If there is one key link between the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies, Chuck LaMar is the man. His eight seasons as the GM of the Rays - then the Devil Rays - were turbulent to say the least and the reviews on his performance were mixed.
LaMar had the dubious task of building the Rays from scratch, becoming their GM in 1995 and building the team with a target of the 1998 inaugural Rays season. Early on, his performance was questioned and ironically, it came as part of his link with the Phillies. In the expansion draft, LaMar chose outfielder Bobby Abreu from the Houston Astros with a deal already in place to send him to the Phillies for shortstop Kevin Stocker. Abreu played 8 1/2 seasons in Philadelphia before being traded to the Yankees for a package of young players, while Stocker played just 2 1/2 seasons in Tampa, hitting just .250 with the Devil Rays. The deal went down as one of the more lopsided deals that LaMar was to make while at the helm of the Rays.
For all of the weak moves that he made, you also have to credit LaMar with robbing the Mets to get Scott Kazmir. In the deal, New York sent Kazmir and Jose Diaz to Tampa Bay for Bartolome Fortunato and Victor Zambrano. Kazmir has gone on to be a huge piece of the puzzle in Tampa, while Diaz and Zambrano were nowhere to be found last season and Fortunato had a disappointing season at Triple-A Fresno.
It's also easy to say that LaMar had the benefit of high draft picks because of Tampa Bay's futility over the years, but not all GMs would have made as many good moves in those drafts as LaMar did. B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford were key finds by LaMar and the Rays would be in trouble without them in their lineup. Another key pick, Josh Hamilton, at first appeared to be a bust when he nearly ruined his career because of a drug addiction, but since straightening himself out and getting a change of scenery, Hamilton has become the type of player that LaMar envisioned him to be when he drafted him with the first overall pick in 1999.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to judging LaMar's performance was former owner Vince Naimoli. Naimoli mapped out a course for building the Rays into a contending team, but then grew weary waiting for things to turn out as he planned and scrapped the plan of building from within in mid-stream. Many jumped on LaMar for moves like assembling a team filled with the likes of Vinny Castilla, Jose Canseco, Fred McGriff and Greg Vaughn, but it was actually Naimoli who was behind the moves as he looked for a quick fix rather than letting his original game plan for building the Rays play out. It was also Naimoli who closed up his wallet when LaMar wanted to draft Mark Teixeira in 2001, but instead, LaMar had to turn to Dewon Brazelton because Naimoli didn't want to risk doing what it would take for the Rays to sign Teixeira.
After being fired by the new owners in October of 2005, LaMar surfaced with the Phillies as the Director of Pro Scouting. This season when the Phillies dispatched crews of scouts to cover the postseason teams, it was LaMar leading the group to follow Tampa throughout the playoffs and it's LaMar that the Phillies have leaned on to decipher what the Phillies can expect from the Rays in the World Series.
Many in baseball believe that LaMar is now doing what he's best suited to do and is in the right type of organization for him to perform at his best. Even if his time as GM of the Rays is marked as a failure, nobody has ever questioned his ability to spot and analyze talent. The Phillies are a good fit simply because LaMar is given every opportunity to give his opinions and have them listened to by other people in the organization. With 26 of their 40 players on the 40 man roster having come from LaMar's days in the organization, his imprint lingers pretty hard on the team that will be across the field from the Phillies in the World Series.