For all of our intricacies and nuances, Philadelphians can occasionally be formulaic. And after the Phillies loss yesterday, it was an easy equation to decipher.
Struggling team + off day + Monday = public hand-wringing.
Not surprisingly then, I have read and heard numerous takes on what ails the Phillies. Regardless of the tact taken, the analysis consistently boils down to some version of “The Phillies have significant talent deficiencies.”
You will not find a counterargument here. If Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy Halladay do not return in all-star form, the 2012 Phillies will not be participating in October baseball.
So if we can all agree that the answer to why the Phillies have problems is a shortage of major-league talent, let’s tackle another question:
How did the Phillies get here?
Here’s one theory: Ruben Amaro, Jr. is human.
Looking at some of the decisions Amaro has made in recent years and separate the context, anyone with a working familiarity of statistical analysis could point out some red flags.
A three-year deal for a 34-year-old third baseman with no power. A five-year, $120M deal for a 32-year-old pitcher with a history of injury problems. A five-year, $125M extension for a 30-year-old strikeout-prone power hitter who has already battled weight issues.
Like I said, the potential flaws in those moves are not hard to pick out.
So why would Amaro agree to those type of contracts? One of the most human of emotions: he hates to lose.
Let’s take a trip back to 2009, Amaro’s first season as general manager. Coming off a championship, the Phillies returned to the World Series and lost to the Yankees in six games. In that series, Amaro’s team had two fatal shortcomings: Pedro Feliz was a nightmare at the plate and Cole Hamels’ funk forced the club to turn to a past-his-prime Pedro Martinez in a must-win game.
So Amaro, I assume, looked at what happened and decided he wasn’t going to lose in 2010 because of his third baseman and a lack of pitching depth.
Hello Placido Polanco, Roy Halladay, and eventually Roy Oswalt.
The Halladay decision is unimpeachable, even with workload and age considered. But the Polanco deal represents the gambles that have become a trademark of the Amaro era. Overpay a veteran player, knowing that the back-end of the contract might see limited returns, with the goal of winning the World Series at the start of the deal.
2010 provides another example. The Phillies fell to the Giants in the NLCS. San Francisco’s greatest strength was its starting rotation depth. Not surprisingly, the following offseason saw the return of Cliff Lee and the noble experiment known as “The Four Aces.”
With each season that has passed without another title, the price of Amaro’s gambles becomes more obvious. Prospects have been expended. Cash has been spent. And the club continues to venture further away from the model that initially brought upon this golden era of success.
Think of this season as the casino settling its debts. The Phillies are now expensive, aging and injured. And devoid of minor-league reinforcements.
With that said, it’s hard to blame Amaro. He did what most human beings would do. The pressure to "win now" in sports is immense. Fan bases, especially in Philadelphia, are impatient. He was given a winner and he wanted to cash-in again as quickly as possible. At the very least, the organization can’t be criticized for not trying to win. (By the way, he’s won three straight division titles. That is not to be overlooked.)
Unfortunately, we continue to learn in sports that gambles rarely pay off. The best franchises stick to their principles. They value developing young, cheap talent rather than paying market price for established names on the way down. Reason usually supersedes emotion.
There was a time when the Phillies just wanted to win a championship. That’s how 2008 happened.
Now, the Phillies want to win the next championship. That’s how 2012 is happening.
E-mail Casey Feeney at firstname.lastname@example.org.