PHILADELPHIA -- Before being officially introduced as the Phillies' new general manger, Pat Gillick slipped away for a phone call. Closer Billy Wagner picked up and heard that he was the team's No. 1 offseason priority. "We had a nice conversation," Gillick said. "I wanted to give him a heads up. This thing is headed in the right direction, and he's a big part of this thing. I got a positive response back."
The man described by team president David Montgomery as a "tireless worker" had his priorities in order on Wednesday, as he set out to bring his newest employers to their first playoff appearance since his former employers beat them in the 1993 World Series. "My challenge is to try and coax five more wins out of this team and get us into the playoffs," he said. "Once you get into the playoffs, anything can happen." That didn't happen in 2005. Gillick's predecessor, Ed Wade, was dismissed on Oct. 10 because 88 wins wasn't good enough to overtake the Astros for the NL Wild Card. Though Montgomery said he thought Wade did a good job of rebuilding the organization from a dark period in the late 1990s, he felt a change was necessary. The three-week search that included four other candidates -- Phillies assistant GMs Ruben Amaro Jr. and Mike Arbuckle, Cleveland assistant GM Chris Antonetti and former Houston GM Gerry Hunsicker -- and ended with Gillick, 68, who regains his title as baseball's oldest general manager. "We have somebody older than me, and that's good, too," said manager Charlie Manuel, with a laugh. "He's going to do a good job for us. I think his experience speaks for itself." All five interviewed over a six-day period and Montgomery selected Gillick because of his experience. Montgomery said he was pleased with all five candidates. "There seemed to be a best candidate," said Montgomery said. "It didn't mean somebody else wasn't an outstanding candidate, but the best person to me was Pat. What I kept hearing was how great his leadership was in the baseball operation side and how much people enjoyed working with him. He can make us better. He certainly has the background to do it." Gillick's lengthy record of success includes nine playoff berths at his three stops with Toronto, Baltimore and Seattle -- or as many playoff appearances as the Phillies have in their 122-year history. Those nine postseasons for Gillick's teams include two consecutive World Series wins with the Blue Jays in 1992 and '93. Gillick signed a three-year contract to join an organization that hasn't made the playoffs since losing to Gillick's Blue Jays in 1993. But Philadelphia came within a Jose Macias line drive of forcing a one-game playoff with the Astros at Citizens Bank Park this season. If the Phils can make up those five games Gillick mentioned, such one-game playoffs might not be necessary. He inherits a team considered a serious contender in a division led by the Braves, a team Gillick's Blue Jays beat in the 1992 World Series. For those keeping score, the Orioles and Mariners each made the playoffs in Gillick's first season at the helm, in 1996 and 2000, respectively. He also constructed a 2001 Seattle team that won a Major League-record 116 regular-season games. "His record of success is outstanding," Montgomery said. Gillick guaranteed that Manuel will be back for next season -- as had long been expected -- and also plans to retain Amaro and Arbuckle. "If you win 88 games, you have to be doing something right," Gillick said. "I'm not one to come in and make changes. I think we have a solid foundation right here." This doesn't mean he'll do nothing. In addition to attempting to retain Wagner, Gillick will have to work through the first-base logjam, add another starting pitcher, decide whether to bring back Kenny Lofton and figure out what to do with the bullpen (with or without Wagner). The team has nearly $78 million committed to 11 players for next season, so Gillick must find a way to create payroll flexibility. The man once dubbed "Stand Pat" in Toronto for his unwillingness to make deals has a reputation to horde young starting pitching, something he still believes is paramount to success. He wants to add a starter. Gillick's unique challenge -- most notably some expensive players with difficult contracts to move -- requires creativity, something he has proven many times over the years. And it's something he'll have to prove again. "I'm lucky," Gillick said. "Maybe I was born under the right star on the right day of the year."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.