But those teams already enjoyed a nucleus of stars who assured a postseason berth. This season is different, and Amaro's actions at the trade deadline could foretell the organization's long-term future.
If he decides to sell players such as Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, and Blanton, it could signal the beginning of a rebuilding process. After all, the team's core players, including Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, are older, injury-prone, and built for power hitting, not small ball. And the Phils already have players at the major-league level who could form a new core, including Pence, pitchers Vance Worley and Michael Stutes, and second baseman Freddy Galvis.
On the other hand, there's not much talent in the team's farm system outside of pitching. And it now appears there never was: Only a handful of Phillies prospects who have been traded away have even made it to the majors. It seems Amaro's genius was for fleecing other clubs for stars such as Roy Halladay, Pence, and Lee.
So if the Phillies decide to rebuild, Amaro would have to trade for other teams' prospects. Veterans Ty Wigginton, Juan Pierre, and Laynce Nix — bit players who were expected to keep the club competitive until Utley and Howard could recover from injuries — would be, like Jim Thome, expendable. The team would also have to find a younger manager willing to assume a rebuilding process, such as Ryne Sandberg of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.
If, however, Amaro decides to buy or rent another established star at the deadline, it could indicate that the team will maintain the status quo. But nothing less than the acquisition of a top-tier power hitter like Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers would make a difference in the fortunes of the current team. And that would require increasing a payroll that is already the highest in the National League.
Sellout crowds over the past five years have put the Phillies in a position to do that. Even with the pricey long-term contracts of Lee, Halladay, Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, and Jimmy Rollins, the franchise could afford to take on another hefty salary.
But such a strategy is based on the diminishing hope that the window for another world championship is still open. Sooner or later, it will come back to bite the organization.
The success of a franchise depends on fielding a competitive team at the major-league level while simultaneously developing younger talent in the farm system. While the Phillies have done an admirable job of the former, their record of doing the latter is mixed at best. That's why they're now stuck in the basement of their division.
William Kashatus is a historian and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.