The Philadelphia Phillies have not had a losing season since 2002, when they finished 80-81. The last ten seasons have provided the faithful fan base in Philadelphia with more things to cheer about than to jeer about. Unfortunately though, the end is near.
It wasn't the farcical Mayan Apocalypse that dashed the hopes of Phillies fans everywhere. No. It was the mismanagement of a roster and farm system that will cause the destruction of arguably the best decade of baseball in this franchise's history.
Who is to blame?
People will easily point fingers at the players. Most notably, Ryan Howard's disappointing lack of production along with an additional projected decrease as his salary increases through the next several years is causing flack among Phillies fans.
Despite all this, Howard is not to blame.
Charlie Manuel developed a reputation for being a manager who knows how to instruct and correct batting issues from the get-go. It is sad to say, but one of the problems with the Phillies has been the ability to hit effectively and drive in runs on a consistent basis in recent years.
Still, managers in baseball are the most innocuous figureheads in professional sports. They matter much less than head coaches in the NFL and NBA.
The problem resides with the front office.
On November 3, 2008, Ruben Amaro Jr. succeeded Pat Gillick as the general manager of the Phillies, directly after the Phillies won the 2008 World Series. Since then, a series of gaffes and questionable transactions have compounded the problems for the Phillies, diminishing their relevance in not only their specific division, the National League East, but the entire National League as well.
On April 26, 2010, less than two years after his promotion to GM, Amaro Jr. signed the soon-to-be 31-year-old first baseman Ryan Howard to a 5-year, $125 million contract extension. The deal called for a club option on the sixth year.
Despite holding the single-season HR record for a Phillie as well as many other records, Howard's production is on the decline. Coming off an Achilles tear, Howard struggled mightily last season. Some believe that Howard should regain his ability to produce at an elite level in 2013, while others dismiss him as an oft-injured slugger prone to striking out who can't play defense and is on the decline.
Whichever way you see him, Howard is definitely a controversial piece to the puzzle of where things went wrong with Amaro Jr.
Amaro Jr. does deserve some credit. Despite selling the best prospects in the farm system and spending cash hand over fist, Amaro Jr. has amassed talent in the form of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence, Roy Oswalt and Jonathan Papelbon.
While these names are enticing, their deals probably are not. Take Papelbon, for example. He was given the richest contract in history for a reliever. The problem is that a deal worth $60 million for a pitcher who is tasked with attaining three outs per game is asinine.
Especially when the money could have been used to give the rest of the bullpen or 25-man roster more depth.
2013 will be a telling year for Amaro Jr. He will either look like a genius or possibly lose his job. He deserves to be knocked hard for acquiring, then trading away Gio Gonzalez. He also shipped Chris Singleton out of the organization.
Meanwhile, many fans are disheartened at the lack of talented acquisitions during the 2012-13 off-season.
Ben Revere? John Lannan? Both guys are nice players, but Revere has one of the highest ground ball rates in baseball while Lannan is extremely ordinary on the hill. Meanwhile, fan favorite Vance Worley—a man who, when healthy, is an extremely effective young pitcher—was shipped out of town.
The Phillies have thus far failed to secure a deal for the likes of Justin Upton, Jason Kubel or Dexter Fowler.
2013 will speak volumes for what Amaro Jr. has done for the Phillies franchise. The roster is the least talented of any roster the Phillies have had since 2005, which is why this is the year where Amaro Jr.'s legacy will be shaped.
As to whether or not he has a job as GM in Philadelphia come October, that remains anyone's guess.