Ruben Amaro, believe it or not, has much less of a vested interest in the Phillies’ long-term health than you and I. You see, even though, at age 46, he’ll be physically capable of running the Phillies for two decades, his attachment to the team comes from his five years with the organization as a major league outfielder and subsequent 13 years, up to and including today, as an assistant GM and general manager. It’s a professional association, the likes of which you might have with the law firm, or gas station, or department store, or accountant’s office that you work for. Because Amaro serves at the pleasure of the Phillies’ ownership, that association could (but almost certainly won’t) end tomorrow, or it could last another ten years. Nevertheless, Amaro is invested in the team for the duration of his career, however long it is.
You and I, however, are invested, as fans, for the duration of our lives. I’ve already put eighteen years into this franchise, and, God willing, I’ll put in fifty or more years of fandom in the future before I shuffle off the mortal coil, and I imagine that many of you are the same. In a sense, we ought to care about this team in a longer term than its players, its management, and perhaps even its owners do.
This is all a very roundabout way of saying that the trade the Phillies made last night, sending Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Josh Zeid, and a player to be named later to the Astros for outfielder Hunter Pence, is an example of how aware Ruben Amaro is of his own professional mortality. Considering how ballistic I went yesterday about the possibility of trading for Pence, you might be curious about what I think about the trade. Well, let me say that if I could copy-and-paste Matthew Pouliot’s take on the trade over at Hardball Talk and use it as my own, I would. That’s exactly how I feel. However, there is something to be said for not giving up Domonic Brown. It certainly moves the trade, in my mind, from homicidal rampage-worthy, to a D+. Of course, the scuttlebutt is that Domonic Brown will be sent to the minors to make room for Pence, while the team would be better served by sending Ben Francisco or Ross Gload down and benching Raul Ibanez. So maybe that lowers the grade to a D for the time being. Either way, not the end of the world.
What this trade does prove is that Amaro, and indeed most individuals whose job security is tied to public opinion, is more concerned with the present than what happens a few years down the road. Yale University professor David Mayhew, one of the leading minds in American electoral politics, wrote the following in his 1974 book Congress: The Electoral Connection:
“Fenno assigns three prime goals to congressmen–getting reelected but also achieving influence within Congress and making “good public policy”…Anyone can point to contemporary congressmen whose public activities are not obviously reducible to the electoral explanation…Yet, saints aside, the electoral goal has an attractive universality to it. It has to be the proximate goal of everyone, the goal that must be achieved over and over if other ends are to be entertained. One former congressman writes, ‘All members of Congress have a primary interest in getting re-elected. Some members have no other interest.’ Reelection underlies everything else, as indeed it should if we are to expect that the relation between politicians and public will be one of accountability.”
This is why pork barrel spending happens, and why both parties will leave political problems unsolved for the sake
of having an electoral drum to beat on the campaign trail. In politics, the common good often runs counter to the primary goal of reelection, but in baseball, this is not the case.
The men who own the Phillies, Amaro’s employers, are in the business to make money. In return for their money, the Phillies’ fans and sponsors expect wins, or at the very least, entertainment. The entire baseball operations side of the team, from Amaro to Charlie Manuel to the players, scouts, and medical staff, was hired for the purpose of pursuing the aforementioned money-making wins. If Amaro fails, or anyone in baseball operations fails, at achieving that goal, he will be fired, as evidenced by the team’s recent dismissal of Danys Baez.
Of course, through two years and change at the helm, Amaro has won two division titles and one NL pennant, and is on pace to repeat those results this year. By anyone’s standards, he’s been doing a great job of fielding a winning team, and the attendance and financial numbers back that up. However, Mayhew’s theory looms large over Amaro, who must continue to win in order to keep his job. The acquisition of Pence, for the immediate future, absolutely and unquestionably makes the Phillies a better team in the short term, and increases their chances of winning the World Series this year, at the expense of doing so for a long period of time in the future.
What’s at work here could be the kind of mentality detailed by Phuture Phillies here. To oversimplify the argument (you really need to read the post to fully understand it), to a big-market team, prospects are largely fungible currency to be traded for known stars, and that that process is a sustainable one, allowing a team such as the Phillies, Red Sox, or Yankees to continuously roll over its roster and contend indefinitely. I agree with the premise of that argument, though not unreservedly (for instance, it would have been hard for the Red Sox to roll over from their World Series team in 2004 to 2007 if they’d traded Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, and Kevin Youkilis as prospects for only above-average veterans). I think a far simpler logic is at work here, and, funnily enough, it has divine underpinnings:
“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” –Matthew 6:34
I would never accuse Ruben Amaro of purposely throwing away the Phillies’ chances at winning the 2015 World Series, saying “Let the next guy deal with that mess.” However, there is a sense of “tomorrow will take care of itself” in trading two potential stars for a player who is merely adequate. Singleton and Cosart contributed nothing to the Phillies this season, and likely would not contribute significantly for another couple years. So why not cash them in for someone who would? That way, Ruben’s solved an immediate problem by creating one that he has about three years to deal with.
Of course, I’d argue that the problem he solved was not concerning enough to excuse the one he’s created, but from a standpoint of winning in the near future, Ruben’s done well. He’s not being judged on the distant future until that future happens, if he’s even judged on it at all.
Trading for Hunter Pence is the action of a man who is, for whatever reason, more concerned with comparatively small problems in the present than big ones in the future. To be clear, that’s not a statement that carries any normative weight; it’s simply a statement of fact that illustrates how Ruben Amaro operates. There’s nothing wrong with putting off future issues, as long as those issues are dealt with in their own time. Christ may have said that tomorrow will take care of itself, but He didn’t say anything of the kind about the 2014 Phillies.