FOR THE first time in 10 years, the Phillies of 2012 failed to finish a season with a winning record.
In the days following the season finale, manager Charlie Manuel was placed squarely into the crosshairs of outsiders seeking a fall guy. Manuel, whose contract expires after the 2013 season, watched his bosses promote Triple A manager and rumored major league manager heir apparent Ryne Sandberg to the Phillies' coaching staff.
In a news conference days after the season ended with a series of coaching changes, Manuel answered all of the questions correctly, and with confidence, too. He isn't worried about his job security.
But sitting by Manuel's side on that early October afternoon was a man who didn't have to answer similar questions about his own future. After a winter in which he's seemingly taken the conservative route - a change from his normal modus operandi - it's fair to wonder whether the 2013 season could decide Ruben Amaro Jr.'s fate, too.
The Phillies' season ended nearly 3 months ago and many potential season ticketsholders are still wondering whether the team is any better than the one that finished 81-81 and out of the postseason for the first time in six seasons.
While Manuel has his every move critiqued for the 6 months of the season, Amaro faces similar scrutiny in the 3 most important months of the offseason.
Amaro, who signed a 4-year contract extension in March 2011, has diligently addressed a few team needs this winter. And, lest anyone forget, the most important move he made in 2012 came 5 months ago, when he kept Cole Hamels off the free-agent market and in Philadelphia for at least six more seasons.
But in the world of major league GMs, you're only as good as your last transaction. With 2 months gone and 1 remaining in baseball's unofficial offseason calendar, it's time to take stock of Amaro's work.
If you were to put together a shopping list of the undeniable essentials the Phillies had to find this winter, three positions would be at the top: centerfield, third base and setup reliever. Amaro addressed all three.
Before leaving the winter meetings earlier this month, Amaro agreed to trade a pitcher (Vance Worley) and a prospect (Trevor May) for Ben Revere, a fleet-footed outfielder.
In a short major league track record, Revere has shown the ability to run, hit for average and play strong defense. The 24-year-old is also inexpensive and under control for the next five seasons, which adds both cost certainty at an important position and the flexibility to spend dollars elsewhere.
Amaro allotted some of those dollars to Mike Adams. The setup man, one of the most reliable eighth-inning relievers over the last half-decade, was signed to the tune of 2 years and $12 million, not an outlandish deal when you consider the money spent on relievers this winter (3 years and $22.5 million for Brandon League?).
The vacancy sign at third base was removed when Amaro reeled in seven-time All-Star Michael Young in a trade with the Texas Rangers. Young, 36, has only 1 year remaining on his contract, which means the Phils didn't have to make a long-term commitment to an aging player (as they had in the past with Placido Polanco and Raul Ibanez) and that they can turn the job over to rising prospect Cody Asche in 2014 if all goes according to plan.
This portion of the story is supposed to be labeled "the subtractions" but the Phils did not have any significant free agents leave the team, unless you have a strange affinity for Ty Wigginton, Juan Pierre, Brian Schneider or Polanco. Losing Worley could come back to haunt the team, but you can't really fault Amaro from trading from a position of strength - pitching - to address the gaping hole in centerfield.
So rather than take stock of the departing Phils, it's probably more constructive to look at the players Amaro decided to take a pass on this winter.
When the winter began, centerfielder B.J. Upton appeared to be the team's top target. As a young righthanded bat with power, speed and strong defensive skills, Upton's positives probably outweighed his negatives: inconsistency at the plate and a propensity for striking out too much.
But the Phils were outbid by their division rivals, the Atlanta Braves, who plopped down $75.25 million over the next 5 years to land Upton.
Josh Hamilton, Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino also signed lucrative contracts elsewhere. Cody Ross and Nick Swisher joined them in striking it rich this past weekend, and Michael Bourn will surely join that list in the next few weeks.
None of those names is perfect. But as it stands now, the Phillies' outfield is largely imperfect, especially on the corners. And unless Darin Ruf makes a seamless transition from the minors to the majors, the outfield is devoid of any power.
Amaro might have been wise to pass up on overpaying for an outfielder, but unless Young bounces back into the player who led the American League in hits and finished eighth in MVP voting in 2011, a sizable hole remains in the middle of the lineup.
The big picture
How will Amaro be judged for the winter of 2012-13? That question can't be answered until at least midseason, when the results begin to play out on the field.
But Amaro's final report card won't necessarily be graded on the moves he did or didn't make this offseason. The general manager's fate rests instead with his entire body of work, from signing Ryan Howard to an early, massive contract extension to allotting a large portion of ownership's dollars to starting pitching.
In the end, Amaro and the 2013 Phillies need the players the team had committed to before this offseason - Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cliff Lee - to stay healthy and offer production that's in line with their paychecks. In 2012, that was the Phillies' biggest failure.