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?

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The buy/sell quandary

At present, the Phillies are in a quandary. It seems no one hasn’t mentioned the aging core, so I’ll give that little time. Here are the options the Phillies have:

1. Buy
The Phillies have the option to buy — perhaps someone for the bullpen — in an attempt to make one last push with this core. At present, this would seem to be the worst, and least likely, strategy. In the past, buying big names hasn’t worked out so well in the long-term, and the club has not benefited by going to the World Series from such a deal since 2009. Of course, that was a fantastic deal in picking up Lee, but that sort of move has not been the norm, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone on the market with that kind of potential to make a comparable impact.

Waiting until waivers may be one of the best ways to improve by “buying” in a sense, without having to give up young talent. As it stands, I am far from suggesting that the team would be better off mortgaging the future for an unlikely World Series run this year (a current projection from gives the Phillies a 7.4 percent chance of making the playoffs). Waiting to buy until waivers, whether or not the club decides to sell, would not be a terrible thing.

2. Sell
The club could sell some of the older players — those on the trading block — and get back some younger talent for the future. Obviously, this route means the club doesn’t believe they have a shot at the playoffs this year. This won’t happen right away, but it could happen if the team loses this series to the White Sox.

I would like to argue, however, that if the Phillies were to sell and get back some of the right pieces, it could keep the team on even keel for this year, but put them in a better position for years to come. There are two ways to go about this — implode or retool.

3. Hold firm as long as possible
Hold firm, and determine just before the trade deadline. This may be the likeliest, because the team is unlikely to hold pat. They’ll likely refer to option 1 or 2 right before the deadline, depending on the situation at that time. Ruben Amaro, Jr. has showed he likes to make moves; the Phillies are likely to end up on one side of the table or the other. If they can avoid reckless decisions, it will have been at least a somewhat successful month.

This decision is more difficult to make this year, as the club has the perception it can compete. The Phillies are 7.5 games back and under .500, but still in a better position than this time last year.

This could be a bumpy ride. Hold onto your seats.