Marcus Hayes: Phillies manager Charlie Manuel deserves an incomplete for season, not a failing grade

Posted: July 11, 2012

FROM DOMINANCE to irrelevance in 9 months; so have the Phillies fallen.

Charlie Manuel guided the club to its best days and, now, to some of its worst.

Andy Reid should send him a basket of Reid's favorite crullers, because Chuck and Co. have replaced the 8-8 Eagles as the city's biggest sports disappointment in decades.

Maybe ever.

According to the general manager's logic, Manuel will not be fired for it.

Not after winning 102 games last season and hoping to hit .500 this year.

Not after winning the World Series in 2008?…?then losing it in 2009, losing the NLCS in 2010 and losing the Division Series last season.

Asked last week what grade he would give Manuel for the 2012 debacle, Amaro replied, "Incomplete."

Amaro's logic: Missing Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for the first 3 months, combined with Roy Halladay's 6-week shoulder vacation, means the team's performance cannot accurately be judged. Not until all of Charlie's "horses" — Amaro's word — return.

Presumably, at full strength.

That won't happen this season.

Howard, Utley and Halladay cannot be expected to be at full strength by the trading deadline 3 weeks hence.

Which means Amaro will be selling off significant parts of the team before the horses return to full strength … which means other horses will be absent.

Horses such as All-Star lefthander Cole Hamels and former All-Star and Gold Glove centerfielder Shane Victorino, who will almost assuredly be traded by July 31.

Both are in contract years.

Both are extremely talented pieces, tempered by postseason success.

Both can make a huge difference for teams with realistic World Series aspirations.

Teams unlike the Phillies.

Halladay will not return before the deadline, and even then he probably will not be 100 percent.

For now, Howard and Utley can play only 2 days in a row, which means they will occupy the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the lineup once every three games.

That is eons from 100 percent.

Neither will likely be 100 percent by the end of the season.

And, again, the final 2 months of the season likely will be played without Hamels and Victorino.

So, by Amaro's definition, Manuel's grade will continue to be "incomplete" for the rest of 2012.

Which means Manuel will not be fired this season.

He should be safe well into next season.

Assuming Amaro's logic holds.

Complicating the grading matter further, team president David Montgomery sat down with Manuel on Sunday, on the eve of the All Star break. One of the topics of conversation: seeing what the Phillies are beyond the likes of their known entities.

Which means statuesque .232 hitter John Mayberry Jr. should be in the lineup every day instead of crafty, powerless leftfielder Juan Pierre.

It means promising lefthanded hitter Jason Pridie, fresh off a second drug suspension, might get 200 at-bats as the summer wanes?…?especially if Victorino is gone.

It means former top prospect Domonic Brown is rehabbing his sprained knee in anticipation of a 2-month outfield audition.

It means bullpen arms such as Jake Diekman and Michael Schwimer will be pushed back toward closer Jonathan Papelbon.

It means surprisingly efficient infielder Mike Fontenot might be resting ailing third baseman Placido Polanco more often than not.

The result: Not only will Manuel be managing without his horses, he'll be managing a bunch of ponies down the stretch.

And that is fine. As long as Manuel isn't judged by the play of the youths, that is fine and fair and wise.

But if Manuel is held responsible for their misplays and their misjudgments, well, that is supremely unjust.

There is a steep learning curve, even for a seasoned minor leaguer such as Pridie, 28, with 116 games in the majors. For example:

Pridie played centerfield Sunday. In the fourth inning, he failed to field a routine two-out single aggressively enough. Andrelton Simmons, the No. 7 hitter, stretched that single into a double. That left first base open, which resulted in an intentional walk to No. 8 hitter Juan Francisco, a .220 hitter, and brought pitcher Jair Jurrjens to the plate.

The pitcher made an out and ended the inning?…?but, instead of potentially ending the inning with the No. 8 hitter and having the No. 9 hole up first the next inning, the Braves turned over the lineup.

It cost starter Vance Worley five more throws and a bit of aggravation.

Worley got leadoff hitter Michael Bourn out to start the fifth; most likely, he would have gotten Jurrjens out, too. So there would have been two outs when the Braves rallied to tie it — a taller order, perhaps.

Manuel cannot be faulted for Pridie allowing that extra base.

Nor can he be faulted for Jimmy Rollins' 2-month slumber before his June eruption.

Or Victorino's distracted play entering free agency.

Or Cliff Lee's one win in 14 starts — a pace, by the way, for about two wins for the season. Or, $10.75 million per win.

And you thought Freddy Garcia was a bad value.

In a division improved on all fronts, Manuel was given a roster that lacked four regulars on Opening Day; that relied on a 36-year-old third baseman (Polanco) in rapid decline; that hoped that injured, 40-year-old Jose Contreras would bounce back and serve as a setup man; that included a rookie second baseman, Freddy Galvis, currently injured and serving a 50-game drug suspension.

Manuel has 37 wins.

If he finishes with 77, his grade should remain "Incomplete."

Logically. n

Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/MarcusHayes.

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