PHILADELPHIA — There is an almost universal belief among those who follow the Phillies that at the end of the 2013 season, regardless of what the team's fate is, Charlie Manuel will be pushed aside and Ryne Sandberg installed as the new manager.
It's a reasonable presumption to make. Manuel did not receive an extension to his contract, which ends after this season. He turns 70 next year and has had serious health issues in the past. The Phillies had a minus-21 nosedive in wins last season and are a virtual lock to be closer to an 81-win team this year than a 102-win team.
The only snag when it comes to accepting that scenario as the organization's destiny is this: Who, exactly, should be making that decision? Because as the Phillies stand — three games below .500, almost helplessly unable to gain positive momentum — there would seem to be far more evidence that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has a more pressing stain on his rÃ©sumÃ© than advancing age or questionable health.
Let's talk about competence.
Since managers are judged more heavily on their more recent performance than the full body of work, the general manager should get equal treatment. At the end of the trade deadline last season, Amaro decided to trade away not just one starting outfielder, but two. Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence were moved along as a way to replenish a minor-league system that had been gutted by both trades and lousy domestic drafts in recent years — areas that largely are the responsibility of the GM.
Victorino was a free agent at the end of last season, so there was a rationale for that decision. Pence, however, was not. He is playing right field for the Giants in 2013 with a $13.8 million contract in his final year of arbitration in hand, and a World Series ring on his finger. He entered Thursday hitting .291 with a .496 slugging percentage and a strong shot at an All-Star nod.
The Phillies actually got a productive outfielder as part of the Pence package. Nate Schierholtz is hitting .293 with a .553 slugging percentage this season, only he's doing it for the Cubs.
The alternative to Schierholtz has been Delmon Young, a 27-year-old going on 47 who is hitting .222 while playing a skittish right field that requires a defensive replacement regularly and a running style that can be best described as a fire-walking rooster. This followed an offseason two winters ago that featured no less than eight free-agent outfielders who have thrived in their new homes, while the Phils put all their eggs in John Mayberry Jr.'s basket.
The next stop comes during the 2011 season, when the Phillies needed bullpen help after Jose Contreras went on the disabled list, Amaro did not choose Jason Grilli, who at Lehigh Valley had a 0.84 ERA, 26 strikeouts in 21Ã innings and a great deal of big-league experience. Instead he opted for Juan Perez, who in the 19 Triple-A innings before his late-June call-up had allowed 20 hits and 15 walks.
If Perez doesn't ring a bell, that sums up his performance. However, a few weeks after that slight Grilli opted out of his minor-league deal with the Phils and took a big-league role with the Pirates. Two days ago he blew a save for the first time this season after racking up an NL-best 25 saves.
Ask yourself this: What has cost the Phillies more games over the last two years, questionable double-switches by Charlie Manuel, or letting Grilli walk?
There are other blemishes on Amaro's record, including the Cliff Lee two-step, which featured him somehow getting less for Lee in a trade with Seattle than the Phils forked over to Cleveland to get him in the first place, only to sign the southpaw to a massive contract in the offseason, anyway.
These are the things Ruben Amaro has done since taking the reins from Pat Gillick. This has been his mess. And if Phillies president David Montgomery thinks that track record gives Amaro the benefit of the doubt over the most successful manager in club history, then perhaps this organization didn't learn as much from their first 10,000-plus losses as it seemed when Brad Lidge fell to his knees in celebration nearly 1,700 days ago.