Through the first two weeks of the off-season, I haven’t heard much out of the Phillies’ front office that’s made me happy. The payroll isn’t going up much, despite a year of record attendance and post-season revenues I assume they didn’t budget for but that included eight home dates, one short of the maximum possible (they didn’t need that Game Five against the Rockies, thankfully). Yet they’re looking at pricey but questionable free agent additions to the bullpen like Fernando Rodney; are evidently hot once again for aging Mark DeRosa ("he's a Penn grad" really isn't a very compelling reason to bring the guy onboard); and reportedly are planning to bring in a "defense-first" type for infield depth. That’s four "ughs" right there, all along the lines of past mistakes we’ve seen the Phillies make—in fact, they’ve made these exact mistakes in previous offseasons. Read Roberto Hernandez for Rodney, David Bell for DeRosa, and Abe "No-Hit" Nunez for whatever slick-glove guy they bring in for the bench.
Yet I find myself unable to get too worked up about it anymore. it’s not because I don’t care; it’s because I’m now (almost) convinced that whenever my views diverge from those of GM Ruben Amaro Jr., the strong likelihood is that he's right and I’m wrong.
As I noted right after the season ended, the Phils did something amazing in Amaro's first season as the Phils’ GM—something I suspect is unprecedented in baseball history: they won a second straight pennant in a year when five of their best six pitchers from the first pennant campaign were either hurt or ineffective for most of the year. Amaro's moves, both to bolster the offense and to add in an ace and deepen the bullpen, were the biggest reason why; other than J.A. Happ, no 2008 holdover was all that much better this time around. (Joe Blanton was better too, but mostly he was on hand all year.) Either this guy is the luckiest baseball exec in the history of ever, or he really knows what he’s doing.
And with the one (big) exception of the Cliff Lee trade, I didn’t like most of Amaro’s big moves at the time he made them. I wrote last winter that the market-shaping deal for Raul Ibanez was so bad that "I can't even make a joke about this"; Ibanez absolutely carried the team through the first two months and quickly became a fan (and TGP) favorite. Evidently I was so bummed out by the signing of Chan Ho Park last December that I didn't write anything about it; he only turned out to be the team's most consistent reliever. I didn't like bringing in Pedro Martinez; he had far more left in the tank than I’d guessed, to the point of making two World Series starts. Even the little depth plays, for the likes of Rodrigo Lopez and Tyler Walker, turned out to be helpful. (He did foul up the backup catcher situation, parting ways with Jason Jaramillo, Ronnie Paulino and Chris Coste and dealing Lou Marson in the Lee deal before winding up with the useless Paul Bako; nobody gets 'em all right.)
Actually, the first big decision involving Amaro that I had a problem with was... his hiring. Coming days after the Phils won the 2008 World Series, it felt like a nepotism/comfort move, elevating an organizational lifer who hadn't proven himself to anyone outside the team's offices. It didn't help that Amaro came off as smug to the point of self-righteous; rumors abounded of his disdain for performance analysis, perhaps informed by his own experiences in a baseball uniform. With some of the other executive talent on the market last winter, not to mention the passing over of his front-office rival Mike Arbuckle, I feared and believed that the Phillies' residence in baseball's upper echelons would prove all too brief. But a year into his tenure, he seems to have taken the best of the two general managers he learned under, fusing Ed Wade's resolve to keep his very best prospects with Pat Gillick's aptitude for reading the market and adding talent in-season. If the Phillies plummet in the next few seasons, it likely will be from a rash of injuries or key players suddenly getting old--not a slew of boneheaded front office moves.
I don't generally enjoy being wrong. But I do enjoy the feeling, for the first time in more than a quarter century, that the people running my favorite baseball team have more of a clue than I do. So when the Phils bring in Mark DeRosa, David Weathers, Brian Schneider and John McDonald as their big offseason additions, for once I'm going to try and keep the faith.