Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Gillick backs Amaro to succeed

Phillies interim president Pat Gillick has given his backing to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr to turn things around at Citizens Bank Park, with the team having endured one of their worst seasons in living memory in 2014. Despite Gillick’s confidence there seems, on the face of it, to be little cause for optimism in 2015 but surely there must be one or two positives that Phillies fans can take through the winter months?

 Thursday night’s 7-3 loss to the San Diego Padres left the Phillies bottom of the National League East with a win percentage of .458 and a 70-83 record for the season. With just nine games of the regular season remaining, the Phillies’ push to qualify for the postseason play-offs ended quite some time ago but their dwindling support would still have wanted the team to go down fighting. On the road to the Padres the Phillies lost three of their four matches and any fighting spirit seems hard to come by.

Recent months have seen attendances at Citizens Bank Park drop dramatically. Indeed, reports suggest that through 78 home games in 2014 the Phillies are down over half a million attendances on this time last season. Over the course of the 2013 season the Phillies averaged over 37,000 fans per home game, but this season they are averaging fewer than 30,000. Having recorded the eighth highest average attendance in the whole of the Major League last season, they are down at 16th for 2014. The only team that comes close to such a drop in support is the Texas Rangers but their aggregate attendance has dropped by less than 400,000.

With the Rangers having dropped down four places this season after finishing second in the American League West in 2013, and the Phillies having dropped down one, there is certainly a pattern emerging: baseball fans aren’t willing to pay to watch a team performing badly and Pat Gillick knows this: "In Philly, if you don't win, they (the fans) don't come out. They come out to see winners. It's the way it is in Philadelphia. We have very knowledgeable and sophisticated fans, but that's the way it is," the former General Manager said.

Having won the World Series in 2008 and reached the final again in 2009 the Phillies looked to create stability and signed a number of their star names up to long contracts. In many respects this was a sensible move… if a team is winning then why break it up? Unfortunately there was no plan B for when the stars of the 2008 and 2009 teams went past their peak and now, with the likes of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz reaching their mid-30s and failing to perform week in-week out the Phillies are stuck with few options to improve their results.

First baseman Howard is of particular concern to the Phillies fans as his batting slump seems to have been going for the last three seasons now, with his hit percentage since 2012 down at .233. This season he has fallen further down to .222, with a .311 on base percentage. Like many of the other aging stars, Howard is under contract until 2016 and, like it or not, he looks likely to be on the roster for next season.

Many fans hold general manager Ruben Amaro Jr responsible for the team’s current position after he allowed the July 31st non-waiver deadline to pass without making any substantial moves, and only moved out Roberto Hernandez and John Mayberry during the August waiver period. Having been general manager since 2009, Amaro should have seen the rising tide ofaging players within his squad sooner and acted faster to ensure that the team would not be so susceptible to a mass dip in form. Despite this being the view held by many fans, Gillick seems to have confidence in the 49-year-old and believes in his vision for the future: "Ruben has got a pretty good idea of what he wants to do," the Hall of Famer said. "Sometimes you can't do everything people expect you to do right away. It's got to be the right deal, the right move."

So, with little prospect of Gillick acting to move Amaro on, what do the Phillies fans have to look forward to in 2015? The first positive to come out of this season was the form of center fielder Ben Revere, who for much of the season was challenging to win the National League batting title. After a poor couple of weeks, he now looks to be out of contention but he can still boast a batting average of .309 for the season, with a record of two home runs, the only two of his career. Another star has been relief pitcher Ken Giles who, after being called up in June, has allowed just six runs in the 41.2 innings that he has pitched as well as striking out 60.

With the controversy surrounding closer Jonathan Papelbon’s recent crowd gestures, there have been calls for Giles to step up into his role next season and the 23-year-old certainly looks capable.

Another cause for optimism, in more ways than one, is the form of pitcher Cole Hamels. Hamels has enjoyed an exceptional season, pitching a 2.47 ERA including a run of 21 straight starts (and counting) where he has been charged with three runs or less. Hamels is contracted to the Phillies until 2018 so, if they opt to keep him, fans can look forward to more improvement from the 30-year-old, who has notched 187 strikeouts so far in 2014, in coming years. Alternatively, given Hamels’ form, the Phillies may look to trade him in the winter, freeing up funds to bring in a number of new players and really freshen up the roster. Either way, Hamels looks to be central to any prospects that the Phillies may have for next season.

Pat Gillick clearly has faith in Ruben Amaro Jr’s ability to make the changes necessary to improve the Phillies’ fortunes in 2015. Whilst many Phillies’ fans may not share Gillick’s optimism, they must respect the opinion of the man who led their team to the World Series as GM in 2008. With the right trades and a return to form and fitness of some of the legendary players still on their books, the Phillies may just spring a surprise and rise up the National League East in 2015. Fans of baseball betting can follow their odds with Betfair.

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