David Murphy: Phillies' poor decisions go beyond the dugout

Posted: June 26, 2012

IF WE ARE GOING to judge a manager based on his ability to predict the future, then it is only fair that we use the same standard to evaluate his boss. And when we compare the miscalculations that Charlie Manuel made in the Phillies' latest implosion with the miscalculations that Ruben Amaro Jr. made in the 6-plus months leading up to it, we are left with one question:

When did Miss Cleo ditch the Jamaican accent for a western Virginia drawl?

By no means does that invalidate the line of questioning that the Phillies' resident soothsayer faced in the wake of his team's latest implosion. After a 3-2 loss to the Rays in which the bullpen blew a lead in the top of the eighth and the offense squandered a chance to tie it up in the bottom of it, reporters pressed Manuel on his decision to let Michael Martinez face lefty Jake McGee with two outs and the bases loaded despite the fact that the switch-hitter entered the day with a .171 average and .366 OPS in his career from the right side of the plate. But even if you accept the notion that available lefties Juan Pierre and Mike Fontenot had better odds than Martinez against McGee, the reality is that none of them stood much of a chance, not against a guy who entered the day having retired 73 of the 93 hitters he had faced.

Joe Maddon did not decide to walk Jim Thome and move the go-ahead run into scoring position because he thought Manuel would make the wrong decision. He did it because of the options at his fellow manager's disposal. If Amaro joined Manuel for the postgame press conference and granted you one question, would you ask him what he thought of his manager's decision-making? Or would you ask him why the Phillies do not have more than one righthanded option on their bench, especially when the one lefthanded option who can scare an opposing manager is a 41-year-old designated hitter with a bad back who can't play the field and who can barely run the bases?

Amaro can argue that Ty Wigginton was supposed to be that guy, and will be that guy whenever Ryan Howard is healthy enough for regular duty at first base. But Howard's Achilles' tendon wasn't exactly run over by a truck in spring training. The Phillies learned they faced the potential of playing at least half of the 2012 season without their slugger less than a week after the 2011 season ended. Even if they hoped that Howard would be back shortly after the start of the season, hoping for the best and planning for the worst are not mutually exclusive endeavors. In fact, they are integral parts of a general manager's job.

In January, ousted Colts GM Bill Polian rued his preparation for Peyton Manning's health issues, telling the Associated Press, "I've always told the staff that our approach should be to hope for the best but plan for the worst." This offseason, the Phillies' strategy seemed predicated on a future where everything breaks right, a future where John Mayberry Jr. transforms into an everyday leftfielder at the age of 28, where Dontrelle Willis transforms into a reliever at the age of 30, where Thome transforms into a first baseman after 6 years as a designated hitter.

Heading into the season, the Phillies' only insurance policies against the continued regressions of 26-year-old Antonio Bastardo and 25-year-old Mike Stutes were the hope that 33-year-old Chad Qualls would return to a form that disappeared 2 years earlier and the hope that 40-year-old Jose Contreras would return from an elbow injury that cost him most of the previous season. Their only insurance policies against the continued regression of Chase Utley's knees were a 22-year-old rookie with a career .292 on-base percentage in the minors and a 29-year-old utilityman who finished his rookie season with an OBP of .258.

This offseason, the Phillies spent about $56 million on new talent. Instead of spending $21 million on Josh Willingham, who yesterday hit his 15th home run and 20th double for the Twins, or $26 million on Carlos Beltran, who yesterday hit his 20th home run for the Cardinals, or $15 million on Jason Kubel, who yesterday hit his 10th home run for the Diamondbacks, they stuck with Mayberry, who yesterday struck out with one out and the tying run on third in the eighth inning, the 12th time in 15 such plate appearances that he failed to drive in a run. Instead of building depth in the bullpen, they spent $50 million to upgrade their closer, who yesterday sat and watched as an eighth-inning lead turned into a loss for the sixth time this season.

The chief culprit behind days like Sunday, when the Phillies dropped two games to fall to 34-40, is faulty decision-making. But not on the part of the manager.

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