GMs sometimes need to be lucky - and good

Posted: June 06, 2014

AFTER SUFFERING their seventh shutout in their previous 27 games and with everyone from your barber to a current coach questioning whether the Phillies are even a major league product, the drumbeat to replace Ruben Amaro Jr. as general manager is louder now than any sound emanating from the ballpark these days.

Gone are the ebbs and flows of his six-season tenure as the GM, a tenure marked by league-shattering blockbuster trades in both directions, a tenure marked by dozens of minor leaguers being pushed from team to team like poker chips, most becoming little more than tips to a cocktail waitress.

In fact, those trades, and the deals going the other way that brought so little in return, underscore the fandom's building angst with Amaro's regime. Had he not swung those big deals for Hunter Pence, Cliff Lee and Roys Halladay and Oswalt, had he not signed Raul Ibanez and forfeited a first-round pick, it is unlikely the team would be much better off than it is today, given the now-anonymous names of players once considered by the club to be can't-miss.

Kyle Drabek did not burn them; neither has Carlos Carrasco. Before last night, Anthony Gose was hitting .255 for Toronto with a .377 on-base-percentage and a .691 OPS. The last two numbers were better than Ben Revere's, but not game-changing better.

That this can be explained by a low draft position because of the Phillies' 5-year string of division titles is ludicrous. They are not the Sixers. Several teams, from the Cardinals to the Red Sox and even the Yankees, have maintained their excellence or recovered quickly from a bottoming-out during roughly the same time period. If you want to know what Boston looked like just a couple of seasons ago, grab a box score of the Dodgers. The Cardinals let Albert Pujols, their perennial MVP candidate, walk after they won a World Series.

These aren't just bold decisions. They're big bets, on upsides and downsides, on players in their system and players they believe they can obtain.

Brock Holt, batting .326 as Boston's current third baseman, was a small piece of the December 2012 trade with Pittsburgh for closer Joel Hanrahan - who was supposed to help replace Jonathan Papelbon. Boston lost Hanrahan and another closer, Andrew Bailey, to injury last season, but Koji Uehara bailed them out. A little lucky? Sure, just as that midsummer trade St. Louis made with Toronto the year before, to shore up a disastrous bullpen, was.

But you know the baseball adage about luck being the byproduct of hard work and opportunity.

Holt, by the way, is 23.

It's hard not to see a parallel with the final years of the Andy Reid-era Eagles, especially given his comments while speaking to the NFL's Career Development Symposium at Penn's Wharton School. Danny Watkins and Jaiquawn Jarrett were the kind of bets you make at 2 a.m. when you have forgotten - perhaps because of too many tips to the waitress - how much dough you are already down.

Reid said being fired allowed him to re-evaluate his strengths and weaknesses, enabled a fresh start in Kansas City as only a coach. I'm happy for him. He gave his heart and soul to the Eagles over 14 seasons, perhaps to a fault.

I don't think an award for being one of the worst GMs will ever go to Amaro the way Sports Illustrated once did for Ed Wade. After all, how cool was that 2011 season until that Cardinals series? Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt?

Really? Only three seasons later, it seems like a dream.

But like Wade, Amaro's bullpen work still needs, for lack of a better metaphor, bullpen work. Except for that 2011 season when Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes and David Herndon pitched in a combined 166 games, it has been, and remains Ruben's Rubik's Cube.

More alarming, though, is this: There is little evidence, based on drafts, their Latin American signings, or even the players returned in their big salary-dumping trades, to suggest that Amaro is the guy who can dig them out of this mess. When they were at the top all those years, the Phillies often spoke of a plan to avoid the kind of bottoming-out that now appears upon us. That plan now seems like a cruel joke.

Knowing how reluctant the Phillies are to make changes at the top, Ruben will get his chance at rebuilding. But he will do it amid a loudening civic drumbeat of dissent and distrust, a drumbeat that often takes on a life of its own.

And gets in everybody's way.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon

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