It's been a chaotic, confusing and at times emotionally draining summer for the general manager fraternity.
Jerry Dipoto cleaned out his desk in Anaheim in July. Doug Melvin moved upstairs to pave the way for a younger, more analytically oriented successor in Milwaukee. With no advance warning, Ben Cherington recently found out that he would be working under David Dombrowski in Boston. And the Seattle Mariners pulled the plug on Jack Zduriencik's disappointing tenure two weeks ago.
Which brings us to the latest member of the 2015 All-Unemployed Executive team: Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, whose tenure with the franchise ended via an email announcement Thursday afternoon.
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 toward 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. If people needed a reminder of how much work the Phillies have to do, it was evident in the meager crowds at Citizens Bank Park and the soporific atmosphere on display for a series with the Atlanta Braves this week.
Amaro bashers predictably rejoiced and lined up to take some nasty final shots on Twitter. But it's hard to ignore the human element at play here. As the news 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 Philadelphia.
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.
"Should we have started the transition earlier?" Amaro said recently. "Probably. But we had a lot of money on the books and we were still relying on those guys and there were a lot of injuries that we didn't foresee. I get what people are saying. But I think it would have been tough to do in our position."
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 snoozer with Atlanta, "If they start putting a competitive team back on the field again, people will come back in droves."
MacPhail is a thorough, deliberate type who will explore all options in his search for what he calls a "fresh approach and a fresh perspective." It was almost refreshing to hear that he refuses to be pigeonholed into hiring a young hotshot analytics wiz or other caricature of a candidate.
"Let's look at a wide spectrum of candidates," MacPhail said. "You might be surprised."
Among other criteria, the Phillies need someone who understands the dynamics and challenges of the Philadelphia market and will incorporate lots of viewpoints. Dipoto and Kansas City assistant GM J.J. Picollo, both of whom have roots in New Jersey, appear to check a lot of boxes. Among the old guard GMs, it's worth keeping an eye on Jim Hendry, who worked well with MacPhail in Chicago and is currently a special assignment scout with the New York Yankees. A lot of smart baseball people think Hendry deserves another chance.
Some MLB insiders have mentioned Ben Cherington as a potential fit in Philadelphia. But sources said Cherington is probably going to take a deep breath and assess his future rather than dive head-first into the job market, and he's unlikely to pursue any of the available GM openings. So he's out of the mix.
Oddly enough, Amaro has earned his most positive reviews in recent months, when he shipped off Jonathan Papelbon, Utley and Cole 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 the Texas Rangers in the big Hamels trade.
As Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times so deftly noted in a recent column, Amaro laid enough groundwork this summer to put his successor in a position to come out looking like a "rock star."
That no doubt comes as small consolation to Amaro, who now has time to explore broadcast opportunities or other front-office jobs with a sense of gratification that he cleared the decks for the next guy.
Amaro will move on with his life, and the Phillies will move on with their rebuild. In a turbulent year for baseball executives, it was only a matter of time.