Ruben Amaro’s Market-Changing Mistakes

When Ryan Howard signed that five-year, $125 million contract extension back in April 2010, many proponents said at the time that it would look comparatively cheap once Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder got their big contracts, plus inflation would balloon future contracts, too. And that wasn’t altogether incorrect. Pujols signed a ten-year, $240 million contract with the Angels and year two (2013) was just no fun for them as the future Hall of Famer dealt with injuries and diminished effectiveness. Fielder, now a Ranger, signed a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Tigers in January 2012. Joey Votto also signed an extension with the Reds in early April 2012 worth $225 million over ten years.

While those deals are about twice as long and twice as expensive, it’s the Howard extension that comes out looking the worst for two reasons: the extension didn’t kick in for two years (in other words, it was signed in 2010 but began in 2012 when Howard was 32) and Howard’s decline began immediately. Since 2010, FanGraphs lists Howard at 1.9 Wins Above Replacement since 2010. Since Pujols signed his big deal: 4.4 fWAR. Fielder, 7.1. Votto, 11.8. Fielder and Votto still have some of their youth left, as well.

First basemen haven’t gotten big money since that group of four struck it rich. Thus far in the off-season, international free agent Jose Dariel Abreu was the most successful, getting a six-year, $68 million deal from the White Sox. Following up is Mike Napoli, who received $32 million over two years from the Red Sox. Last off-season, Nick Swisher was the big winner, getting $56 million over four years from the Indians. In second place was Adam LaRoche, striking a two-year, $24 million deal with the Nationals.

Now, with teams locking up their young, productive players earlier and earlier — the Diamondbacks signed first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to a five-year, $32 million contract extension in March, for example — it will become harder and harder to find quality talent through free agency. The Phillies tried to do that with Howard but missed badly, setting the example for other teams to avoid getting involved in lengthy, expensive contracts with first basemen.

It looks like Amaro may have done the same thing with the closer market. The Phillies have been trying to trade Jonathan Papelbon throughout the off-season but have drawn only mild interest. The reasons are obvious and have been stated here countless times: Papelbon is old, he’s expensive (still owed either $26 million over two years or $39 million over three years if his option vests), and he is declining rather spectacularly. At SB Nation, Grant Brisbee wonders if we’ll ever see a closer get another contract like the one Amaro gave Papelbon. Based on the results so far, it’s hard to see it.

The world champion Red Sox showed why depth is the most important quality of a bullpen rather than having a “proven closer”. The Sox had Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, two “proven closers”, but both were some combination of injured and ineffective, leading them to rely on Uehara in the ninth inning by the end of June. Uehara was, of course, magnificent and the Sox couldn’t have dreamed up a better third-string closer.

So far this off-season, Joe Nathan and Joaquin Benoit have gotten the biggest contracts among free agent closers, taking home $20 million over two years from the Tigers and $15.5 million over two years from the Padres, respectively. This past off-season, Rafael Soriano received a two-year, $28 million deal from the Nationals; Brandon League got $22.5 million over three years from the Dodgers; and Jonathan Broxton got $21 million over three years from the Reds. Nothing remotely close to the record-setting four-year, $60 million deal (with a fifth-year vesting option) contract the Phillies gave to Papelbon two years ago.

As a GM, one of the worst terms someone can use to describe a contract you worked out with a player is “albatross”, which the dictionary defines as, “a constant and inescapable burden or handicap.” It is a perfect description of both the Howard and Papelbon contracts, but beyond that, Amaro’s poor decision-making completely altered free agency and two positions. Amaro was burned so badly that GM’s have become reticent to risk getting singed themselves. Free agency is no longer a market for first-rate talent, but a secondary market for teams who have made mistakes with scouting, drafting, trading, and/or recognizing and locking up their young talent.

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  1. scooby dubee doo

    December 26, 2013 06:26 PM

    why is it that every time amaro is mentioned, his dealings are castrated? does the ownership not see how he took a very strong franchise and bungled it? and a rebuild seems 5 years away, best case scenario.

  2. Bob

    December 26, 2013 06:58 PM

    “The world champion Red Sox showed why depth is the most important quality of a bullpen rather than having a ‘proven closer'”.

    I like this thought but would expand it. The Red Sox showed why team depth is important. By putting all their eggs in one basket at numerous positions, the Phils have not had adequate depth to replace regulars who go down with injury. When Chase, Howard, Halladay, Chooch, Dom have all gone down with injuries, the Phils struggle to find even replacement level players to fill the void. And this is a result of improper budgeting and lack of young, cheap, replacement level talent in the minors.

  3. sweatingisnormal

    December 26, 2013 11:04 PM

    Not sure how connected the 1b market was…the group that got mega deals were an order of magnitude better than the 2nd group mentioned…I see no connection to Adam Laroche not being able to land a 100 – 200 mil deal.

