Commentary

Amaro has tough act to follow in Gillick

Originally Published: November 3, 2008
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

When you win, there's always That Next Chapter.

But very rarely does it hit with the same thunderclap that rattled those just-crowned World Series champs, the Philadelphia Phillies, on Monday:

    With the general manager who assembled this team, Pat Gillick, heading off over the horizon into retirement.

    With a new GM, Ruben Amaro Jr., racing right from his news conference to the airport to attend his first GM meetings.

    With the great scouting mind that laid the foundation for all this success, Mike Arbuckle, cleaning out his office and moving on to parts unknown.

How 'bout dealing with all that on the first workday after the parade, huh?

"That's a tough situation for a guy like Ruben to walk into," one longtime NL executive said Monday. "You don't usually see that with a new general manager. It's not exactly like walking into a situation where you're saying, 'The only place we can go is up.'"

Amaro
Amaro
Hey, that's for sure. And Amaro acknowledged that himself Monday, when practically the first words out of his very own vocal cords at his news conference were: "I've got a tough act to follow."

Whew, no kidding. This is the first time any World Series winner has changed GMs in more than three decades. And it's a wise man who understands the difficulty of the job ahead. But Amaro already seems to realize that his challenges are numerous.

He has to follow Gillick, one of the best general managers of all time.

He has to keep the planets lined up and the pieces in place to give his team the chance to become the first National League World Series winner to repeat since the 1975-76 Big Red Machine.

And he has to hold together a scouting and development operation that may undergo substantial changes with the exit of Arbuckle, the man whose astute feel for talent was the backbone of a team built around its core of homegrown stars.

But heck, outside of that, it should be just another day at the office.

So how will it all shake out? Let's take a look at the various rings in the circus that Amaro inherits:

Replacing a legend

Phillies president Dave Montgomery admitted Monday that he made numerous attempts to talk Gillick into staying. But Gillick resisted them all. He has told friends he wants to take a couple of months to recharge, but he has agreed to stay on as a consultant/advisor/Yoda to Amaro.

Gillick had already delegated many of the GM responsibilities to Amaro over the last year, from handling the media crush to negotiating deals. But working without Gillick's net will be a whole new experience for a first-time GM.

A sense of style

So what kind of GM will Amaro be? Probably more old-fashioned than you'd think for a 43-year-old new-waver.

Amaro is a bright, Stanford-educated guy who sees the game with different eyes than his predecessor. But he's more a fan of traditional baseball stats than he is of sabermetric spreadsheets. And he's more likely to rely on his feel for players, the game and a city he grew up in than he is on numbers and statistical trends.

Nevertheless, one of his greatest attributes is that he's a man who has tremendous passion for his franchise. His father played for the Phillies. He was a batboy for the 1980 Phillies. He was a player on the '93 Phillies. And he has worked for a decade as an assistant GM to Ed Wade and to Gillick. So nobody will have to explain to Amaro what makes Philadelphia or the Phillies tick. He hasn't just seen it. He's lived it.

Arbuckle
Arbuckle

Scouting and development

Losing Arbuckle is a blow to this franchise on several levels. But first and foremost, Arbuckle has an exceptional feel not just for talent but also for the kind of player who could play and thrive in Philadelphia. The Phillies were only the third champion of the past 17 World Series to field a lineup in their clinching game with at least six homegrown players. (The others are the 2002 Angels and 1995 Braves.) Arbuckle personally scouted and drafted five of those six players -- Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Pat Burrell.

Beyond that, however, many of the good soldiers up and down the scouting and development operation had a personal loyalty to Arbuckle and could look to leave. And even scouting director Marti Wolever, whose contract is up next month, appears to be uncertain whether he wants to stay. So Amaro and Montgomery may need to do a lot of work and damage control to keep that group together.

Arbuckle, meanwhile, could resurface in Kansas City (where he has a long-standing relationship with GM Dayton Moore from their days in Atlanta) or, conceivably, with one of two teams in the midst of front-office reorganizations, Milwaukee and Seattle. Down the line, he still figures to be a prominent GM candidate, in the mold of new Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik.

The supporting cast

With the departure of Gillick, Arbuckle and others, Amaro will have to reconstruct the upper levels of his baseball-operations team. That's likely to mean an ascension in authority of special assistant Charley Kerfeld, whom Gillick brought in two years ago. It also will mean some additions from the outside. Among the names bouncing around the rumor mill are two former Phillies players -- Pirates special assistant Roy Smith and current Orioles scout Dave Hollins, who was a teammate of Amaro on the '93 Phillies.

The team on the field

This team is expected to remain largely intact. But that doesn't mean Amaro doesn't face a slew of major decisions. The Phillies are expected to re-sign two of their six free agents (Jamie Moyer and Scott Eyre) and wave farewell to three of them (Tom Gordon, So Taguchi and Rudy Seanez). But they have to decide what to do about the sixth -- Pat Burrell.

If Burrell continues to ask for more than two guaranteed years, the Phillies undoubtedly would pass. But then they would have to figure out how to replace the 31 homers, 99 RBIs and .890 OPS, on average, that Burrell has given them in the past four years. And that won't be easy, given the limited free-agent options and a payroll that will explode even without Burrell. The Phillies also have 10 players eligible for arbitration, and that could mean especially tricky negotiations with two of them -- Howard and Hamels.

Meanwhile, two other rising members of the core group -- reliever Ryan Madson and outfielder Jayson Werth -- are a year away from potential free agency. And the Phillies almost certainly will explore long-term deals with them, too. Gillick established a policy of never giving contracts longer than three years to any pitcher and, only rarely, to any position player. (Utley is the notable exception.) So it will be interesting to see whether Amaro is willing to waver from that stance. Ultimately, though, he'll have more payroll dollars to work with than any GM in Phillies history. And that sure can't hurt.

So Monday may have been one of the greatest days of Ruben Amaro Jr.'s life. But getting the job is the easy part. Now comes the hard part -- doing the job.

But if historical precedent means anything, he'll be happy to learn that the last time a team changed GMs immediately after winning a World Series -- in 1977 (when Gabe Paul left the Yankees shortly after the champagne dried) -- the GM who replaced him, Cedric Tallis, did exactly what Ruben Amaro aspires to do:

Repeated.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com