This past offseason, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. willingly signed Delmon Young to the Philadelphia Philles. Delmon Young. As hard as it was to wrap one’s head around at the time, it’s still pretty mind blowing months later and just days after the team designated Young for assignment.
The thing about Young is that signing him — particularly after a postseason during which he earned a .907 OPS in a World Series run — might have been barely (just barely) justifiable — but only for an American League team. Whether Young had any offensive value was questionable, but his defense in the outfield has long been known to be atrocious, perhaps the worst in baseball, before he began mostly DHing in 2012. Either way, Young actually had a negative WAR (wins above replacement) in 2011 and 2012, and in two other seasons in which he played at least 100 games.
So, for Amaro to sign Young as an outfielder for 80 games never made a lick of sense. But then again, it’s just one of a plethora of untenable moves Amaro has made ever since he took over for Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick after the Phillies’ 2008 World Series win.
On Friday afternoon, Amaro and the Phillies fired Charlie Manuel after nine seasons at the helm of the club. The move doesn’t exactly come out of thin air, but it’s still a bit of a surprise considering all the injuries that have dogged the Phillies this year.
In short, Amaro is clearly using Manuel as a scapegoat for the Phillies’ disappointing season, which really isn’t even all that disappointing depending on how you look at things. With Roy Halladay injured and ineffective, Cole Hamels going 5-13 and longtime stars Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard providing little offense (when the latter has been healthy), realistically Philadelphia could be a lot worse than 14 games under .500. With their negative-96 run differential, they’re basically just as bad as the 46-73 Miami Marlins and easily outperforming their Pythagorean expected record.
The fact that the Phillies are playing better than the underlying stats indicate may well be due to Manuel’s positive influence. The fact that the Phillies are bad, on the whole, is unequivocally Amaro’s fault.
The number of inexplicable moves Amaro’s made during his tenure is almost too long to count. However, the obvious whopper of them all was the five-year extension given to Howard a full two seasons before he hit free agency, when he was already 30 years old. Predictably to anyone who knows anything about career arcs, Howard started to immediately decline, falling from a .571 slugging percentage in 2009 to .505 in 2010 — a mark he hasn’t since reached. It’s a legitimate argument whether Howard’s contract was more ill-advised than Alex Rodriguez‘s second pact with the Yankees.
Beyond Howard’s extension, there are any number of nearly as head-scratching moves. After that 2008 World Series run, the team actually gave 46-year-old Jamie Moyer a two-year contract. As nice of a story as Moyer was during the playoffs, it should be plainly obvious why giving a multiyear deal to a 46-year-old isn’t a smart decision.
This year’s trade deadline was another instance where Amaro seemed out of his depth. Despite the fact that Philadelphia was seven games under .500 and 12 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL East, Amaro decided that the Phillies were still contenders — or were at least close enough to not be sellers at the deadline. Thus, the team held on to useless-to-them commodities like Michael Young and Jonathan Papelbon. Young is now basically benched in favor of 23-year-old Cody Asche.
And that’s to speak nothing of the fact that trading for Michael Young was a pretty bizarre move in the first place. Combining OBP killers Michael Young and Delmon Young in the same lineup so often may well have killed the Phillies’ season.
In short, the Phillies needed to make the kind of bold, rebuilding moves that Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington was willing to pull the trigger on last August. Instead, the Phillies stood pat with an aging, flawed roster, and are paying the price for it.
Again, none of the Phillies’ flaws are Manuel’s fault. In fact, Manuel did extremely well to finally get production out of Domonic Brown and put together a patchwork outfield that’s featured far too much of John Mayberry Jr. But all sorts of baseball prognosticators predicted that it would be disastrous for the Phillies to keep their aging core with no roster turnover. Instead, Amaro doubled up on his plan, and the Phillies not only can’t contend right now, but it’s hard to see how they’ll be able to for years to come.
In a lot of ways Delmon Young represents one of the few things Amaro did right. Though it’s still mysterious why he thought signing Young was prudent in the first place, at least Amaro finally admitted his mistake by effectively releasing him.
If only Amaro could realize the error of his ways in the rest of his decisions.