For many Phillies fans, Ruben Amaro is already on the hot seat. Two years of substandard results following five straight NL East titles will do that to a Major League general manager.
Amaro's hits and misses as GM are well chronicled. He has not been a particularly good general manager, but he also hasn't been the worst GM in the league either. But as much as any move he may make this week at the Winter Meetings, it could be Amaro's own words that will bite him in the end.
Responding to the rumors that the Phils are willing to listen to offers for Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, Amaro said on Tuesday...
"I’ve heard them. They’re silly.
"We’re trying to add. I said before, the best way for us to win is with our pitching, particularly at the top of the rotation.
"We are built to contend," Amaro said. "That’s our job, to try and win. "We’re built to win."
Amaro says, right now, the Phillies are built to contend and built to win. That despite no major upgrades to a team that won 73 games and finished with the worst run differential in the National League last year.
Granted, the off-season is not over. And all of Amaro's comments about potential moves and deals should be taken with a grain of salt at this time of year.
"I like our lineup," Amaro said on Tuesday." "I'd like to add some pitching to it. I think we've got a pretty good lineup as it stands today. If we can improve on it, we'll try. But I like our lineup. We've been sitting here and discussing it internally. I like the balance in it. Is it older? Yes, it is. It doesn't necessarily mean it's worse just because it's older. We just have to get them healthier. If it's healthy, it's better than last year, clearly. We have to score more than 610 runs or whatever it was that we scored. That was awful. We have to score 700-plus runs to contend. I think the guys that are in the lineup as it stands today, I think that they can do that. They're going to have to perform. And they're going to have to be healthy."
Does that mean the Phils are necessarily done adding to the lineup? Of course not. A trade of Dom Brown for pitching will of course force the Phillies to make a corresponding move to replace him. And perhaps Amaro is simply trying to enhance his bargaining position with potential free agent outfielders.
The team has also openly admitted they're still trying to upgrade the rotation and perhaps the bullpen as well. So, it's likely the Phillies aren't done yet.
But even if you can't believe what Ruben says about the improvements he'd like to make to the team, what you can believe is his belief that the Phillies are built to win now. And by making those comments, Amaro has put a bulls-eye on his back (although one was probably already there anyway).
If the Phils do not compete for a playoff spot and do not "win" in 2014, Amaro, by his own standards, will have failed in his mission.
Of course, all this talk about trading Lee and Hamels, just after the team re-signed Chase Utley to an extension and signed older free agents Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz, makes no sense at all. It's also got to be confusing to the players. If Lee and Hamels really are on the block, can the team really believe that the front office is trying to win in '14 and '15?
Obviously, the only way either Hamels or Lee gets traded now is if a team blows the Phils away with an offer and takes on all of either players' contracts. That isn't going to happen, at least not yet. So check back in July.
But by claiming the Phillies are team that's still "built to contend" and "built to win," Amaro has left himself no room for error.
You might ask, "What else is Amaro supposed to say? That the team is going to be a loser this year and fans should give up?" Of course not. But Amaro could have said something along the lines of, "We're doing everything we can think of to make this team a contender, and we hope by the end of the off-season, we will have done that."
Everyone understands there are many things that are out of a GM's control. Sometimes the best laid plans don't come to fruition. But right now, it doesn't seem like there's any coherent plan at all.
Amaro appears to be a man caught between sincerely trying to contend this year and grudgingly accepting that he needs to find a way to fix some of the glaring errors he's made over the last few years.
The Howard extension continues to hinder the team's financial flexibility. The Papelbon contract was a disaster from the start, so much so that the team appears willing to throw in the one good young outfielder they have (Brown) in a trade of Papelbon, just to get the high-priced closer off the team.
The Phillies appear to be pulling themselves in multiple different directions right now, so you can understand if fans don't know what the heck to think.
But here's the deal. The Phillies are a flawed team and, frankly, don't have the look of a winner at the moment. And the team is already too far down the road of trying to contend next year to stop now and start a complete rebuild. They're already pot committed to 2014 and 2015. Starting the rebuild this week would make no sense whatsoever.
Amaro's comments on Tuesday have established what he thinks the Phillies should be in 2014. And if they're not "contending," if they're not "winners," he will not have lived up to his own lofty expectations.
The hope is that reality will match those expectations. But if they don't, it could be Amaro's own words that do him in.