Plotting Phillies' future
The organization needs a change in vision that goes beyond easy target Ruben Amaro Jr.
TOO OFTEN we in the public sphere advocate firing as a punitive final measure instead of a necessary first step preceding the decisions that truly matter.
On days like yesterday, when the Atlanta Braves fired general manager Frank Wren after seven seasons at the helm, our initial reaction is to compare his track record to that of the embattled general manager of our local squad. We look at the nearly identical winning percentages of the teams they constructed: .536 for Wren, .540 for Ruben Amaro Jr. We look at their recent history, at the 13-win edge Wren's squad held over Amaro's in 2012, and the 23-win edge in 2013, and the five-win edge the Braves carried into yesterday. We look at the 32-21 record that Wren's squads have posted against Amaro's squads over the last three seasons. We look at the number of playoff berths for both teams: three in seven seasons for Wren, three in six seasons for Amaro.
And perhaps the fan base feels its blood pressure rise as it considers all of the above and screams to anyone who will listen: If Frank Wren deserved to be fired, doesn't Ruben Amaro Jr. deserve the same fate?
But that is a punitive way of looking at things, and, in an ironic sort of way, it provides an opening for the sort of defense that you have heard from folks like David Montgomery and Pat Gillick over the last few months. Yes, they say, the last three years have been ugly. But the first three years were a damn good stretch in the life of this franchise. And doesn't Amaro deserve credit for that?
The truth is, the assignment of credit and blame is the process we use to decide individual legacies. Deciding the appropriate path for the future is a different sort of activity, one in which the most important question isn't, "Who failed in the past?," but rather, "Who can succeed in the future?" And it is at this point that we arrive at the aspect of the Braves' shakeup that is relevant to the one that the Phillies seem determined to avoid. With their decision to fire Wren, the Braves joined the slew of National League teams that have a head start on the Phillies in the quest to build the ideal modern baseball organization. Take, for instance, the Cubs and the Mets. The firings of Omar Minaya and Jim Hendry in 2010 and 2011 were means to ends that saw the Mets and Cubs hire Theo Epstein and Sandy Alderson to oversee the rebuilding of their franchises. This year, the Padres, Diamondbacks and Braves have all given themselves similar opportunities. That means three fewer candidates for the Phillies to choose from should they decide to move on from the current brain trust at some point one year, two year, three years down the road.
Whether those organizations end up making the right hire is another matter. I am already on record as saying that the most sensible change to make is at the very top. The Phillies, like the Braves, are an old school organization, starting with their presidents. Perhaps those presidents have reevaluated what a modern baseball organization should look like, and perhaps they have the wherewithal to make the necessary hires. But reason suggests that the tack followed by the Cubs and the Mets is the one that offers the greatest probability of success: bring in an executive who knows first-hand what a modern organization looks like, give them complete control over all baseball operations, and allow them to make the necessary changes from top to bottom.
Progress is exponential. Consider how far behind the Phillies are after only three years. The Phillies have a lot of skilled baseball people working beneath Montgomery and Amaro, and it would be a shame if they are the ones who end up paying the price for a three-year stretch of misery that has been more a result of long-term strategic failure than a result of poor scouting. What the Phillies need more than anything is a fresh set of eyes at the top, a fresh strategic vision. The longer they wait to find that set of eyes, the further behind they will fall, and the more limited their options will be once they finally admit that the old way is no longer the correct one.