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Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Phillies 2014 Forecast, Part I: "The Emperor Has No Clothes"





by: Chris Creighton
Follow him on Twitter @WarRoomPHLChris by clicking here
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Where do we go from here?
Courtesy of 973ESPN.com
"I live on a one-way street that's also a dead end. I'm not quite sure how I got there." - Steven Wright, Comedian

Sounds about right.

It should be obvious to most that Ruben Amaro Jr.'s ego has been waging war against his own rational sense of decision-making and his ability to consider the future of this Phillies franchise since he was handed the keys to the palace back in November 2008. A speckled and spotty track-record ripe with big-splash acquisitions along with several transactions banking on a player's abilities of yesteryear--each of which left the cupboard mostly bare down on the farm--is all he has to show during his tenure as the big boss man. Even the most optimistic of Philadelphia fans (including myself) now envision the Phillies ship as a tired, rudderless old vessel drifting through uncharted waters without a compass. How did it ever come to this?

"After crosses and losses, men grow humbler and wiser." - Benjamin Franklin
I certainly wish Amaro was a little more Ben Franklin and a lot less Daft Punk as 2013's Song of the Summer, "Get Lucky", coincidentally captured the embattled GM's philosophy for this year's Phillies. When the song's lyrical hook defiantly proclaims, "We've come too far to give up who we are", I can easily see Ruben's head bobbing an arrogant yes, yes, yes to the beat en route to his office at One Citizens Bank Way. Unfortunately, who the Phillies are right now under Amaro's stubborn direction are a team that is painting themselves into a corner. The current roster carries several veterans already past their prime, but with very few promising young stars in the making ready to carry the torch.

Was this the beginning of the end?
Courtesy of Philly.com
Clearly learning nothing from crosses and losses past, Amaro has boldly wagered 2013 on the team's aging core players, pinning his hopes on Howard, Rollins and Co. to find their 2007-2009 level of productivity and everything else needing to work out juuust right. He certainly did his best to sell the fans on these magic beans, even hypnotizing some experts into believing they were a playoff contender. I, too, bought into the hype and am feeling pretty daft myself, but I'm seeing more clearly that a "win now" attitude should have been laid to rest after Ryan Howard's achilles tendon exploded to end the 2011 NLDS. To employ the same mentality towards 2012 and 2013 has turned out to be Amaro's indignant denial of the trail of mistakes he has left in his wake.
"There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation and learning from failure." - Colin Powell
Receiving deserved high marks for the deal which brought Roy Halladay to Philadelphia in 2009 and the enormous do-over (to correct his own mistake) to reacquire Cliff Lee in December 2010, Ruben Amaro Jr. has made far more questionable and/or mind-boggling acquisitions over the last five seasons. Most of these can be labeled either as failures or at the very least, shot-in-the-dark deals which panned out in the more probable, expected result. In other words, not the way he had hoped.

Let's take a few minutes to delve into the more notable transactions made during Amaro's tenure as general manager. Keep in mind the the Phillies stand to land a gigantic TV deal after the 2015 season and had sold out just about every game at Citizens Bank Park from 2009 through August 2012. These factors should somewhat disarm Amaro's defense of an unofficial ceiling he claims to have with regard to team payroll. The team has had money to spend since 2008, but how it was spent and will be spent puts Amaro directly in the cross-hairs.

The Good: Halladay, Cliff Lee (2010), Ben Revere, the Cole Hamels extension and the Jimmy Rollins contract. Amaro gets an Incomplete on the recent Chase Utley extension, but I think this will be a good deal relative to what else is out there in the second baseman's market. Plus, Utley is producing better than anticipated and will serve as an excellent example to younger players in the Phillies clubhouse.

The Indifferent: Michael Young, Mike Adams. Young has been adequate and Adams will try again in 2014.

