First of all, I don't want to disparage Rubén Amaro. He's the GM of an excellent team that will likely win its 5th straight division title. I'm just saying that Frank Wren is better. Both GMs came and replaced legends of the GM desk in John Schuerholz and Pat Gillick (Both either are or will be Hall of Famers). The "Philly has more money" argument is a crutch to explain that Wren is a better GM. What makes him a better GM is consistency and a unique ability to be regularly underestimated. Wren was an assistant GM for eight years, I'm sure this did a great job of allowing him to think other GMs can get the better of him.
Here's a quick Rundown of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:
Amaro '09 to '11:
Good: Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee again, Letting Pat Burrel walk, Jose Contreras,
Bad: Ibanez signing, selling Cliff Lee at a loss to Seattle, over paying for Pence, Blanton extension, signing Luis Castillo, offering Kendrick Arbitration,
Ugly: The Ryan Howard Extension
Wren '09 to '11:
The Good: Jair Trade, Vazquez trade, trading away Vazquez, Lowe singing, Francoeur trade, Hinske signing, Ross signing, Derek Lee trade, Billy Wagner, Uggla trade, Diamond trade, Opening Day with Heyward, Hudson extension, Bourn Trade,
Bad: Kawakami, Lowe's salary, Uggla extension, Chipper extension, McLouth trade, Farnsworth/Ankiel trade, Troy Glaus, Yunel Escobar, Scott Proctor, Kelly Johnson non-tender
Amaro appears to be a Dr. Jackle, Mr. Hyde General Manager. Nothing Wren has done compares to getting Roy Halladay and signing him below market value, trading for Roy Oswalt in a package around J.A. Happ (LoLHouston). However, the Ryan Howard extension is already an albatross and the (minimum) $125 million extension hasn't even kicked in yet. 2017 has a ridiculous $10 million dollar buyout, which if it's not optioned, the contract will be worth $138 million for a player that's older than Albert Pujols with poor defense and a skill set of old-man skills that have a longterm precedent of eroding quickly. By 2015, he might be a bench player. It's beyond the Howard extension though. He traded way Cliff Lee at a loss to save money (the prospects he got from Seattle were less than what he sent to Cleveland), but he gives Joe Blanton a similar salary right after the fact just to perform mediocrity. In my opinion, the blockbuster Lee free agent signing had less to do with Amaro as it did with Lee's preference to be on the Philadelphia team in order to sign below market value. In essence, Amaro can make flashy moves, and people will remember those moves, but by signing Howard to an ungodly extension, and trading away Cliff Lee he can make moves that actively devalue a franchise. GMs that make moves like this are bound to be overrated, and Amaro is. The biggest problem with Philly's team is their age. The youngest position player on their opening day lineup was 29. This is a recipe for a ticking clock disaster. Its apparent that Dominic Brown was sent down to make room for Pence, while Raul Ibanez's corpse is still manning left field. Keeping a player, who is (at this moment) a better hitter and fielder is a misplay for the current season and seasons to come. Ibanez is gone after this season, Brown is the cream of their minor league crop. Raul Ibanez is playing below replacement level and should be regulated to the bench. Congratulate him on acquiring 4 Aces, but Amaro's fielding a team that is flawed with a window of success closing rapidly. The Phillies are going to the playoffs; they may even go to the World Series this year, but they are gambling their longterm value for another gamble in the MLB playoffs.
Frank Wren doesn't make many moves to grab headlines, as is the consequence of the team being owned by a Media Conglomerate using the team as a tax shelter. If we still had an owner that was batshit crazy like Ted Turner, things may be different for Wren and the free agent signing. Take this previous offseason, the Braves needed a right handed bat for their outfield. The ideal would have been Jason Werth. No chance. In a creative move, he got a perennial 30 homer right handed 2nd baseman and moved a more than capable 2nd baseman All-Star Martin Prado to the outfield. The Jedi mind trick to get Uggla for a utility player and an unproven lefty reliever will obviously go down as one of his best moves. The Uggla extension has not, and will likely never turn out well, but given his track record and the $12 million/yr salary, it was a reasonable gamble. The contract may look bad now but way less money and years than what Howard got is sparkling by comparison if you want to look at each respective GM's biggest mistake. Uggla and Howard are similar players at a similar age with similar skill sets, but I think Wren went for risk and reward when negotiating with Uggla, while Amaro just looked at what would happen if he possibly lost a fan favorite. Wren has made several moves with some that worked (Wagner, Javy Vazquez, Hinske, Derek Lee) and some that haven't (Farnsworth/Ankiel, Glaus, Proctor). The fact that he can operate by making small moves is a very good sign for the franchise that the GM doesn't feel he has to make a "Blockbuster" trade to make the team better. Most people on the internet will complain that Yunel was traded away because of makeup issues and Wren sold low. I do think he should have moved Yunel earlier in the year in order to gain more in return, but since the Braves a had A LOT to gain in Bobby's last year by making the playoffs, it was a good move to get Alex Gonzalez and a couple interesting parts. Considering the Braves made the playoffs by one game last year, it's hard to argue with the results of a playoff appearance along with a shortstop playing well in AAA and Gonzlalez having the 2nd best Defensive Run Saved (+/-) metric for a shortstop in all of baseball this season for a team that leads everyone in ground ball rates. The Braves look very good right now: Bound for a wildcard appearance, a wealth of young starting pitching depth, and some money coming off the books after this year. Frank Wren has proven himself a GM that can manage present and future value as good any other GM in baseball.
Finally, let's take a look at what happened this weekend as each GM performed as a microcosm of their M.O. The Houston Astros traded away their two best fielders in Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn. Bourn has out WAR'd Pence in a 3.6 to 2.6 fashion. Bourn plays a much more demanding position in CF as opposed to LF. Both under team control for the same amount of time. Somehow Pence garnered a much bigger Haul. Amaro sent two top prospects including Jarred Cosart, who pitched very well in the MLB Futures game this year. The Braves got Michael Bourn, who brings great defense and speed to a team that desperately needs defense and speed a the top of their lineup. The Phillies didn't really upgrade their defense since they still have Ibanez in the field and even though they're practically guaranteed a playoff spot they wanted to add a marginal gain in offense with a player who's due a hefty arbitration raise. Bourn's arb raise will easily be lower because the arb process over values counting stats like HRs and RBIs and undervalues defense and positional adjustment. It's widely reported that Wren was in on the Pence sweepstakes, as Pence was the "Big Prize" after Beltran was gone. It's extremely likely Wren got in the negotiations just to drive up the Price for the Phillies, as the haul that the Phillies gave them was much higher than I thought they'd do. By passing on another corner outfielder the Braves didn't need, they got an up the middle player they desperately needed. In a package centered around (heh, heh) Jordan Schafer (who would have continually been put in the leadoff spot) the Braves held on to their top pitching prospects and made their team significantly better. Instead of trading much more for a rental of Beltran, Wren kept an elite pitching farm system while getting Bourn for this year and next year. Amarao felt he had to make a move, and in doing so he only marginally made him team better while mortgaging his teams's future. In sum: Frank Wren > Rubén Amaro