But Gillick, 80, always had a knack for making quality, incremental improvements to his 25-man rosters. Many of those upgrades helped the Phillies win the 2008 World Series, which is why he will be inducted onto the Phillies Wall of Fame with the late Roy Halladay on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park.
It will be Gillick's fourth Hall of Fame enshrinement. Most notably, he is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. He also is in the Blue Jays Level of Excellence and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
"I probably wouldn't have been elected to the Hall of Fame if I hadn't come to Philadelphia," Gillick said.
Gillick inherited a talented nucleus from former Phillies general manager Ed Wade, but he added the right pieces to supplement the roster. He acquired Jamie Moyer in August 2006 and signed Jayson Werth as a free agent that December. He claimed Greg Dobbs off waivers in January '07. He signed J.C. Romero that June. He traded for Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett in November '07. He signed Geoff Jenkins and Chad Durbin in December '07. He signed Pedro Feliz in January '08. He got Blanton that July. He traded for Matt Stairs and Scott Eyre in August.
"Sometimes, the little pieces fit into the puzzle more than the big pieces," Gillick said. "That nucleus was developing and getting better all the time, and really, it was our job to add to it. Our scouts were good enough to find the right players and hit on them and bring them in and have a team, a real team, a good team. Not only on the field, but a good team in the clubhouse. That's one thing I think we always prided ourselves in. We want good players, but we want good people, too. We had a good group."
The 2018 Phillies fell short in their pursuit of Manny Machado, which would have been on par with a Sabathia trade in '08. But the Phillies instead acquired infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, catcher Wilson Ramos and left-hander Aaron Loup.
Perhaps those less flashy moves will help the Phillies win their first National League East title since 2011.
"This team has more pitching on the upswing," Gillick said, comparing this team with his 2006-08 clubs. "Whereas I think the period I was here from 2006-08, we were a more offense- and defense-oriented situation. Our pitching probably wasn't as deep as potentially the group has here now. Potentially this is a good group and is on the upswing.
"Most of the people that we had other than [Cole] Hamels were people whose ability had either been maximized and were on the downside or they were about as good as they were going to get. But we won our games based on offense and defense in 2006-08, but with some brilliant pitching by Hamels during that period."