Mike Hill has spent nearly a quarter-century in Major League front offices, helping put together an expansion team with the Rays and working for the Rockies before joining the Marlins in 2002.
Hill won a World Series ring with the Marlins in 2003, a piece of jewelry that serves as a constant reminder for what he's working toward now as Miami's president of baseball operations.
Hill sat down with MLB.com for an extensive interview at Roger Dean Stadium to discuss several topics, including how his college football career helped shape him into the executive he is today, what it's like handing out a $300 million contract and what he sees ahead for the 2017 Marlins.
:: General manager Q&As ::
MLB.com: You were drafted by the Rangers in 1993 and played in the Minors for three seasons before joining the Devil Rays' front office. At what point did you decide that baseball operations would be your chosen path?
Mike Hill: Actually, I think that was always something on my mind. I felt like it was a career path I wanted to take. I thought it was going to be after a 20-year Hall of Fame playing career, but it's baseball. It's a game of adjustments. I battled injuries. I played football in college as well as baseball, so I was a little beat up. When the opportunity presented itself to join the Rays -- Devil Rays, at the time -- you think long and hard about when it's time to hang up the uniform and hang up the spikes. I thought with an expansion team, it would be a great opportunity to get exposure to every aspect of building a club, so I made the decision to hang up the spikes and jump in with a new expansion team.
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MLB.com: You joined Tampa Bay's front office three years before the Devil Rays ever played a game. What were those early years like, working for a team that hadn't yet stepped on a field?
Hill: That was what was so awesome about it. I think back to meetings. I want to say I was the sixth person hired with Chuck LaMar, so everything was being discussed: Philosophy, player profiles, affiliate alignment, coaching staffs, things of that nature. There was a Minor League draft in 1996 and we had a Rookie-league team and a [Class A] Short-Season team, so there were things in place, at least a structure and outline of how things would grow leading up to the Expansion Draft and the Major League team. So a lot of that was being done, and I was right there in the thick of it -- never talking, but always listening to what was going on, listening to a very, very experienced and knowledgeable group of people and the vision that they saw for the organization moving forward.
PODCAST: Listen to the full interview
MLB.com: You mentioned that you played football at Harvard. Did you take anything from your football experience that has helped you in this career?
Hill: Just the mental toughness part of it. You deal with so much adversity in this game. I think that the front-office people, the coaches, the players that deal with it the best have better success in the job. It's a lot of adjustments that have to be made. You deal with a lot of failure, a lot of adversity. Your ability to deal with it and overcome it, I think really impacts the success you have in the job.
MLB.com: On the day you were promoted to president of baseball operations, you wore your 2003 championship ring and said, "I wear it when I want to think about where we need to go … A little reminder for me of what we're working toward." How often do you find yourself looking at that ring?
Hill: Very often. It's something that is a source of motivation, because all 30 of us aspire to one thing, and that's to put that ring on. In '03, we were able to do it, and ever since then, we've been trying to get back there. When one season ends and the new, next season begins, it's often when I reflect on the steps that we need to take to get there. I do it quite often.
MLB.com: When you think back to that 2003 championship run, what stands out most to you?
Hill: We had an incredibly talented group of guys that played together. They were selfless and cared so much about one another, I think that was probably the biggest thing. There were no true superstars. We had Pudge [Ivan Rodriguez], who was a future Hall of Famer, but there wasn't a true superstar. It was just a collection of very talented guys that were focused on winning games one day at a time. They had short memories. We could get blown out one day, and they'd come back and it was all about winning the series and getting better every day. That's probably the biggest thing. It was a very resilient team that did whatever was necessary to win a game and to win a series and ultimately win a championship.
MLB.com: Your analytics department is only about a year old. How important has that addition been?
Hill: It's been tremendous. Our senior director of analytics, Jason Paré, is a Yale graduate, who as a Harvard graduate, I had no problem hiring -- that's just how good he is. It's one of those things that we had dipped our toe in previously, but we needed to go all in. It's an unbelievable tool, a voice that needed to be at the table in part of our decision-making process. I've always been one to want to make informed decisions, and to not have that voice and that information, we were lacking. I think it's made immediate dividends. Don Mattingly and his staff have fully embraced it. Every aspect of what we do in baseball operations, it's just another piece to give us information to help us make good decisions. It's something that I'm happy that we went all in on, and we continue to grow with it and continue to incorporate it into everything we do.
