Ruben Amaro isn't going to be the Phillies general manager forever.
At least, I don't think he is.
Amaro, who took over the team after the resignation of Pat Gillick following the 2008 World Series, helped send the team back to the Series the following year, then constructed two more division winners in 2010 and 2011. That the Phils didn't make it back to the World Series in either of those two years, despite winning a team-record 102 games in '11, speaks more to the randomness of playoff baseball rather than any deficiency on Amaro's part.
Still, after two sub-par years in 2012 and '13, with an aging roster and some questionable trades and free agent signings, Amaro is on the hotseat this off-season.
His first move, the signing of Marlon Byrd, to a 2-year, $16 million contract, has been largely panned by Phillies fans and other baseball people (myself included), and there seems to be little indication that Amaro is making the right moves to help lead the Phils back to the top of the National League.
But just how hot is Amaro's seat? How much pressure is he really under? Would another bad season, one in which the team finishes under .500 or fails to make the playoffs, compel David Montgomery and Ruben's bosses to dismiss him after this season? If not, how long is his leash?
The last two general managers to be fired by the Phillies were Ed Wade and Lee Thomas. Thomas spent 10 years as the team's GM, fired after a dismal 1997 season in which the Phils went 68-94, 33 games out of first place. Thomas' only winning season as GM was the 1993 pennant-winning season.
Wade took over for Thomas before the '98 season and helped turn the Phils into a winning team, if not a playoff team. He lasted eight seasons, and was fired after the 2005 season, in which the Phillies went 88-74 and finished one game behind Houston for a wild card spot.
Thomas lasted 10 years and was fired because the Phils were quite terrible and not getting any better. Wade was fired after eight years for failing to get the team over the hump.
Amaro has had the job for five years. Expectations, and perhaps more importantly, payroll, have been raised. Because ownership is spending more money, and because the team is coming off a historic run of success, will Ruben get less time than Wade or Thomas received?
Ask most Phillies fans and they'll tell you that Amaro should already be out. But, to be honest, the average fan would be making that judgment based more on emotion than fact. The facts are that Amaro has had some successes and failures, some of which were his responsibility, some of which were not.
But Amaro's job security should be less about what he has already done, and more about whether he's the right man to help the Phillies rebuild as the economics and rules of baseball change.
Ruben's biggest successes have come when he's had a lot of money to throw around. When he identifies a player he wants and has unlimited resources to acquire that player, he usually gets him. And while he's made some very dumb trades (Lee to Seattle, acquiring Pence to name a couple), he's also made some good ones (namely acquiring Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt).
Unfortunately, the days when a team could markedly improve itself in free agency appear to be over. More and more teams are re-signing their young players to multi-year contracts, meaning the only players that seem to hit the open market are on the wrong side of 30 or have significant injury issues.
Not only that, because there are fewer impact free agents hitting the market, and because of the influx of TV money into the sport, teams are overpaying for these free agents, to the point where spending big money on any of them offers more risk than reward.
That means teams must be able to identify the jewels in the rough, the unpolished stones, the players that may not grab headlines but could really help a team generate more wins. This is an area where Amaro has struggled in recent years, specifically with non-tendering Nate Schierholtz, and the signings of Delmon Young, Laynce Nix and Ty Wigginton. Nix and Wigginton were especially egregious because they were multi-year deals.
The Ryan Howard extension was also a huge mistake, and hangs around the neck of the franchise even heavier with each passing year.
Amaro has also had a tendency to overpay for some free agents at a very early stage of the market. Raul Ibanez, Jonathan Papelbon, Placido Polanco and Byrd were all players that Ruben was aggressive on, probably to the point of recklessness.
He also doesn't seem to understand market efficiency, still believing that a team should commit tens of millions of dollars and multiple years to bullpen pitchers who only participate in 5-6% of a team's innings each year.
More importantly, the game of baseball is now a numbers game. Yet Amaro continues to rely almost solely on scouting, and appears to give minimal attention to the analytics that every other team has been implementing for the last decade. His reluctance to embrace this area makes him a suspect candidate to remain as general manager during the upcoming re-tooling, or rebuilding, that must take place.
Obviously, Amaro is not solely responsible for the performance of the Phillies. Management must make a commitment to spending money on the international market and in developing amateur talent as well. They also need to embrace the analytical age of baseball, mandating that their general manager, whoever it is, begin seriously incorporating this new frontier of baseball information-gathering.
If they don't, the next general manager is going to make the same mistakes as the current one.
Amaro cannot create an analytics department on his own, even if he wanted to. The franchise must recognize this need and prioritize spending the money to make it happen. They have to recognize that money spent here will go much further than spending that money on Jacoby Ellsbury, or even Marlon Byrd.
With expectations surrounding the Phillies and the corresponding payroll both higher than they have ever been, the question remains, just how much time does Ruben Amaro have? Is he getting all the support he needs from the front office to do the job properly? If he's not, how will he go about reconstructing a roster that was the best in the National League just two years ago? And if the issue is Amaro's own ignorance, how much longer can he close his eyes and ears to the winds of change blowing through baseball?
Being a Major League general manager is an incredibly difficult job. It takes a firm understanding of contract negotiations, player development, the economics of the game, listening to scouts and the advanced metrics that have become so important to becoming a successful franchise.
My hunch is that the Phillies give Amaro through the 2015 season to try and fix things. Thomas and Wade lasted a long time while the team underachieved, and Ruben has had far more success than either of those two guys did. Not only that, the Phils' front office has been very patient with their general managers in the past. And even though Thomas and Wade were from a different time, with smaller payrolls and even smaller expectations, they still seemed to hang on a year or two too long.
Still, there is a ticking clock. We can all hear it. And for a general manager who approaches his job the way it was done 15 years ago and not the way it is approached by his peers today, that ticking is getting louder and louder.
Unless the Phillies and Amaro change soon, Ruben is going to hear that alarm go off sooner rather than later.