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Don't completely blame Ruben Amaro Jr. for Phillies' decline

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When I hear all the Ruben Amaro Jr. bashing going on around the city, I understand to a degree why Phillies fans aren’t exactly enthralled with their team’s general manager.

 

But before all the “Ruin Tomorrow, Jr.” wisecracks are yelled from the stands at Citizens Bank Park as the now hopeless Phillies ride out the last stretch of baseball in this dismal 2013 campaign, remember the “Saint Ruben!” chants in Washington on Opening Day 2010 when newly acquired third baseman Placido Polanco belted a grand slam to give new Phillie Roy Halladay his first win of his Cy Young season. Remember how he acquired Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence (And yes, I would’ve rather had Carlos Beltran, too.) during crucial deadline deals when the team led the majors in regular season victories in 2010 and 2011. We were all big fans then......

 

Personally, I don’t think Amaro is a horrendous GM, but I don’t think he’s all that spectacular, either. He inherited a World Series team left over by a Hall of Fame general manager (Pat Gillick, and you have to give Ed Wade a little credit, too) and the team has regressed in the playoffs and regular season during each year of his tenure. 

 

Yes, it’s the players’ job to perform, but my biggest issue with Amaro has always been his lack of versatility. Sure, he’s the master of the blockbuster deal when the Phillies were making money hand over fist with plenty to spare. Although rumored to be a shrewed negotiator, I can’t help but feel if Gillick was at the helm in 2009, there’s a good chance the Phillies would have repeated as World Series champions.

 

As good as they were, the bench was lackluster and so was the bullpen. Where were the Scott Eyre’s or Matt Stairs’ Gillick seemed to grab at the trade deadline with relative ease on that team? Players less talented than Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are usually needed to help teams win championships. Your superstars don’t always show up when it counts, and good role players can pick up the slack. Who was the other lefties in the pen besides Eyre during the playoffs? Antonio Bastardo (for a little bit) and J.A. Haap, who was a starter the entire season. Yes, Amaro grabbed Cliff Lee in a “blockbuster deal,” and Charlie Manuel had to use him as a pitcher as well as a pinch runner in the ninth inning of Game 2 in the NLDS against the Rockies. Why? Because he had no speed. Gillick could swing big trades, but he was even better at filling holes. I know it’s easier said than done, but this is an area where Amaro seems to come up short.

 

But let’s put aside Amaro’s shortcomings for a bit and talk about the long term contracts that everybody is giving him a hard time for. If anybody tells me back in 2009-2010 that they had issues with Amaro giving his superstar players the money he did, they’re all stone cold liars. Remember the 1990’s, when former Eagles owner Norman Braman let every important Philadelphia Eagle (Reggie White, Seth Joyner, Clyde Simmons, Keith Jackson, let’s even throw in Jim McMahon while we’re at it) leave that team while they were still in their prime? It took years for the franchise to return to glory, and to this day Braman is despised in this town. Moreover, every Eagles fan asks what might have happened if the core of the team stayed together.

 


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So yes, Amaro inked Ryan Howard to that $125 million dollar extension. At that time, no major leaguer in history matched Howard’s combined power numbers at such a young age. He extended Carlos Ruiz, he signed Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and traded for and signed Halladay- who won a Cy Young Award and was the runner up the season after.  Keep in mind this team had basically three more chances to win another World Series after 2008 because management ponied up and kept the majority of the team together. They lost to a Yankees team in 2009 and were upset by two lesser talented teams (Giants and Cardinals) in 2010 and 2011, respectively, who caught lightning in a bottle at the right time. The team didn’t get the job done. Plain and simple. But like the Eagles, we never would’ve known what could have been if Amaro and ownership just let these same players walk out the door who we praised back in 2008 for giving this city a parade for the first time in a quarter of a century. Photo: Forbes.com

 

In saying that, no, I didn’t think signing Joe Blanton to a three year, $24 million dollar deal was all that smart. Evidently, Amaro tried to trade Blanton and keep Cliff Lee in the winter of 2009, and we all know how that worked out- so well that Amaro snagged Lee back right under the Yankees and Rangers noses a year later. In Amaro’s defense, I think that was more ownership telling him to cut some costs, because there’s no way that Lee deal happens with Gillick as your GM.

 

As far as his recent signings are concerned, I wasn’t crazy about Amaro giving Rollins the money they did, but Freddy Galvis clearly wasn’t the better alternative and I’m not real sure who else was available. Truth be told, Phillies fans would be praising Amaro if Laynce Nix turned out to be the right fielder we longed for since the days of Jayson Werth (before it got ugly with him, of course) and Delmon Young didn’t have 8 home runs instead of a number closer to the 18 he hit last season with the Tigers. Nobody knew Domonic Brown would come into his own this year, and John Mayberry Jr is....well....John Mayberry Jr.  

 

As far as pitching goes, Amaro took a gamble that Mike Adams wouldn’t get injured again and lost. Although he has had a rash of health concerns, he was the best setup man in baseball for years and the Phillies desperately needed bullpen help in the eighth inning. As far as Jonathan Papelbon goes, the Phillies shouldn’t have given him that many years, but Amaro had to chose between him, Heath Bell, who has declined worse than Papelbon, and Ryan Madson, who hasn’t pitched in a big league game since Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. At the same time, Papelbon’s signing did cost the Phillies a first-round draft choice. Did everything go to hell in a handbasket with this team? Quicker than anybody realized, but these things happen. It’s the risk you take when you give superstars on winning teams long term deals that take them into their mid-thirties. What you’re now seeing are the consequences.

 

Now five years removed from a World Series title, the Phillies and Amaro are now stuck between a rock and a hard place and have to right this ship. He designated Nix and Young for assignment and that’s a start. Unfortunately, Ruiz’s better days might be over (I’m not getting into why that may or may not be), but free agent to be Brian McCann would be another lefty in a lineup that would most likely feature Darin Ruff as your sole right-handed batter- and he’s not even a guarantee for next year. And speaking of next year, where does Manuel fit in with the Phillies’ plans in 2014?

 

The Phillies can’t afford any 75-87 seasons over the next few years because the value of the estimated multi-billion dollar television contract that would begin after 2015 will decrease considerably. Fading superstars like Utley and Rollins essentially need to be kept around as the newer players get ushered in to keep attendance from completely spiraling downward. Although the Phillies are currently sixth in baseball in overall paid attendance,I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. Yes: this could turn into a big mess. The free agent market going into 2014 really doesn’t look all that promising

 

If he’s given the chance to try and turn this team around in the wake of another Phillies subpar season, maybe we’ll find out just how good of a general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. really is.

 

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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