Phillies dynasty is starting to seem like old news

Ed Zurga

There are a lot of reasons to love Wikipedia. One of those reasons is that you never know when you're going to look up something and get a nice little surprise. Example? This morning I wanted to know when Ruben Amaro, Jr. took over as the Phillies' GM, and here's the first thing I read:

Rubén Amaro, Jr. also known as "Ruin Tomorrow Jr." (born February 12, 1965) is the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.

hahahaha

Still, that hardly seems fair to a general manager who, not so long ago, presided over three straight division titles, in a three-season span that saw the Phillies average 97 wins per season. Is it fair to castigate a baseball executive after one disappointing, injury-plagued season?

Well, maybe.

When Amaro took the reins in 2008, the Phillies had just won the World Series with a roster put together by Pat Gillick and (before him) Ed Wade. I believe these have been Amaro's biggest moves as GM:

16 December 2008 - Signed Raúl Ibañez for 3 years, $31.5 million

16 December 2009 - Traded for Roy Halladay; signed Halladay to 3-year, $60-million contract extension through 2013

26 April 2010 - Signed Ryan Howard to 5-year, $125-million contract extension through 2016

4 December 2010 - Signed Cliff Lee for 5 years, $120 million

29 July 2011 - Traded 4 prospects to Houston for Hunter Pence

14 November 2011 - Signed Jonathan Papelbon for 4 years, $50 million

17 December 2011 - Signed Jimmy Rollins for 3 years, $33 million

25 July 2012 - Signed Cole Hamels to 6-year, $144-million contract extension

31 July 2012 - Traded Hunter Pence to Giants for 2 prospects (and Nate Schierholtz)

(I'm sure I missed something. Please be gentle in the comments. I love you.)

The Ibañez contract look good in Year 1, not so good in Year 2, and hilarious in Year 3. Halladay pitched brilliantly in 2010 and '11, then struggled in 2012; 2013 looms. Howard's contract looked preposterous when he signed it, and only looks more preposterous now. Cliff Lee's been great; three more years to go. Papelbon's been great; three more years to go. Rollins is still a decent enough shortstop; two more years to go. Hamels ... well, six years is a long time. It's not likely that he'll be an ace for the life of the contract, but stranger things have happened.

One thing we know about Ruben Amaro: He's good at spending money. Also, in at least one case he's been good at not spending money; when Jayson Werth became a free agent, the Phillies seem to have resisted the temptation to outbid everyone (especially the Nationals) and keep Werth in right field.

Aside from spending money, though, Amaro doesn't seem to be particularly creative. At least not in a good way. Rather, he seems to disdain young and talented hitters and prefer older, not-as-talented hitters.

Last winter, Amaro signed 34-year-old Juan Pierre to a minor-league deal. Pierre wound up making the roster and playing in 130 games. To Pierre's (and Amaro's) credit, he actually played pretty well, and for $800,000 was a bargain.

This winter, Amaro's traded for 36-year-old Michael Young, and signed Yuniesky Betancourt and Delmon Young. The latter two aren't actually old; they just play that way. Amaro also let center fielder Shane Victorino walk, and replaced him with young Ben Revere; in that deal, Amaro parted with starting pitcher Vance Worley ... and replaced him with free-agent John Lannan, a legitimate No. 5 starter for just about any club (except the Nationals, for most of last season).

In recent years, the Phillies have traded a number of prospects for veterans, and few of their remaining prospects have contributed much to the big club, with Worley (in 2011) one notable exception. According to John Sickels, they've currently got just one hot prospect -- left-hander Jesse Biddle, who's still at least two years away from doing anything for the big club -- but the farm system is, on the whole, decent.

We shouldn't overreact to these things, but it does look strange when you manage, in the space of just a few weeks, to sign Delmon Young and Yuniesky Betancourt. It makes one wonder if there's a spanner in the works, somewhere in your decision-making process.

But the real problem isn't signing marginal players at bargain prices. The real problem is that Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins and Michael Young are all well past their primes, and that's just the infield. Last season, the Phillies had three every-day players who were better-than-average hitters: Utley, Pence, and catcher Carlos Ruiz. Utley's a year older, Pence is gone, and Ruiz will open the season on the suspended list. With a healthier Roy Halladay, the pitching staff should return to brilliance. But you have to score some runs, too. It's not apparent how this team is going to compete with the Nationals and the Braves.

And if the Phillies phinish in third place again, out of the money, it seems that Amaro's financial profligacy, coupled with his fondness for veterans who can't really hit, will deserve a fair share of the blame.

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