The Philadelphia Phillies chose to part ways with longtime manager Charlie Manuel on Friday, in the midst of a second half that has seen his club drop 20 of 25 games.
While the performance on the field has been disappointing, placing the blame at the feet of the manager is almost never a wise decision and seems even less so with a club that was so poorly constructed. If anything, the Phillies should have announced the firing of GM Ruben Amaro on Friday, not their skipper.
The Phillies came to prominence under Manuel and then-GM Pat Gillick, winning the NL East in 2007 and winning the World Series a season later. After another failed trip to the Fall Classic the next year, Philadelphia was considered the class of the National League.
In trying to maintain that success, however, Amaro, who took over when Gillick retired after 2008 World Series, opted to keep as many of his veterans as possible and gave them enormous contracts that would last well into their late-30s. Guys like Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins were certainly at one time among the elite in baseball at their positions, but now are only anchors weighing down a bloated payroll.
Howard is making $20 million this year and is owed at least $85 million over the next three seasons. He’s already looking over-the-hill at age 33 and has managed just 25 home runs in the past two seasons combined. There wasn’t a person in baseball that felt the five-year, $125 million deal that Amaro gave Howard would be anything but a disaster and it looks like they weren’t wrong.
It’s not all Howard, of course. Rollins is 34 and is having the worst offensive season of his career. Since signing his three-year, $33 million deal prior to last season, Rollins has a combined on base percentage of just .312. Additionally, according to UZR, Rollins is having a poor season in the field as well.
The Phillies have 34-year-old Cliff Lee under contract for at least $87 million over at least three more years. Have are paying $13 million per year for their closer, Jonathan Papelbon, and they recently agreed to spend another $7 million on the oft-injured and aging Chase Utley. Additionally, when given the opportunity to trade away 36-year-old infielder Michael Young and 34-year-old catcher Carlos Ruiz just before the trade deadline, Amaro flatly declined what had been regarded as more-than-reasonable offers for his veterans.
Halladay signed a relatively team-friendly deal signed in 2009 that pays him $20 million per year. The Phillies certainly got their money’s worth out of him for the first few seasons of that contract and while 2013 is a bust, Halladay’s contract comes off the books at the end of the year. Given how Amaro has repeatedly hitched his wagon to those who helped win the 2008 title, however, it wouldn’t shock me if Halladay is brought back, probably for significantly more money than anyone else would offer.
The Phillies have been a bad team in the second half, there is no question about that. But they’ve been a bad team because the roster that Amaro assembled has broken down in precisely the way that should have been expected. Amaro’s unwillingness to move ahead without the pillars of the World Championship club has been solely responsible for the downfall of the Phillies and has set the franchise back for years to come. The constant re-tooling with veteran players has left the farm system near barren and the payroll at its maximum.
It was Amaro who is responsible for the collapse of the Philadelphia empire, yet it is Manuel who takes the fall.