be difficult to make the case that Ruben Amaro did not do good work while I was here. I think he really did. I had a chance to watch him personally navigate through this past trade deadline. I think this organization is going to bare the fruits of his labors for years to come based on what he did on that day. But if I’m entrusted to create a baseball operations department that is going to compete and achieve success and sustain success over a long period of time, I felt that a change was required.”
Assistant general manager Scott Proefrock will serve as interim GM, effective immediately. The team said it will immediately begin the search for Amaro’s permanent replacement. The new GM will be handpicked by MacPhail, who will succeed Pat Gillick as team president after this season.
“It’s never an easy decision to make a change,” MacPhail said in a statement released by the team. “Ruben has had a direct impact on some of the best years in the team’s history. He helped to create some great memories for Phillies fans with his accomplishments, but in order to return to a top-contending club, we believe this is the right thing to do as we continue the rebuilding process.”
“The Phillies ownership fully supports Andy’s decision not to extend Ruben Amaro’s contract,” Phillies part-owner John Middleton said. “As a group, we have tremendous respect for Ruben, who has been a significant contributor to this organization. This decision is about taking the club in a new direction, and that will be facilitated by new leadership.”
Amaro, 50, assumed the general manager’s role just days after the team won the 2008 World Series. He oversaw trips to the postseason the following three seasons, including a return to the World Series in 2009, but was also at the helm as the team with baseball's best record in 2011 became the team with the worst record for most of this season.
“This was a more difficult decision than I anticipated it was going to be," MacPhail said. "When I came in here, saw the record, saw that first four-game series against Milwaukee, I didn’t think this one was going to be as hard as it turned out to be. But again, I’m charged with a certain responsibility. I have a responsibility to the franchise, the fans, ownership to do what I think is best and get this thing back to where it was as quickly as I can and efficiently as I can. That was the basis for my decision.”
Despite long-held speculation about his job status, Amaro, whose contract was set to expire at season's end, was kept on board through a crucial trade deadline this past July 31. With Gillick and MacPhail, he oversaw the trades of Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Ben Revere and Chase Utley. The trades helped restock a once-depleted Phillies' farm system.
MacPhail, 62, was introduced as the Phillies next president on June 29. He has spent the months since evaluating all facets of the organization to discern which way to best move forward. He previously led the Minnesota Twins to two championships, in 1987 and 1991, and also served as president of the Chicago Cubs (1994-2006) and as president of baseball operations for the Baltimore Orioles (2007-2011).
Proefrock has been a Phillies' assistant GM since November 2008. He previously worked for MacPhail in Baltimore as director of baseball administration.
"I have all the trust in the world in him," MacPhail said of Proefrock.
MacPhail will have any number of candidates from whom to choose Amaro's successor. With MacPhail in charge of baseball operations, he could opt to hire a young, up-and-comer as his No. 2. Potential candidates in that mold include Los Angeles Angels assistant GM Matt Klentak, who was MacPhail's director of baseball operations in Baltimore, and Kansas City Royals assistant GM J.J. Picollo, a 44-year-old Cherry Hill native.
MacPhail spoke on the dynamic that will be in place between himself and his GM of the future at this afternoon's press conference:
“Ownership has made it clear... that they certainly want me involved in baseball operations, so let’s face it, I’m not here because of any marketing acumen I have. I’ve been in this role before, I’ve had GMs under me before… I think they feel like they had a fair amount of autonomy, which I think is important to them, for them to be able to do their job. They can’t be in short pants running back to the president every time they have to make a decision. I have to create a culture where they have fairly good autonomy. They should keep me apprised, but that is a balance that I’m going to have to strike.”
Middleton was also present at Thursday's press conference, and was asked how much influence fans had on the decision to not bring back Amaro. “All of us in this room really exist because of fans," he told reporters. "If the fans didn’t buy tickets and the fans didn’t watch TV, no one in this room at this moment would have a job. They are critical to all sports organizations, including the Phillies, and what they think is important to us. That said… when you make a decision of this magnitude, you have to make it for a host of reasons, and there’s a lot of thought that goes into it, a lot of factors that have to be balanced and weighed, and that’s what Andy did… We were certainly aware of the fans’ feeling, absolutely.”
Amaro's past comments about fans played a part in the decision as well, Middleton said. "I was certainly aware of them, and I was certainly unhappy with them, and I conveyed that directly to Ruben. They’re a factor, as I said earlier… there’s a lot of factors you have to consider, and that’s certainly part of the fan weight… to making this decision.”