Would it be fair to term this, the 2012-13 offseason, the single-most crucial winter for the Phillies since they won the World Series? How the organization chooses to address the club's many needs could not only determine whether or not Philadelphia is back in contention next season, but quite possibly the trajectory of the franchise for years to come.
Given the gravity of the situation, how do you feel about Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel as the men tasked with getting this operation back on track?
Both Amaro and Manuel have been subjects of ire for a portion of the fan base that believes one or both of them should be checking the classifieds by now. But does the torch-and-pitchfork crowd speak for a majority, and are calls to have either the manager, the general manager, or both of them removed truly deserved?
Beginning with Charlie, honestly it comes as no surprise the manager would come under fire after a disappointing season. The manager is always first in line whenever a team is seen as under-performing, and apparently expectations were no lower this year simply because two of the Fightins' most important players weren't available until July. Manuel has always had his detractors though, and being forced to play tricks with the lineup card and bullpen on a daily basis would magnify most managers' shortcomings.
Considering his squad has been falling shorter and shorter of their goal with each passing postseason exit, finally missing the playoffs altogether, there is little doubt Manuel is running out of goodwill. That said, he was clearly shorthanded early in 2012. Rather than criticize him for being at the wheel when they nearly dropped completely out of the race in June, maybe we should be commending him for finishing with a .587 winning percentage after the All-Star break.
Ultimately, it may not matter much. With one year left on his contract, Manuel and the front office aren't talking extension currently. Speculation is this could be Charlie's last year regardless. One feeling is the winningest manager in franchise history has earned the right to have one more go at it with this team, especially if he's already planning to go out on his own terms.
Far more troubling to that segment of fans mentioned up top is Amaro will remain the man behind the curtain, pulling the levers on moves that could dramatically alter the landscape of the clubhouse for the foreseeable future. He's become notorious for trading the farm away for players who often wind up being treated like rentals, and especially for awarding huge, unpopular contracts to players such as Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Jonathan Papelbon, among others.
It's those contracts that really get folks riled up. Experts bemoaned Howard's five-year, $125 million extension that carries him through 2016, when he'll be 36, but that was probably ballpark of what he would have got on the open market pre-Achilles rupture -- which by the way, occurred at essentially the exact moment he would have become a free agent. Rollins may be aging and not suited for the leadoff spot anymore, but he's still one of the better shortstops in the league. And some simply disagree on principle with handing $50 mil to any player who only pitches one inning, but there was no denying Papelbon was the top closer on the market.
In other words, those contracts may not be team-friendly, but can also be viewed as the cost of doing business.
Amaro has been equally as aggressive at locking up his core as he has been dealing for shiny new parts, which up to this point has yet to truly backfire. Of the four players sent to Cleveland in the original Cliff Lee trade, three packaged in the Roy Halladay acquisition, and three others for Roy Oswalt, not one of them has yet to pan out as a viable Major Leaguer. The jury is still out on a handful, including the two players shipped out for Hunter Pence, but the Phillies haven't exactly been stung by this practice.
Which brings us to a broader point about ousting a GM. Unlike hiring and firing a manager, which can produce a visible and instantaneous change in results, much of what Amaro has done since taking over the position in '09 has yet to be felt in any complete way. Signing aging core players like Howard and Rollins may seem like a bad idea now, but if they lead another parade down Broad St. next October, we doubt anybody would still mind. The opposite goes for some of these trades that dispersed young talents all over the league who only soon may be starting to realize their potential.
Of course, we want to know what you think about the job Amaro has done, and Charlie Manuel, too. The Phillies are one year removed from their best regular season in franchise history -- 102 wins -- and 2012 marks the first year they've missed the playoffs since '06, with something of a justified reason. We might've assumed that might buy those guys some leeway. Were we mistaken?