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Schrodinger's GM: What will happen to Amaro?

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It's about equally difficult to imagine the Phillies either keeping or firing their much criticized GM.

Mitchell Leff

As the 2014 Phillies season grinds toward its merciful end, the big question is whether the team will finally change course after two straight years of high-dollar disaster--and whether the ownership group and top executives will entrust GM Ruben Amaro Jr., who oversaw the team's rapid collapse, to build it back. Amaro's contract actually runs through next season, but Philadelphia Inquirer beat writer Matt Gelb recently argued that the top brass is unlikely to just let Amaro complete his current term of employment:

Amaro is under contract through 2015, a fact that complicates matters. The status quo will not suffice this winter, not when something will change within the baseball operations department. One scenario: Team president David Montgomery could retain Amaro, but order him to fire subordinates in the team's underperforming scouting and player-development staffs.

That, however, will not help the Phillies unless Amaro's contract is extended. If the goal is to surround Amaro with better baseball men, what intelligent person - especially a younger one, on the rise - would come to Philadelphia to join a lame-duck general manager's front office with the potential of being fired after one season?

You read that right: there's an argument to be made that Ruben Amaro, coming off a two-year stretch of spending more payroll money for fewer wins than any GM in years if not ever, could get a contract extension.

I try to imagine the press conference at which the Phillies announce this, and frankly my mind just slides off it. Amaro smirking, David Montgomery getting emo, the favored reporters trying to keep straight faces and thus preserve their access, the more critical ones turning purple with disbelief. Then I consider how the public would react, in the days and weeks following. It's well known that the Phillies' 2014 attendance is way down from last year--by 22 percent, according to Forbes per USA Today--which in turn was off from 2012. But they haven't hit bottom. They'll still draw well over two million fans this year, as they have every season since 2003. A decision to retain Amaro as GM  would put that figure in dire jeopardy for 2015.

And then I think about their cutting him loose, and that's roughly as difficult to picture. I don't believe Montgomery or the owners are much more inclined toward mea culpa than Amaro himself. They've steadfastly resisted acknowledging the reality of an old, expensive team in irreversible decline for more than a year now, and it's possible--I really don't know--that their cable deal and other arrangements have rendered them more or less impervious to business losses. In that case, maybe it becomes about comfort, and they seem to really like the guy. Plus I'm not sure anybody has left the front office since Chuck LaMar quit three years ago.

My preference would be to see Amaro fired. Ideally, out of a cannon, but at the least with his employment terminated. I don't see it going that way, though. With Montgomery's health issues, maybe he moves into an emeritus role and Amaro is kicked upstairs to the team presidency… although that's also problematic, because in that scenario he might be asked to help choose his own successor, and if not it would be fair to wonder what his role actually was.

Probably the true best case scenario would be for the ownership group to sell. Their original investment has appreciated many times over, they've won a championship, and a provision of the sale could be for them to keep their parking privileges. Failing that, I'd happily take some kind of epiphany on Amaro's point that what he really wants to do is focus on woodcarving, or interpretive dance. But the realistic upside likely entails Amaro joining Dallas Green, Charlie Manuel, Pat Gillick and Ed Wade in the shadowy world of the Special Advisors.

The as-or-more plausible downside scenario is that they really do let him serve out his contract, bringing in "new blood" for next year in the form of baseball lifers who know that even if the next GM cans them, they'll land somewhere else in the game. In an organization that continues to run out lineups mostly comprised of thirty-something players 125 games through a long-since-lost season, nobody seems to be in much hurry to change, or improve.