Running a baseball team is NOT an easy job. I get that. And, to those who are able to do it well, I am more than willing to give credit. But, I don’t believe that holding on to a GM for year after year after year of decline makes any sense. And if I’d written this article about 4-5 years ago, the name in the title might have been Jim Hendry. But, in 2015, it’s time for a change in Philadelphia.
Ruben Amaro Jr. is now in his 7th season as the GM of the Phillies. He took over as the GM in November of 2008, after the Phillies had just finished winning a championship. His first three seasons looked promising – winning the division each year. But, this wasn’t a team Amaro built. He inherited a winner. And, each year, the team finished one step further from a championship – losing the World Series, then losing the NLCS, then losing the NLDS. Since that 2011 season, the team has yet to finish above .500. And, at the rate they’re playing this season, they’ll be guaranteed a losing record about half-way through August.
But, a few losing seasons isn’t an automatic hook. Just look at some of the teams that are playing well this season. The Twins, the Cubs, the Astros – they’ve all endured a few bad seasons of late. But, if you looked closely at what those clubs were doing, you would have noticed that there was a rebuilding taking place. Right now, even as all three of those teams are poised to make playoff runs, those are three of the strongest farm systems in the game. These are three teams that are now primed to succeed in 2015 and beyond.
So, after three consecutive seasons at or below .500, and as they’re well on their way to the worst record in baseball in 2015, what does the future look like for the Phillies? In a word – bleak. The farm system feeding the Philadelphia team is generally ranked in the bottom 1/3 of baseball. Usually somewhere around #21. They have just 2 prospects in the top 100 in baseball, and their best prospect is still at least a year away from the majors (J.P. Crawford – a SS who has played just 21 games at AA).
The moves (and lack of moves) made by Amaro has turned a team that looked like a perennial contender into a team with no hope on the horizon. Let’s start with the first big move made by Amaro – acquiring Roy Halladay. This transpired after the 2009 season. In December of ’09, he maneuvered a trade that looked promising. Halladay essentially replaced Cliff Lee (whom they shipped off to Seattle), and they even got a couple top prospects from Seattle in the process. There were a lot of other moving parts, but let’s keep it simple. Halladay was given a 3-year extension for $20 million per season, which would carry his contract through the 2013 season. Four years of Roy Halladay for a sum of just over $75 million. The story was that the Phillies were worried Cliff Lee was going to want a 6-7 year deal worth over $20 million per season. So, they were able to get Halladay for 4, at a slightly cheaper rate.
Problem #1 with this logic – Lee is two years younger than Halladay. The 2010 season was Halladay’s age 33 season. Yes, Halladay won a Cy Young that year. But, the wheels came flying off his career in spectacular fashion half-way through his contract with the Phillies.
Problem #2 – Amaro turned around and signed Lee the very next offseason to a 5-year deal worth over $100 million! That contract, by the way, will pay Lee $50 million over 2014 & 2015 – during which time he has pitched a total of 81 innings (and probably won’t be pitching again until close to August).
Problem #3 – The best prospect the Phillies got back from Seattle (Phillippe Aumont – a 2011 1st round pick), has turned out to be a sub-par relief pitcher, who took his first stab at starting at the major league level last week – 4 IP, 7 BB, 2 HR, 6 ER.
Problem #4 – The best prospect the Phillies sacrificed in this deal (Travis d’Arnaud – a 2007 1st round pick), was 7th in ROY voting last year, and outside of a couple unfortunate injuries this year, has played very well (.873 OPS as a catcher).
Perhaps some of this would have been impossible to predict – but, signing aging pitchers to 4 and 5-year deals doesn’t usually work out. So, even if you miss on a couple big free agents or a bad trade, good draft picks will keep your farm system healthy. So, let’s take a look at Amaro’s draft picks that have made a significant impact at the MLB level . . . [crickets]. Well, how about draft picks that have made some contribution at the MLB level? – just one. Ken Giles, a 7th-round pick in 2011, looks like a good set-up man. He might even become a quality closer one day, if he can cut down his WHIP a little (currently 1.27). But, that’s it. That’s the list. No one else drafted by Amaro has made anything close to significant contribution at the major-league level – through 6 years of drafts. I’ll concede the fact that the Phillies’ top 2 prospects are their last two 1st-round picks. But, those are also the only two they have in the top 100 in baseball.
Now we come to the biggest reason the Phillies’ future is grim: trades – but, primarily, the lack thereof. During the 2011 season, they made a trade-deadline deal for Hunter Pence, in an effort to boost their offense. There’s no question Pence had an impact, and was a big part of the Phillies’ run to the playoffs. But, they still lost the NLDS – and traded away two top-100 prospects to Houston (Jarred Cosart & Jon Singleton). This move made even less sense a year later. By the end of June in 2012, the Phillies were 10 games out of 1st, and 8 games below .500. So, Amaro figures Pence is a good trade chip, as he’s nearing the end of his contract. Another trade-deadline deal sends Pence to the Giants (who went on to win the World Series), and in return the Phillies get . . . 3 guys who were never once ranked in the top-100 prospects. Only two have even made it to the majors, and the best of the lot was Nate Schierholtz, a journeyman outfielder who retired with a .253 average in parts of 8 major-league seasons.
Of all the players Amaro could have traded – he gets rid of the only starting position player on the team under the age of 30? And for essentially nothing of any consequence? Meanwhile, over the last 3+ seasons he has continued to pay an aging Chase Utley $15 million per year (he was 33 in 2012, and could have been traded at a number of points in the last 3 years for prospects), Ryan Howard is making over $20 million per year (he was 32 in 2012, and even with his steep contract and lagging numbers, if Amaro would have eaten some of that contract, he could have at least received something in return), and Jimmy Rollins continued making $11 million per year until he was finally traded for two mediocre prospects this past offseason (which sadly, are the Phillies’ #4 & #5 prospects in their system).
And, what about Jonathan Papelbon? Signed after that 2011 season, but the team hasn’t been anywhere near contention since. Several teams over the years would have given up a quality prospect for Papelbon. But, here he is, 34 years old, making $13 million per year, doing nothing of significance for the Phillies. But of all the boneheaded non-moves Amaro has made – the worst has to be his dealing with Cole Hamels. Hamels is a legit stud ace. And everyone has been waiting for the Phillies to pull the trigger on that trade for a couple years now. But, we just keep waiting. And, the price teams are willing to pay keeps getting lower and lower and lower. If Hamels and Papelbon are still on the Phillies roster at the end of the 2015 season, Amaro should be looking for employment elsewhere.
The Phillies should have been in “rebuilding” mode 2-3 years ago. Instead, their fans have suffered through what is going to be 4 seasons of sub-par baseball, while their GM has done nothing to help their future. Now, they’re stuck looking up at the rest of the NL East, and appear to be poised to remain there for a few more years. How does Ruben Amaro still have a job?