INFLATED CONTRACTS AND BAD TRADES MADE AMARO EASY TO FIRE

Amaro’s extension of Ryan Howard’s $25 million contract in 2010 was a typically boneheaded move that came back to bite the Phillies, who still carry Howard’s bloated salary on their books.

By Peter Gleason

The tectonic plates are still shifting after yesterday’s announcement that the Phillies had had enough of Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

The joint decision by incoming president Andy MacPhail and ownership partner John Middleton was not a huge surprise given the Phillies’ fall from grace and the public antipathy towards Amaro, who has presided over the team’s descent from a 102-win dynamo in 2011 to a candidate for the first pick in the 2016 first-year player draft.

The fans have voted with their feet and their butts. Citizens Bank Park, which hosted 257 straight sellouts during the Phils’ salad days from 2007 to 2011, just this week saw a meager 15,000 show up. And TV ratings are also sliding.

It always cracked me up when Amaro would whine about how hard it was to unload his overpaid and underachieving stars like Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and Chase Utley.

He proactively gave them ridiculous contracts, and the other 31 GM’s stayed away until the last minute when Amaro was finally able to unload his over-the-hill stars, but only because the Phillies were willing to eat some of their massive contracts.

Middleton is a baseball fan, but he is also a businessman, and he could see that Amaro was in over his head on the business side of the job.

As ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick points out, it’s hard to ignore the human element at play here. As the press release noted, Amaro had been with the Phillies since his days as a bat boy with the team in 1980. Even fans who rightfully criticized his player moves, ill-advised public comments or seeming obliviousness to the sabermetric revolution could never question his passion or commitment to the organization.

As Amaro said during a recent interview, “I get emotional at times because I’ve grown up here and I’m a Phillies fan.”

Ultimately, a résumé with too many missteps, misjudgments and net minuses spelled the end of his time in Philly.

Amaro is out of a job because he traded Cliff Lee to Seattle for Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez and sent Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants for Tommy Joseph, Seth Rosin and Nate Schierholtz.

He’s out of a job because the Phillies’ farm system has failed to provide the reinforcements necessary to perpetuate a winning tradition. From 2008 through 2012, Philadelphia invested first-round draft picks or compensatory choices in Joe Savery, Zach Collier, Anthony Hewitt, Jesse Biddle, Larry Greene, Mitch Gueller and Shane Watson. That’s just not going to cut it.

And he’s out of a job because the Phillies gave long-term deals to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and other fan favorites that failed to pay off as planned. Is it naïve to think that Amaro committed to those players in a vacuum, without significant input from ownership and longtime president David Montgomery? Of course. But when a franchise that’s drowning in sentiment ends up awash in so much unproductive money, the general manager should expect to pay.

For all their missteps, the Phillies are still in a position to make some major strides in a relatively short time. They have a monster TV contract about to kick in, a farm system with some promising names and a fan base that’s just waiting to be energized. I spoke with an MLB executive Thursday who referred to the Phillies’ job as a “terrific opportunity.” And as a National League scout observed before Wednesday’s sleep-fest with Atlanta, “If they start putting a competitive team back on the field again, people will come back in droves.”

Oddly enough, Amaro has earned his most positive reviews in recent months, when he shipped off Papelbon, Utley and Hamels to help replenish the farm system and hasten the Phillies’ rebuild. The industry consensus is that he got more than a representative haul of players from theTexas Rangers in the big Hamels trade.

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