Every MLB fan is sure that his favorite team’s general manager is an idiot. C’mon, own up. Who among us has never questioned the wisdom of a trade or the size of a contract? Here in Philadelphia, we unpaid GMs are absolutely sure that we would never have granted Ryan Howard the contract he now has; we never would have traded Cliff Lee to the Mariners; we’re sure we would have figured out a way to keep Jayson Werth. And that’s only for starters – most of us are struck dumb trying to figure out how most of the current Phillies relievers were actually given major league uniforms; many question the wisdom of keeping Jimmy Rollins, and almost as many, two months ago, would have had slap-hitter Ben Revere assassinated.
We’re sure we could have done better. Or were at the time – you know – or after the fact – whatever.
Principal among an MLB GM’s duties is managing his team through the annual non-waiver trade deadline at the end of every July. This year none of us amateur GMs should be thinking we could outthink Ruben Amaro, Jr., however. This is not because of the insistent clamor to divest “ourselves” of Chase Utley, probably the smartest player in baseball, and surely the smartest base runner – and when’s the last time anybody said that about a player with 30-home run-potential? And it’s not because of the cries to trade or jettison, variously, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Michael Young, Jonathan Papelbon, Kevin Frandsen, or Rollins. (Umm…we’ll keep Revere now; he’s hitting .305.)
Despite the average fan’s best plan to recapture the glory of the Phillies’ run from 2007 through 2011, what faces the team’s real GM is a real dilemma. Does he rid himself of bona fide stars to rebuild – always an iffy move – or does he add to a squad of aging stars for “one more run” at the postseason – an equally iffy move?
This is a more complicated matter than even that balanced scale suggests. Baseball is a game of momentum quite frequently. In their last three completed series, the Phillies won two of three twice against first-place teams, the Pirates and Braves, then three of four against the second place team ahead of them in the NL East, the Nationals. So…naturally, they lost their first game (of two today) against the semi-pathetic White Sox, 5-3, a game they were “handed” twice late in what turned out to be an extra-innings contest. They refused the hand-off twice.
If the Phillies had won that game – and here’s the crux of Amaro’s problem – they would have been playing exactly .500 ball for the last 264 games, going back to September 21, 2011, the eighth to last game of their last “glory year.” Instead, they’re 131-133 since then.
Do you break up such a team, a team largely comprised of the same players, or equivalent players, for that lengthy span? Rationality suggests you do, but go ahead, you decide. You’re not the idiot GM.
And you don’t want to be, either.