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Was Ruben Amaro prepared for Chase Utley’s decline?

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Do you smell that Philadelphia?  That is the stench of a baseball team full of injured and aging all-stars.  And you need look no further then general manager Ruben Amaro’s shortsighted view of roster building to understand why.  

Ryan Howard’s spring training arrival triggered incredible optimism. Remember the prevailing slant at the time?  Remember how the media lauded him for returning so quickly after such a crippling injury?  Meanwhile, nobody could accurately explain the obvious swelling and puss-like ooze around his surgically repaired achilles tendon.

Now we know.   

To make matters worse, we also know the most beloved of all PhilliesChase Utley—is no where near suiting up because of what the team refers to as a “degenerative” knee.  

How did we get here?  

There are a few rules the general manager of a major league baseball team must adhere to if sustainable success is his goal.  Some are obvious, like hiring a manager who shares his vision, gathering as much quality pitching as possible, and making sure his team is defensively sound throughout the middle of the diamond.    

Others are less transparent, like knowing when to rid his franchise of players with diminishing skills.  In my view, this is the most challenging part of the job description and this is where Amaro has failed the Phillies.  

Let’s give Amaro a bit of a pass on Howard. But let’s not forget Howard just completed his two worst statistical seasons since he became an everyday player in 2006. And let’s also remember he’s due to make $125 million dollars over the next five years.    

But even if we give Amaro an incomplete for Howard, he has earned a failing grade for allowing Utley’s maladies to cripple the team’s chances this season.    

Full disclosure: I have always and will always subscribe to the theory it is better to trade a player a year too soon instead of a year too late.  This is the reason trading Cliff Lee for an all-star hitter (perhaps New York Yankees 2B, Robinson Cano) made perfect sense to me in November, but I digress.  

Let’s go back to fall 2009. The Phillies had just lost the World Series in six games to the aforementioned Yankees. Utley hit .286 in 21 AB, belted five homers and drove in eight runs.  At times in that series he looked like one of the best players in the game.  

But a closer look at that 2009 season reveals some startling truths.  He hit .282 in 156 regular season games, a full fifty points below his career year in 2007 and he played through knee problems for a good part of the year.  

If you’re going on the assumption Major League Baseball is trying to distance itself from the performance-enhancing era, Amaro only needed to look at the game’s history to recognize Utley’s unavoidable decline.  

The simple fact is, without the benefit of certain pharmaceutical advancements, professional baseball is a difficult game to play everyday and players don’t typically peak in their thirties. Utley turned 31 in December of 2009, so Amaro should have known his best days were behind him.  

Maybe Amaro considered moving Utley at that time but ownership, thinking solely of packed stadiums and merchandising, told him no. Maybe baseball’s other twenty-eight general managers knew too much about Utley’s physical ailments and refused to give Amaro proper trade value. Either way, Utley’s reign as the Phillies’ best all-around player has been over for a while and Amaro needed to address that.    

Amaro is being skewered by fans and media outlets for allowing Wilson Valdez to get away and rightfully so. He’s a better player than untested minor-leaguer Freddy Galvis. But focusing solely on Valdez’s departure completely misses the point.  

Instead, you must focus on the fact Amaro sat back and allowed Utley to hamstring the franchise because he didn’t have either the guts or wherewithal to prevent it from happening.  

And that’s a far bigger mistake than the loss of a valuable utility man.    

Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area.  He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention.  His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.

Contact Earl at emyersiii@gmail.com

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