Ruben Amaro Jr. and the future of an organization

Sports Illustrated’s Ben Reiter posted an insightful column yesterday about the recent lack of success by the Phillies and Rays, who faced off in the 2008 World Series. I’ll incorporate elements of two of his points.

Reiter talks about the “human factor,” saying that by rebuilding, GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. would be admitting he’s failed to do his job after inheriting a World Series-winning team. And there’s a lot of truth to that. The club’s postseason success waned, moving backwards one step every year from 2009 to 2012, culminating in missing the playoffs altogether one year after winning 102 games.

Reiter also mentions how demanding Phillies fans are. If the team were to ship out the stars who contributed to the not-so-long-ago successes, the stands might empty out:

Even with the team’s struggles this season, it still ranks 10th, as fans are still drawn to Citizens Bank Bark by their recent positive memories, and to see the longtime stalwarts who contributed to them. If any club has an incentive to hold onto its stars as long as possible, and to profit off the gate receipts those stars still produce, it is Philadelphia.

This creates an interesting dynamic. The team wants to do well long-term, but in order to keep a job — and to keep money coming in — Amaro can’t move too many players. But hasn’t the management of money just perpetuated the need to spend?

If the Phillies had traded big-name players in their prime for prospects, the attendance might have gone down. But so would the salary total. The money might not have been such an issue had the Phillies made moves earlier. But holding onto players past their prime was a big risk that didn’t pay off. There’s more money on the contracts, and the likely return via trade is reduced.

All that aside, Reiter briefly addressed a point that stuck with me:

David Montgomery, the Phillies’ owner, this week gave Amaro and his staff a public endorsement. “I just believe that group of people gave us the successful period we had,” Montgomery said.

I asked Reiter about this endorsement. Here’s the conversation:

If that’s the case, and Amaro is truly liberated, he can’t continue on the same path. He has to be willing to admit that the Phillies aren’t likely World Series contenders, and the smartest thing to do is get some return. That was always the smart move long-term, but if he was boxed in by Philly fans’ mentality, then it only just became a less dangerous decision for his career.

There’s always some risk in rebuilding based on whether or not the prospects reach their potential, but at this point it seems like the only viable option.

So why wait any longer? The players in question are only going to continue to age, and though the return might not be exactly what the Phillies want, not trading anyone simply on that basis will have even more repercussions.

Rosenthal believes it will take some creativity to move many of the big contracts. He may be right, but it may just take money. To get better prospects in many potential trades, the Phillies may need to be willing to pay a good chunk of the contract.

Though it might restrict what the organization is able to do over the next few years in terms of signing players, that may not be the worst thing. If Montgomery’s support of Amaro is as firm as it sounds, then there is some time to implement the plan. If the club decides to do the kind of rebuilding so many have called for, they may be able to pay a good portion of the salary to trade a handful of players.

Attendance may see a dip. Maybe even a dive. But that’s something the organization will have to endure to get back on track.

Which players are traded can only be decided on the basis of the return package, otherwise the deal is good for nothing. In its current position, the organization needs to get a return that looks more like the package of prospects they shipped to Houston for Hunter Pence (Jon Singleton, Jarred Cosart and hot prospect Domingo Santana) than the ones received from San Francisco the following year (Nate Schierholtz, who had better success in Chicago after being released; Tommy Joseph, whose stock has dropped considerably since; and pitcher Seth Rosin, who had an interesting spring).

It’s critical that the scouting team does well in evaluating talent and that negotiating packages based on that intel goes even better.

The owner has given a vote of confidence in Amaro’s ability to make the right moves. The GM has received a lot of flak about the moves he’s made and the lack of depth in the organization, though, and the fans aren’t sure he has the ability to lead the organization in the right direction.

If Amaro can prove it, now’s as good a time as any.

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