Amaro gets one more chance at turnaround

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Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

It was a beautiful day for baseball, unless, of course, it was that brand of baseball the Phillies have tortured their fans with the last two seasons. Not even clear skies and comfortable temperatures could erase the stench that has saturated Citizens Bank Park for far too long.

There was no formal state-of-the-team address by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. or acting team president Pat Gillick before or after the season's final game. None was needed. We've known for months that this was another lost season for the team with the third-highest payroll in baseball, and we've been assured for quite some time that the general manager will remain in charge of personnel operations going forward.

The primary fall guy for this tedious journey to the bottom of the National League East was identified Friday night when the Phillies fired Marti Wolever, the assistant general manager in charge of amateur scouting. He did not deserve to be at the front of the fault line any more than manager Charlie Manuel did in 2013. Truth be told, the front office is running out of places to point fingers in the blame game.

It's one thing to say you take full responsibility for the demise of a franchise, still another to say it when you no longer have a job. Amaro should know by now that what he says can and will be used against him, and he has said often in recent years that he should be able to win with the resources he has been given by ownership. The fans rarely agree with the general manager about anything, but you've got to give him that one.

Go back seven months, when delusional optimism flowed freely underneath the Florida sun. Amaro saw a team that could compete for a division title. Team president David Montgomery tamped down talk of rebuilding and reiterated a commitment to the core that long ago accomplished the ultimate goal of winning a World Series.

"We're here to win, and we're going to do everything we can to win," Amaro said in spring training. "When the time comes that we cannot win, and have to go in a different direction, then we'll have to make some adjustments. That time isn't now."

Poll

Should the Phillies trade Cole Hamels in the offseason?

Time thankfully expired on the 2014 season Sunday with a 2-1 loss to the Braves that was unjustly but fittingly charged to Cole Hamels. The unluckiest ace in baseball allowed two runs and three hits in the first inning before retiring 24 of 25 batters without surrendering a hit over the next seven. The Phillies finished with six hits. Hamels had two of them.

Amaro, Montgomery, and Gillick all know that the time is now to significantly alter an aging and failing roster. If they do not, their jobs could be and should be in jeopardy a year from now, if not sooner. That's a tough thing to say about Montgomery because he is going through a valiant cancer battle as Gillick stands in as the team president. All three men, however, have been at the forefront of Phillies decisions during this three-year downward spiral.

Manager Ryne Sandberg tried to be diplomatic about his first full season in the dugout, but he, too, knows that serious changes must be made if anything is going to change on the field in 2015.

"I think we have some pieces here in place with some veteran guys, and I think we have some young guys that can filter up and play some bigger roles," Sandberg said. "And then we have the possibility of other moves putting the roster together, so I think it could be a combination."

The Phillies have resisted the word rebuilding the way they used to shy away from the word stadium when the concrete bowl across the street was in its final days and the new ballpark was being erected. There's no more reason to pretend anything anymore.

"I think I understand the situation," Hamels said. "All good things come to an end. . . . So I understand the organization and what they have to do. I know they have to make some changes. I can't say or tell them what to do."

A man who can tell them what to do was visible after Sunday's season finale. John Middleton, the most involved of the ownership partners, sat alone just outside the clubhouse following the final game and admitted it has been a long, difficult season.

Exactly how much influence he'll have in the offseason decision-making process remains to be seen, but his is definitely a voice that is growing louder, and the Phillies have some serious financial issues to resolve in the coming months.

How much money would they be willing to eat if they were able to trade Ryan Howard? Would they have the guts to swallow $60 million and just release the declining slugger? Are they willing to outspend all others for the services of Cuban free-agent outfielder Yasmany Thomas, who could command more than $100 million? Can they add a significant free-agent starting pitcher, too?

"Things are going to be different," shortstop Jimmy Rollins concluded. "How much and who? We don't know. We can't even begin to try and answer that question. But [Amaro] will find a way. He's pretty good at that in the past when it has been needed. We've had a little lull, but he'll find a way."

He'd better, because the general manager is standing at the front of the fault line, and this has to be his final chance to make things right again.

 


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob