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Phillies' struggles can be traced to losing Victorino, Werth

Other moves in recent years were costly, but losing Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth were instrumental in their own way.

The loss of Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino, shown here in 2010, helped to hasten the Phillies' decline in subsequent seasons. (Associated Press)
The loss of Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino, shown here in 2010, helped to hasten the Phillies' decline in subsequent seasons. (Associated Press)Read more


That wondrous time of renewal, for naturalists . . . and recriminations, for baseball fans.

Not all baseball fans, certainly. Just the ones whose teams used to be good, and are not good anymore. You know, Mets fans.

And, lately, Phillies fans.

There was a brief and rare span for the Phaithphul when April showers brought May winning streaks; when Chase Utley made his All-Star bid; when Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins started to warm with the weather.

Now, the biggest name in the Phillies Nation is Ruben Amaro Jr., which seldom is uttered without colorful modifiers. Amaro inherited a World Series champion in 2009, then authored a series of costly, doomed decisions that not only began a steady decline but also gutted the supply chain of talent.

Several of the decisions were inevitable. Some were based on preference. Almost none was roundly criticized.

Two of the lesser decisions affected chemistry and output with unforeseeable seismic repercussions.

The Phillies let Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth get away.

They were the team's two best outfielders, with spectacular range and excellent arms. They were the team's two more versatile hitters, able to produce with modest power and a decent average from any spot in the lineup. On the basepaths, they were as fast as anyone in the organization.

And, perhaps least appreciated, they were the two most incorrigible personalities in a Wild-West clubhouse that was as tight as any in the National League.

As it turned out, they were the key ingredients that fused a clubhouse full of prima donnas and nerds.

Sure, Victorino's irritability and peskiness were aggravating; but he was aggravating all the time, to everyone, and the team accepted him for who he was.

Yes, Werth was kind of weird - even before he grew his audacious beard, he wore those rubber-toed shoes out on the town - but he was exactly the sort of weird with which everyone identified.

Would retaining them have altered the course of the Phillies over the past 4 years? Well, it probably wouldn't have hurt. It would have cost, but it wouldn't have hurt.

After the 2010 season, Werth entered free agency and took what seemed to be outrageous money from the Nationals: 7 years, $126 million. He was coming off a fine, 3-year run in which he averaged 29 homers and 84 RBI, but did so as a complementary player in a bombastic lineup playing in a bandbox ballpark. Also, the Phillies had just broken the bank to keep Howard, and they had a couple of tantalizing prospects they hoped would replace Werth.

Then, during the disappointing 2012 season, the Phillies traded Victorino to the Dodgers. The Phils then declined to re-sign Victorino that offseason, too, opting instead to sign light-hitting Ben Revere, whose speed and batting average do not offset his inability to work walks, or his poor throwing arm.

What the Phillies hoped to do was to get lucky the way they got lucky with Werth and Victorino, but the cast of replacements - Revere, Ben Francisco, John Mayberry, Hunter Pence, Marlon Byrd - has never impacted the franchise the way they did on and off the field.

Remember, Victorino and Werth landed with Philadelphia as lost causes; scrap-heap talents. Victorino, a Rule 5 reject, was blighted by lack of production both at Triple A and during a brief stint in the major leagues. Werth was coming off a devastating wrist injury.

Both played millions of dollars beyond their salaries as Phillies. Both were tremendous values.

Neither has overwhelmed the majors in his new home. Both have battled injury; Victorino in Boston, Werth in D.C.

To assume they would have been injured in Philadelphia is ridiculous. That's like moving from Philly to Phoenix, getting robbed and assuming you'd have been robbed back home; too many variables surround the scenarios.

Granted, they were aging, too.

However, each has been back to the playoffs since 2011. Werth went twice. Victorino won a World Series.

Amaro and his Phillies have only watched.

Since 2010, Amaro extended Utley, Howard and Rollins. To be fair, only Utley's extension was questionable at the time, in light of his health issues. Given Utley's popularity, Rollins' value and Howard's equity at the time, these decisions were virtually inevitable.

However, some of the decisions deviated from the Phillies' stated charter: that is, to commit to no pitcher for more than three seasons.

In December 2009, Amaro agreed to extend Roy Halladay, committing to him for a total of 4 years. Halladay was hurt the last 2 years. A year later, Amaro signed Cliff Lee to a 5-year deal. Lee was hurt last year, is hurt this year and has a year remaining.

Amaro locked Cole Hamels into a 6-year deal in the middle of 2012, and, while Hamels remains healthy, it's like having a thoroughbred in a stable of old dray horses. Amaro spent crazy money after the 2011 season to snag elite closer Jonathan Papelbon and gave him a vesting option for - an option that makes Papelbon even harder to trade now.

It should be noted that none of those four big-money arms is a big-time leader, despite any reputations to the contrary. Pitchers generally cannot be; it is the nature of their role as occasional contributors.

Werth and Victorino weren't really leaders, either. But they were significant; high-energy oddities who happened to provide balance to a group of 23 other talented, inflexible men, all loosely managed by Charlie Manuel.

And they were irreplaceable.

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch