By Paul Mancano – We all knew this day would come: when the core of 2008 World Champs and five-time NL East winning Phillies would become too old to contribute. We started talking about ‘window slamming’ around the trade deadline of 2011, when we sold the farm for Hunter Pence. In fact, we seemed to know it about three years before general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. knew about it. In Amaro, I see Al Davis at the end of his career: outsmarted, clinging to an outdated and irresponsible plan, as the superstars and wins slip further and further away.
Then again, Al Davis had five Super Bowl rings. His model worked for decades, so can you blame him for sticking with it, even as he drove a once great franchise into the ground? Amaro, on the other hand, has one pennant to his name, and that came with a team that was almost entirely built by his predecessors, Pat Gillick and Ed Wade.
In terms of postseason play (the only barometer anyone really cares about), the Phillies have turned in a worse result for every season spent under Amaro. They lost to the Yankees in the World Series in 2009, lost to the Giants in the NLCS ’10, lost to the Cardinals in the NLDS in ’11, finished at exactly .500 in ’12, and won just 73 games last year. Currently, Ryne Sandberg’s club sits in second-to-last place in an exceptionally abominable NL East. Ruben has systematically destroyed the Phillies, restoring the team to the level of play not seen since the dark ages of the early 2000s.
But what if the team had won another World Series title during the glory years? What if all the “core” guys had made a second championship run somewhere between ’09 and ’11? Would the sound of a second ring drown out all the WIP callers’ complaints?
After all, is it really Amaro’s fault they didn’t win another one? The team grabbed three straight division titles under his watch. They won a franchise record 102 games in 2011, and were poised to make a deep playoff run before being shocked by the Cards in five games. Maybe if Cole had put in a bit more effort in the offseason before the ’09 season, they take out the Yanks and go back-to-back. Maybe if Charlie had started Vance “the Vanimal” Worley in Game 4 of the ’11 NLDS, or the squirrel never runs on the field, we win the game and the series, and make a run all the way to the Promised Land. If even one of these seemingly small events had gone differently, today Phils fans could be talking more about the guy who brought us the Four Aces than the guy who traded Cliff Lee for J.C. Ramírez, Phillippe Aumont and Tyson Gillies.
I don’t know how much you can blame a general manager for postseason failures. If the team was good enough to win 93, 97, and 102 games, I think their general manager has put them in a good enough position to win it all.
You could argue that the team wasn’t built to win in the playoffs, and the postseason failures therefore fall on the general manager. But I would disagree. Amazing starting pitching, a good bullpen (back when Antonio Bastardo and Mike Stutes knew what a baseball was), and pretty solid hitting are all key components of a championship team, and the Phils had all three during their playoff runs. This team was built to win multiple championships, but they never did.
You can certainly blame Amaro for not planning for the future, not drafting well, overpaying old guys, trading away all our assets, and shortening our window considerably, but his first three teams did not meet expectations through, I think, no fault of his own. Amaro still should be fired, and I think will be fired (too little, too late), but if he had gotten lucky a couple years ago, maybe his own window would be open for just a bit longer.