The Bad:
I can't believe I'm in Seattle
Courtesy of BleacherReport.com
  • Trading Cliff Lee to Seattle (December 2010): The claim was that the Amaro had to pull the trigger on this trade in order to make room for Halladay's salary along with those of several other multi-millionaire Phillies. But wait, why did he receive so little in return for the star pitcher? Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez each have had their chance on MLB mounds, both leaving much to be desired and Tyson Gillies has struggled mightily in AAA along with a few sketchy off-field incidents. Luckily, Amaro was able to re-sign the likable lefty from Arkansas, but this only went to show that the team probably had enough cash to keep him in the first place.
  • Trading Hunter Pence to San Francisco (July 2012): Pure salary dump, but what the team gave to acquire for Pence's one measly year of service may be what comes back to haunt them. Jarred Cosart is pitching impressively in Houston since being called up in mid-July. Through seven starts, he has yet to pitch less than six innings and even flirted with a no-hittter on July 12th en route to a 1.60 ERA in his very, very brief MLB career so far. Perhaps worthy of a bookmark is 20 year-old Domingo Santana, the player to be named later. He's mashed 22 home runs in 2013 for Houston's AA team in Corpus Christi, TX after 23 bombs in A-ball in 2012. Let's not forget Pence helped the Giants to their second World Series title in three years in 2012.
  • Trading Shane Victorino to Los Angeles (July 2012): This trade can be forgiven only if Ethan Martin pans out, but Victorino--after bombing in his brief stint with the Dodgers--has had a rebirth of sorts for the Red Sox throwing down a slash line of .286/.337/.415. With his numbers slightly on the rise of late, Victorino made it clear that he wanted to come back to Philadelphia and would have given a hometown discount, but Amaro balked and looked elsewhere. Apparently Delmon Young was a more intriguing option in RF than Shane, who has 17 stolen bases this season to go along with eight outfield assists. Eventually, Boston would go on to grossly overpay for the Flyin' Hawaiian, but think about an outfield of Brown, Revere and Victorino. Yep. 
  • Delmon Young (January 2013): Where to begin? Sure, it was a low-risk/high-reward move, but Delmon Young was downright awful. Can't run, can't field and never met a pitch he didn't like. No one player screams DH more than this guy, so signing with a National League team would be silly, right? The smart move would have been signing Victorino for $7-8 million or keeping Schierholtz. Young was released one week ago. 
  • Nate Schierholtz (November 2012): He's belted 18 home runs in 2013 thus far for the Cubs along with a .276/.329/.521 slash line which includes 26 doubles and 58 RBI. Suffice it to say, Amaro undervalued his potential and let him escape to Chicago for only $2.25 million without even discussing a contract. If you're going to allow Laynce Nix to compete, why not Schierholtz?
  • Placido Polanco (December 2010): The first mistake Amaro would make signing aging veterans,
    Placido Polanco
    Courtesy of ZoZone.com
    this one at the key position of third base. Sure, Polanco scored a Gold Glove in 2011, but it was all downhill from there. 132 games played in 2010 shrank to 122 and 90 in 2011 and 2012. In those same years, his average followed suit from .298 to .277 and .257. When healthy, Polanco was the slickest glove in the National League at the hot corner, but ultimately you want your guy to be able to put the uniform on for more than 130 games. Polanco was paid $16.8 million during his two and a half seasons at CBP. Allow me to remind you all that Adrian Beltre signed with Boston in the same 2010-11 off-season for one year/$9 million. Beltre averaged 149 games played from 2002-2010, was the more typical power hitter at the third base position, fielded four Gold Gloves and is three years younger than Polanco. Riddle me this: If Amaro agreed to sign Polanco on December 3, 2009, traded for Halladay and traded Lee away only twelve days later, you have to figure that he knew a deal for Doc was at least close. Why the urgency to sign Polanco when Beltre went unsigned until mid-January? Beltre has slashed .317/.359/.554  and averaged 35 doubles, 30 home runs and 100 RBI since 2010.
  • Jonathan Papelbon (November 2011): Amaro went way overboard to get Paps both in years and in dollars. There's absolutely no reason for any GM to throw $50-60 million or to offer four years for a closer. Even more perplexing is that Amaro overpaid for Papelbon before a market was established for the former Red Sox closer. Now in his second year of the contract, Papelbon is beginning to show a decline in his fastball velocity, according to Ricky Bottalico, which can also be seen here. Four years with a possible fifth for a closer at age 31 (Paps turns 33 in November) without a market was possibly Amaro's most ridiculous move.
  • Danys Baez (January 2010): Sported a gruesome 5.81 ERA along with a 1.60 WHIP in his 80 games for the Phillies
    Danys Baez
    Courtesy of Philly.com
    and is probably sitting somewhere on a beach smoking a homemade Cuban cigar rolled with one of the $5.25 million dollars Amaro paid him for two years of "service". 
