Over the weekend at HardballTalk, I wrote about this ridiculous quote from GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. pertaining to Andy Oliver‘s decision to elect free agency rather than report to Triple-A Lehigh Valley:
“We offered him a pretty good deal to come back,” Amaro said. “He just decided to go somewhere else. I think it was a very foolish move on his part, but that’s OK. He had a choice. He had that right.”via Todd Zolecki, MLB.com
Oliver was impressive at times during spring training, finishing with 22 strikeouts in 12 2/3 Grapefruit League innings. He was not so impressive at other times, having also racked up 11 walks. He was competing for a spot at the back of the Phillies’ bullpen and ultimately lost out to Jeanmar Gomez and Luis Garcia.
As Oliver was the Phillies’ Rule 5 pick from the Pirates back in December, if the Phillies wanted to keep him, they would have had to find a spot on the 25-man roster for him throughout the season, otherwise they would have to offer him back to the Pirates. Amaro tried to find another way to keep him around, putting him on waivers. If he cleared waivers, the Phillies could have worked out a trade with the Pirates to fully obtain Oliver’s rights. They then outrighted Oliver to Triple-A, but he instead elected free agency. Oliver signed a minor league deal with the Rays last week and reported to Triple-A Durham. So far, he’s thrown 1 1/3 scoreless innings on a hit and a walk with no strikeouts.
The Phillies’ handling of Oliver is curious to say the least. Considering the team is going nowhere in a rebuilding effort and the back of the bullpen was fluid, it wasn’t difficult to find a spot to stash him throughout the season. Furthermore, following the elbow injury to Mario Hollands, the Phillies needed a second lefty in the bullpen behind Jake Diekman. Elvis Araujo started the season in Double-A and the Phillies recently designated Cesar Jimenez for assignment, so they’re currently operating with no other lefties at the moment.
Why try to be cute with Oliver when there was no need to do so? The Phillies not only foolishly lost a potentially useful bullpen arm who can miss bats with regularity, Amaro stuffed his foot in his mouth yet again trying to explain away the decision. Oliver may have A) not wanted to play for one of baseball’s worst teams that somehow couldn’t find room for him in the bullpen, and B) wanted to go to a team with similar bullpen volatility (meaning he would have an easy path back to the majors). Calling that “foolish” is both arrogant, coming from a front office elite, and patently incorrect.
Amaro’s comment could work to the organization’s detriment in the future, as players may be less willing to take career opportunities with the Phillies after seeing how they handled Oliver. Disputes with players should be handled tactfully both privately and publicly, but especially publicly. But in a sport in which extremely wealthy owners aggressively work to pay minor leaguers less than minimum wage and get upset over $200,000 losses in arbitration hearings, I guess it’s not very surprising that Amaro would be upset he got spurned by a journeyman.