The losses are on Ruben Amaro Jr.’s hands.
The ones in the past, the ones for 2015 and ones that could come beyond this upcoming season, whether he is in office or not, are all on Amaro. This offseason provided a clear shot to be progressive by making his team younger with an eye toward the future.
Instead, the Philadelphia Phillies general manager is hanging onto the past as he completes the team’s transformation from championship contender to a case study in how to decimate a franchise. This is why Amaro must pay for his transgressions with his job.
For the sake of the Phillies franchise, the sooner he does, the better.
Ruben Amaro is the worst GM in sports RT @MattGelb: The Phillies, according to a club source, did not make a trade.— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) July 31, 2014
That tweet came at the July 31 trade deadline, but it’s not just last summer’s flubbed deadline that should write Amaro’s GM obituary. It is his entire six-year tenure, with the latest debacle coming this offseason when he was unwilling—not unable—to trade ace Cole Hamels.
It certainly was not for a lack of interest in the left-hander with four years and $96 million remaining on his contract. The problem was Amaro, who other executives described as asking for unreasonable packages in return for Hamels. It was the same problem tagged on Amaro at the last trade deadline.
Many Rival evaluators find PHI asks on their players to be greatly overpriced within the context of the current market, as they did in July.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 19, 2014
This comes at a time when younger, more analytical GMs lean toward trading away a player too soon rather than too late. Amaro clearly does not subscribe to this thinking.
And now that the rush of phone calls had calmed and teams have gone elsewhere for pitching needs, Hamels is destined to be a Phillie on Opening Day despite an aggressive push to take him away.
“Not aggressive enough, obviously, because we haven’t done anything,” Amaro told Jake Kaplan of The Philadelphia Inquirer a couple weeks ago.
“If I was going to handicap it, I would probably say that he’d be in our pinstripes on opening day and pitching against Boston.”
With that, the Phillies are looking quite similar to the teams that lost 89 games each of the last two seasons, even with the trades of Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd. As the rest of the National League East improves, Amaro keeps locking the cellar door behind him.
The Phillies still have Hamels, their one trade chip that could change the franchise’s future fortunes. They still have Cliff Lee, who is 36, hurting and went from a 7.3 WAR (Baseball-Reference.com) in 2013 to 0.8 last year. They still have Ryan Howard, a man Amaro publicly said the team would be better off without. They still have Jonathan Papelbon, a personality not so conducive to living quietly in a losing clubhouse.
Between those four, Amaro has committed $85.5 million for this season. Throw in Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Miguel Gonzalez, and Amaro has committed $107.7 million to seven players. Only Gonzalez, a 28-year-old minor league reliever, is younger than 30. All of those deals were signed under Amaro’s reign.
No wonder Sporting News dubbed him the worst GM in baseball last year.
For now, Amaro has the backing of his bosses. When Pat Gillick was hired as the team’s GM in 2005, the franchise did so with the underlying idea that Gillick would be something of a mentor to Amaro, then the assistant GM. That thought was reaffirmed during Gillick’s tenure when Amaro became the public face of the front office as Gillick worked away from the spotlight.
Because of the history there, it came as no shock when Gillick “absolutely” backed Amaro after he was brought back into the mix as the team’s interim president in September.
“Right now there’s no thought whatsoever of replacing [Amaro Jr.],” Gillick said via The Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb.
It is understandable that Gillick made these comments. He did not want to come in and damn his current GM and one-time mentee as his first order of business. But Gillick must see that Amaro buried the franchise to the point that it will take a complete rebuild, not a retool, to come out from under the soil.
For a fair chunk of the overall debacle, things looked great. The Phillies were a contender for Amaro’s first three years at the controls, and he also deserves some credit for the 2008 World Series and the 2007 NL East title as he was the assistant GM when those clubs were being constructed.
When he took over, Amaro lived in the moment. He ignored the future to build historically good teams and sign expensive players. The goal was to win as many World Series titles as he could in the window allotted.
The problem is he won zero and handed out what can be argued as the worst contract in baseball history (for now, while Albert Pujols is still productive) when he signed Howard to a five-year, $125 million extension, a deal that didn’t even start until he turned 32. Amaro also agreed to several other questionable deals with aging players.
The real payment for those fun times has been due for the last two seasons, and the bill collectors will keep calling in 2015.
Amaro took over a franchise with money and World Series expectations when he landed his current job after the 2008 championship season. He chased the dream by spending recklessly, ignoring warning signs and the club’s future. The intentions were somewhat understandable with the exception of Howard’s deal, which was panned immediately and led to Amaro trying to cover it up with more bad deals (i.e. Cliff Lee).
The problem is that in trying to sustain a winner, Amaro was setting dynamite to a franchise that had drafted well and spent wisely under its previous GMs. The fuse was set years ago, and the bombs have been going off for three seasons now, with Amaro trying to hide the disaster by pouring cups of water on an inferno.
Amaro cannot stop what he set in motion. And because he refused to blow it up himself when he should have, the Phillies have to make him part of the wreckage when failing to move Hamels is the final stick of dynamite to blow.
Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent he previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.