MLB.com: There are those who believe sabermetrics are more important than traditional scouting. Do you think scouting has become less important league-wide? Or do you think the importance of analytics has just caught up to the importance of scouting?
Hill: I just think we're all in a position where we want information. I don't think you can ever eliminate the human element. It's humans playing this game, so as long as humans are playing this game, there's going to be a human element that I think you have to have. It's a blend -- our scouting, our video, our analytics, we use everything. I just think it's something that's out there and available, so you're foolish if you don't think it's important. For us, it's not the end all, be all. We still maintain the human element and try to make sure that we have a healthy blend of all of them to help support every decision we make.
MLB.com: MLB's Statcast™ has introduced some new metrics over the past couple years. How do you view those? And do you think it has changed the way fans -- and clubs -- look at the game?
Hill: I think from a team standpoint, it's information that we were already gathering and collecting. From a fan's standpoint, it's pretty exciting to see Giancarlo Stanton hit a ball with a 120-mph exit speed. Things that fans didn't normally have access to, now that they have access to it. It just keeps them more engaged and keeps them more excited about our game. That's great for everyone.
MLB.com: How crucial is it to your lineup this season for Dee Gordon to revert to his 2015 form?
Hill: I don't think our success is dependent on any one person. I think collectively as a group, because it is an incredibly talented group top to bottom, you look everywhere on the field and we have talent there. Dee is a big part of that, but that one thing we preach is it's not one person that is going to determine our overall success; it's a collective effort. It's something that is going to take probably more than 25 players when you think about the length of the season and the grind of a season and inevitably what happens. We don't know what, but something is coming that you'll need depth. Dee is a big part of that in setting the table and doing the things that he's capable of doing to impact the game. But in the end, it's going to take not just his success, but it's going to take Justin Bour making adjustments versus left-handed pitching. It's going to take Adeiny Hechavarria buying into his approach, Martin Prado being the pro that he is, J.T. Realmuto continuing to grow into a superstar in this game, Giancarlo staying healthy and continuing to be productive, Marcell Ozuna giving us a full season of production, Christian Yelich continuing to blossom into a superstar on top of our pitching staff keeping us in games and our bullpen doing what we expect them to do. It's a collective effort. I think our guys under Donnie's leadership are ready and prepared to do what they need to do.
Video: Hill talks about his relationship with Mattingly
MLB.com: Speaking of Giancarlo, you have done something no other baseball executive has ever done, which is giving a player a $300 million deal. How difficult is it to make such an enormous financial commitment to a player, no matter how good you think he is?
Hill: Obviously, you have to have ownership involved, because my checkbook is a few digits short of $300 million. [Laughs.] There's a belief in the player, an organizational belief, and when you look at the finances of putting a deal together, where the player is in his career, he's one of the few -- and Miggy [Miguel Cabrera] was one of them, also -- that he was just to the big leagues so young that you could talk about a 13-year deal and at the end of it, the player can still be in their prime. So that was something that we looked at. When you look at who he is, his size and his athleticism, how players age and how you think they fit on your club as they age, I think all of those things were part of the decision to just say, "We've let too many players leave and go elsewhere. We want to try to keep our best player a Marlin for his entire career."
MLB.com: The emotional scars from Jose Fernandez's death won't heal for many years -- assuming they ever do. But from a pure baseball standpoint, how difficult is it to recover from losing your ace so suddenly?
Hill: It is definitely very difficult. There are so few aces in the game to begin with, so I think we really had to take a step back and take a full assessment of our inventory and our assets. I think when it was all said and done, we looked at the field first and saw Giancarlo in his prime; Ozuna, who is coming off a first-time eligible arbitration, a three-plus who is ready to win; Yelich, who is ready to win; Prado, who is a pro; Hech, who is ready to win. All of these guys right in their sweet spots in terms of ready to win and be championship-caliber players. Then you say, well, you have that core of position players that you feel is ready to win. Do you have enough pitching to support that? Our bullpen was a strength for us last year, but as we assessed the free-agent starting pitching market and what was available for value, there was more depth and more quality from a bullpen standpoint, so we felt that we could create a competitive starting rotation that could keep us in games, but create a very deep bullpen that we hope can shorten the game and give you an opportunity every day to win a ballgame.
Video: Hill discusses the loss of Jose Fernandez
MLB.com: The old cliché is that a season isn't a success unless you're the last team standing. Do you subscribe to that theory?
Hill: Always. We're never happy, we're never pleased unless we're the last team standing. I've got a matching ring to that one in '03.
Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.