Time for Phillies to face reality

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ruben Amaro Jr. sounds like a general manager without a long-range plan.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ruben Amaro Jr. sounds like a general manager without a long-range plan.
Posted: July 03, 2013

IN 1993, PHILLIES general manager Lee Thomas had the equivalent of a .400 season for a general manager. While other teams had spent lavishly on free agents during an insanely busy winter meetings - Barry Bonds, David Cone and Dave Stewart were among the players who switched teams for huge deals - Thomas held almost daily mini-news conferences in a hotel suite announcing what seemed at the time to be small trades and small free-agent signings.

Pete Incaviglia, Jim Eisenreich, David West, Danny Jackson: All had career years or huge bounceback seasons in 1993. Mitch Williams never saved more games than he did that season (43). As a platoon player, Incaviglia hit 24 home runs and knocked in 89 runs. Eisenreich reclaimed his career. David West, who appeared in only nine games for the Twins the year before, pitched in 76 games that season and recorded an earned run average under 3.00 for the first and only time of his career.

Thomas' in-season moves, such as adding reliever Roger Mason and promoting shortstop Kevin Stocker, were also magic-wand moves. Even outfielder Ruben Amaro Jr., who spent most of the season in Triple A, recorded a career-best batting average of .333. The Phillies went from a team that had won 70 games and finished in last place the year before to a team that won 97 and the National League pennant.

This might have been the greatest job of general managing in modern times.

Four years later, after a work stoppage shortened not one but two seasons, Thomas lost his job after the Phillies lost 95 and 94 games in successive seasons. Those players got old fast. Career Phillies such as Darren Daulton and Lenny Dykstra, signed to big-salaried extensions, did, too. There was great anticipation about the potential of homegrown players such as Scott Rolen and Mike Lieberthal, but that excitement masked an overall talent void in the team's system that would haunt it for another decade.

I was there when it all imploded after that '93 season. And I will tell you that it feels exactly the same way right now. The Phillies have quickly become a team more interesting for the talent not on their roster than the talent that is.

Once as celebrated as Thomas had been, Amaro now sounds like an irrationally hopeful relative of a fading and aged patient. Whether he is hoping for the return to health of past contributors or betting on the health of new acquisitions with injury issues, the current Phillies GM sounds more like a man fidgeting with a pocketful of rabbits' feet than he does Pat Gillick's protégé, or even a man with any type of long-range plan.

The mistake made then seems to be the one being made now. Namely, believing your team to be much closer to championship makeup than it really is.

You can go back all the way to that 102-win season in 2011 to see the cracks that have now become gaping holes. That year, Amaro's bet on veteran bullpen arms exploded just as it has for the last two seasons. Then, however, he was bailed by the surprising performances of Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo, and the innings-eating abilities of his staff of Cy Young-caliber starters.

The Phillies' staff fashioned 18 complete games in 2011. It has nine since, including four this season. Two of those belong to Kyle Kendrick, who might have completed a third if manager Charlie Manuel had not lifted him with nobody on and two outs in the eighth inning against the Nationals 2 weeks ago. Kendrick left with a 2-1 lead after throwing only 92 pitches, having allowed only two hits and one run.

The Phillies lost in 11 innings, 6-2.

Kendrick is representative of this team's ongoing identity crisis. Statistically, he has been the team's second-best starter this year. But his treatment that day, and in other situations, frankly, suggests an assessment by his longtime manager and his longtime pitching coach not in line with his more recent numbers.

Kendrick struck out the last batter he faced that day. It's hard to believe he would have been lifted if his last name were Lee, Halladay or Hamels. But that's just the point: It's hard to create a future track to success when you are still gasping the last breaths of an era that has already ended.

Are Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis, Darin Ruf, Ethan Martin and Jesse Biddle future stars? Or are they equivalent to players such as Kevin Sefcik, Marlon Anderson and Bobby Estalella, the anticipation to their careers exceeding the actuality of them?

I can't tell you that and neither can the current GM. I can tell you, though, that those answers have become far more interesting to a populace that has already realized what Amaro has not - that the era he inherited from Gillick is officially dead, and that it's time to move on.

DN Members Only : On DNL, Dick Jerardi writes in defense of Ryan Howard. Also, Is Maikel Franco the future at third base?


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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