  • Chad Qualls (January 2012): Brought in as a stopper in 2012, Qualls' most recent season with an ERA under 3.00 was in 2008. Qualls would pitch to an ERA of 4.76 and a 1.40 WHIP between 2009-2011. Doesn't exactly look like the kind of numbers that would get a 33 year-old 7th-8th inning man a $1.15 million contract. A minor league deal would have been more prudent, but Ruben Amaro Jr. thought otherwise. FYI, Fernando Rodney was available, but in Amaro's defense, the reliever market was thin. 2012 would have been a perfect opportunity to give young talent some experience, but Qualls wasn't DFA'd until June 28th and then traded on July 1st.
  • Jim Thome (November 2011): A sentimental move and much like Delmon Young, Amaro had no business trying out Big Jim in the field. Ever the popular gentleman with the team and fans alike, Thome would have been better off remaining in the American League as DH. His deal at $1.25 million combined with Qualls salary above could have been better spent either inside or outside the organization.
  • Ty Wigginton (November 2011): Amaro traded cash (or a player to be named later) for the wobbly Wigginton to Colorado, who agreed to pay half his $4 million dollar contract to get rid of him. This guy neither looked nor played the part of a Major League Baseball player. Amaro's plan was for Wigginton to be an insurance policy at either corner position for an ailing Ryan Howard or a probable injury to Polanco. Wigginton's $2 million dollar premium paid out with a ridiculous .235/.314/.375 slash line and made what felt like 4,347 errors at third base (actual number was 8 in 22 games at third). Better option would have been a more athletic player in Jeff Keppinger, who was snagged by Tampa for just $1.525 million. Keppinger played 50 games at third base in 2012 for the Rays and laid down a nice .325/.367/.439 making only two gaffes with the glove.
  • Ryan Vogelsong (released July 2010): Signed by the Phillies to a minor league deal the same
    Ryan Vogelsong, 2011 All-Star
    Courtesy of USAToday.com
    January day they forked over $5.25 million to Baez, Amaro and his scouts would eventually release the well-traveled Vogelsong six months later. Whatever talent the Phillies brass didn't see in him, the Giants (and Cole Hamels) certainly did--at a cost of only $3 million in January 2011. Vogelsong went on to play in the 2011 All Star Game and has put together a very respectable refurbished Major League career. In 2011 and 2012 combined, he posted a record of 27-16 with a 3.05 ERA while striking out 297 batters. In comparison, Joe Blanton would pitch to an 11-15 record with a 4.76 ERA and struck out 207 batters during the same two years. I figure it's the perfect time to remember the Phillies committed three years and $24 million to Joe Blanton in January 2010. You could argue that hindsight is always 20/20, but I look at this as just another example of Amaro and his staff's inability to evaluate talent.
  • Firing Charlie Manuel (August 2013): While I agree that Charlie's contract should not have been
    Uncle Charlie
    Courtesy of Philly.com
    renewed (mostly out of mercy), the man who managed the Phillies to their first World Series title since 1980 deserved a much better exit. Ruben Amaro Jr. will go down in Phillies history as the man who fired a beloved iconic figure in Philadelphia, a baseball lifer and sweetheart of a man who certainly earned the right to choose when his final game would be as Phillies Manager. Amaro would provide the reason that he preferred to give Ryne Sandberg his chance to show what he can do as Phillies Interim Manager for the remaining 40+ games on the schedule. This I understand, but not when the guy he's replacing did so much for the Phillies, his players, and the fans in our city. According to Manuel, he believed the ultimate decision was Amaro's with the blessing (I'm guessing reluctant) of the front office. This will never sit well with the fans who have grown to love "Uncle Charlie". 
A case against Amaro could also be bolstered by tossing names like Laynce Nix, Jason Grilli, Chad Durbin, or Roy Oswalt into the mix of doomed transactions. Maybe even question how or why Amaro hasn't done a better job of solidifying the bullpen and the bench since the 2008 World Series parade down Broad St.?

What vexes me is that the 2012 hodgepodge version of the Phillies scratched and clawed their way to a .500 record, but somehow the team got worse in 2013. On paper and with the team beginning this season with a healthy Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, this years team should have been better.

RkYearTmGWLW-L%RRA
12013Philadelphia Phillies1265670.444471575
22012Philadelphia Phillies1628181.500684680
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/22/2013.

Moving ahead to the 2014 season, it is my opinion that the team would head in a more productive direction with a more highly qualified baseball man at the helm. Too many of Amaro's acquisitions were based upon getting the most out of players whose glory days were behind them or by taking a gamble on a player's potential in one of his "low risk/high reward" transactions. In the process, he either missed out by under-evaluating talent already residing within the Phillies organization or he was unable to find better alternatives available throughout the league via trade or free agency.

Among Amaro's staff of scouts and underlings, there must be some level of discomfort because no group of baseball men this large who evaluate talent for a living can make that many mistakes on a professional level. Unless, of course, these men are afraid to go against Amaro's will. If that's the case, it will be up to Phillies President, David Montgomery, and team ownership to hear that the citizens of Philadelphia have already figured out that the emperor has no clothes. 

It's time for Amaro to go.

1 comment:

JAC III said...

nicely done.