Ruben Amaro Jr. took over as the Philadelphia Phillies GM right after they won the World Series in 2008. For Phillies fans, that World Series championship seems further everyday. Each season has gotten progressively worse from a defeat in the World Series to the New York Yankees in 2009 to missing the postseason last year.
As we sit, the Phils are a game under .500 and 6.5 out in both the division and wild card. They have hovered around the .500 mark all season, seemingly going on winning streaks only to then go on losing streaks to bring them back to even.
With the postseason not out of the realm of possibility, especially with two wild cards, its the GM’s job to analyze exactly what he has and what the right move is. The problem with that is no one should trust Ruben Amaro Jr. to make the right decision. I mean the Phillies were in a similar situation last year, treading water after suffering through a first half without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, Amaro basically stood pat, only trading off pieces like Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence who would have left as a free agent after the year anyway.
The truth is, the situation last year and this year isn’t very different because its a problem that is has being growing worse and worse with every passing season. This team is old. They were old last year and they’re older this year, last year Amaro was able to use injuries as an excuse for the poor play but this year its been more of the same with all his pieces in place.
I don’t believe that Ruben Amaro Jr. can be trusted in putting the Phillies on the right path back to a good ballclub. The writing has been on the wall for multiple seasons now and instead of taking the minor steps along the way to get younger and restock a depleted farm system, Amaro has gone the bandaid route filling out an old roster with even older players.
Its a simple question to ask yourself, does Ruben realize that this team isn’t the team he inherited back in 2009? Is he looking out at this team and thinking of them as a fan would with memories and loyalty or as the general manager of a team that is fading and its his obligation to set them straight?
We know that Amaro can swing a deal, he’s made many a big deal in his few years as the Phillies GM. It was the big splash, the headline grabber and crowd pleasing move that Amaro continually made in effort to keep this team as a World Series contender, while in the meantime ravaging his farm system with each move. He traded for Cliff Lee in the middle of 2009 at the expense of four minor leaguers. In that offseason, Amaro then traded three more minor leaguers for Roy Halladay. He also then recouped those three minor leaguers by trading Cliff Lee to Seattle after having traded for him just five months earlier. Now sure the following offseason Amaro would resign Lee to the surprise of most, but the idea of trading for Halladay only to trade away Lee and lose a season of having the two of them lead your rotation is head scratching. At the deadline in 2011, he traded four minor leagues for Hunter Pence. We won’t even throw in draft picks he’s lost in signing top free agents.
Even the contracts Amaro has handed out can be highly questioned. Many will immediately point to the Ryan Howard deal, but I won’t jump all over Amaro for that. Sure he could have waited, Howard still had two years left on his deal, but he was also coming off a MVP and was one of the premier power hitters in the league. He may have set the market, but the price was never going to get any lower and he couldn’t afford to upset Howard in a tense negotiation and have to trade him or worse lose him in free agency two years later. So while you can argue the Howard deal, here are other deals that have no excuse.
All in the last three years, Amaro has given Jonathan Papelbon a four year/$50 million deal, Jimmy Rollins a three year/$33 million deal and Cole Hamels a six year/$144 million deal. Does anyone want to argue the Papelbon or Rollins deal with me? Under no circumstance should you ever hand out a contract that averages over $12 million a year for a closer, its beyond idiotic. Look around the league and see how many teams have found their closers from inside their own bullpen or from some guy not closing elsewhere. Closers can be found anywhere, there’s no need to pay $12 million! The Rollins deal Amaro couldn’t have played any worse when negotiating. He lets Jimmy walk into free agency, then after two months and Rollins still isn’t signed by anyone, Amaro brings him back not on a one or even a two, but a three year/$33 million dollar deal! Where were the other offers? Did you really need to hand out $11 million a year to a a shortstop in his mid 30s and declining? If that’s not a loyalty, fan pleasing deal, I don’t know what it is.
Cole Hamels is an argument waiting to happen from Phillies fan but let me tell you why the move wasn’t right one. Hamels got his long term deal from Amaro based on one postseason. His regular season stats at the time were good but not great, certainly not ace numbers and while I understand 28 year old, top of the rotation left handed pitching doesn’t come around every day, what the rotation looks like already should have given Amaro foresight. Amaro could have looked at all his other mid 30s starting pitchers and see their decline from what they had done in their late 20s. Amaro in Hamels had as big a trade chip as he could had, he could have brought back multiple pieces and taken a step in the right direction. Instead, he follows down the same road he’s traveled these last four years.
Don’t get me wrong, Amaro deserves credit. Inherited team or not, they’ve averaged 93 wins over his four seasons. But where Amaro has failed is in steadying a sinking ship. He has gone from a World Series defeat, to a championship series defeat, to divisional series defeat, to missing the postseason completely. Yet while everyone around him has seen the steady decline, Amaro has tried patch working a hemorrhaging wound. Since Pedro Feliz left, Amaro has brought in two different third baseman. The only thing they both have in common is neither of them were actual third baseman. Placido Polanco had never played third base before Amaro brought him in, then this year Amaro brought in Michael Young to play third base, a position the Texas Rangers decided Michael Young could not play. He also signed Delmon Young to play the outfield, somewhere Delmon Young will never be mistaken for a gold glover. Last year when he was an all-star, Carlos Ruiz had the highest trade value of his entire career, even higher than when Amaro handed him a three year deal in 2010 even though Ruiz possessed just one year hitting .300 and no years of double digits home runs or 60 rbis. Yet Ruiz hit all three of those platforms last year, and he could have been dealt and brought back a few pieces. Instead, Amaro held on to his 33 year old catcher having a career year for a team going nowhere, and instead of getting something for him Amaro watched as Ruiz was suspended for using a banned amphetamine.
You can look at where things stand and talk yourself into saying that the division is still there, Atlanta and Washington aren’t running away with anything and that may be true. You also have to know your hand and does anyone truly believe that if those two teams continue to meddle along the Phillies can suddenly put it together and rip off a long win streak to get them to the top of the division? How far from rock bottom is this team? If they fail to reach .500 this year it will be the first time in over a decade. Is that rock bottom enough for you?
Amaro signed in extension back in 2011 that barring a decision from ownership has Amaro running this club through 2014. Before the all star break, owner Dave Montgomery went on radio stating that he leaves the baseball decision to Amaro. I would ask Montgomery how comfortable he is leaving the baseball decisions to a general manager who has publicly stated he has no analytic department in his front office. That means you’re letting a guy run your organization with only about half the information that’s available but, not because he can’t get the information, but because he refuses to get it. The likelihood of Amaro being fired after the season is minimal considering he has just one more season to go on his contract. However, if David Montgomery cares about the fans and his organization, Amaro has the next week to show he can take the necessary steps in rebuilding a team that needs not one or two but multiple pieces. Infield, outfield, pitching, there’s not one area that the Phillies don’t need to rebuild. If Amaro doesn’t realize it and Montgomery lets him continue to tear this team down, then I hope they will both enjoy when a year or two from now, Citizens Bank Park does its best Veterans Stadium impression and is empty.