Bob Ford: An era of uncertainty begins for the Phillies

Posted: August 01, 2012

So it was left for Ruben Amaro Jr. to turn off the colorful lanterns and close the pool on what has been the most successful stretch of baseball in Phillies franchise history. He didn't make everyone get out of the water, but not for lack of trying.

Amaro unloaded Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence at the non-waiver trade deadline Tuesday, and reportedly tried hard to move a few others, including Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton, and Juan Pierre. Trading away two-thirds of the starting outfield effectively extinguished whatever false hope might have still flickered for the 2012 season and steered the team firmly into a full-scale transition period.

It had to happen, if not this season then very soon. The roster built by Pat Gillick had a shelf life, even as it was tweaked and augmented over the last few years, and Amaro decided, probably correctly, that the sell-by date was July 31, 2012. Waiting longer wouldn't have been healthy.

The debate is whether the Phillies are done merely for this season, or if they are done for a considerably longer period of reloading. The moves Tuesday posed as many questions as they answered. It will take a two-month audition in the outfield by Domonic Brown, and a good look at the players they got in return on the trades, to answer some of that. It could really take years to know whether the trade deadline represented Black Tuesday or Comeback Tuesday.

But, yes, this day was coming. Team president Dave Montgomery said a couple of years ago that the organization knew the ride had to slow eventually.

"These things go in cycles," Montgomery said. "We are aware that decisions will have to be made down the road and that being in the postseason every year is certainly not guaranteed."

It is the dispassionate way to view it, although a difficult thing to remember while the ride is continuing. The Phillies made the playoffs for five consecutive years and their run represented almost a perfect bell curve of rising and falling: lost division series in 2007; won World Series in 2008; lost World Series in 2009; lost league championship series in 2010; lost division series in 2011.

With Gillick as the original mastermind, it was a tidal surge that eventually had to ebb. Gillick's history as a general manager is consistent. He makes teams better and gets them to the playoffs. Always, however, the bill comes due.

At his three previous stops before the Phillies - Toronto, Baltimore, and Seattle - that was exactly what happened. The Blue Jays didn't finish higher than third in their division for 11 straight years after Gillick left. The Orioles this season are threatening to break a 13-year stretch of losing records post-Gillick. The Mariners had losing records in four of the five seasons after Gillick moved on in 2003. None of those three teams has made the postseason after his departure.

That's not to criticize Gillick. He did what he was brought in to do at all those places, just as he did his job in Philadelphia. That is only to say that modern baseball does not allow for many dynasties. From that perspective, Amaro has done better than the others. Gillick scaled back from being the day-to-day general manager, accepting an adviser's role, after the 2008 World Series victory, which represented good timing if nothing else.

Amaro made some excellent moves in keeping the Phillies competitive. The GM is taking the blame from fans now as things have fallen apart, but it was just 10 months ago that the Phils set a team record with 102 wins. It's hard to believe he could be that smart then and that stupid now. Just doesn't work that way.

It wasn't Amaro's fault that Cliff Lee blew a four-run lead in Game 2 against St. Louis in the playoffs and the long run disappeared quickly in a short series. It wasn't his fault that Ryan Howard tore an Achilles tendon or that Chase Utley's knees are shot. It wasn't his fault that Roy Halladay got hurt this season or that Lee couldn't win a game or that Pence returned to earth and didn't bring his glove back with him.

He might deserve some heat for wishing too hard on the bullpen or being too optimistic about the returns of Howard and Utley, but the previous teams succeeded with a component of good fortune, too. That part of the equation eluded Amaro and the Phillies this time around.

It was a great run, one that started with Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand, and Abraham Nunez in the starting lineup and Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton, and Jon Lieber in the rotation. A lot has changed since then, usually slowly and deliberately, and usually in the right direction.

There was nothing slow and deliberate about what happened Tuesday. As for moving in the right direction, we'll get back to you on that one.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com. Read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns and recent columns at www.philly.com/bobford, and follow on Twitter @bobfordsports

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