  4. Pencilfish

    December 27, 2013 11:16 AM

    “Amaro was burned so badly that GM’s have become reticent to risk getting singed themselves”

    To suggest that RAJ has single-handedly changed the entire FA market dynamic can only be charitably described as hyperbolic. Fielder, Votto and Cano signed long-term, post-Howard deals. Then, you are passing judgment on these deals with 7-8 years to go. That’s like predicting the outcome of a baseball game in the 2nd inning.

    It doesn’t excuse RAJ’s poor decision-making in giving an extension too early, or that Howard hasn’t been productive or healthy the past two seasons, but I don’t think Howard’s and Pap’s contracts on their own handcuff the Phillies as much as people think. Rollins and Utley are two other old, injury-prone players who have or will potentially hamstring the team.

  5. Kevin

    December 27, 2013 12:30 PM

    I am baffled that Amaro still has his job. He must talk pretty fast ans use some pretty fancy patter when explaining his moves to ownership.

    In his tenure, how many decisions has he made that, though they seemed monumebtally bad at the time, in hindsight turned out to be exactly as monumentally bad as they seemed?

  6. hk

    December 27, 2013 01:31 PM


    What we don’t know is what the market would have been for Fielder, Pujols and Howard – even if Howard had not been injured – in the 2011-2012 off-season if Ruben had not set the market with the Howard extension. It sure didn’t hurt Fielder’s and Pujols’s bargaining positions coming of 4.9 fWAR and 4.4 fWAR seasons, respectively, to have Howard about to start $125M / 5 year extension coming off a 1.5 fWAR season.

  7. Pencilfish

    December 27, 2013 02:32 PM


    I don’t disagree, but even Cano signed a monster deal a few weeks ago, and I forgot Choo’s 7-yr/130M deal too. Clearly RAJ did not affect Seattle’s or Texas’ decision-making. Tanaka will also command a six-figure, multi-year deal this winter, as may some of the remaining FA’s.

    RAJ has made some significant mistakes, but let’s not not assign him super-human powers just yet.

  8. hk

    December 27, 2013 03:01 PM


    I believe that BB was referring specifically to the free agent markets for 1B’s and closers.

  9. A-Train

    December 27, 2013 05:41 PM

    Roob made a market for Howard when there wasn’t one. Pujols, Fielder, Texiera, Dunn and Howard were all due to become free agents the same year. Once Tex signed with the Yanks, it took one of the teams who could afford an expensive 1B off the table. There just weren’t that many teams who would offer that kind of money to sluggers who can’t play defense or run the bases. Injury aside, Roob would have done much better waiting another 18 months. BTW…he did the same thing with Jimmy Rollins. I seriously doubt any other team was offering a 3rd year, let alone an easily attainable vesting option.

  10. BPS

    December 27, 2013 07:47 PM

    Genuinely curious, what do people think Howard would have gotten if Amaro waited to sign the extension? A one year deal? Maybe two? It’s safe to assume Amaro could have saved in the neighborhood of 100 million dollars?

  11. Josh G

    December 27, 2013 08:14 PM

    Maybe only 1Bs and closers because the Jayson Werth deal has yet to look bad for Washington. One day Rizzo will have the power of RAJ but not today!

  12. hk

    December 28, 2013 08:21 AM


    The following lines are the support of my comment above:

    “First basemen haven’t gotten big money since that group of four struck it rich.”

    “It looks like Amaro may have done the same thing with the closer market.”

  13. hk

    December 28, 2013 08:21 AM

    RAJ’s legacy: Despite being handed numerous competitive advantages – including taking over the World F****** Champions – he was only able to guide the team to three more post-season appearances before steering them into the abyss. However, his errors were instrumental in the front offices learning about the relative value of the 1B and closer positions.

  14. hk

    December 28, 2013 08:33 AM

    Josh G,

    It’s debatable whether or not the Werth deal has looked bad for Washington. If you are going to assess it on the basis of $ per WAR, the deal looks okay if you use actual $ paid so far, but less so if you use the AAV of Werth’s deal. So far, the following is what occurred in terms of salary, AAV and the average of fWAR and rWAR:

    2011: Salary $10M / AAV $18M / 1.8 WAR
    2012: Salary $13M / AAV $18M / 0.7 WAR
    2013: Salary $16M / AAV $18M / 4.7 WAR
    2011-2013: Salary $39M / AAV $54M / 7.2 WAR

    If you use salary paid so far, Werth’s deal has been pretty good as he’s been paid a little more than $5M per WAR. The problem with that is that he’s due $83M for his age 35 to age 38 seasons. If you use AAV, he’s been paid $7.5M per WAR so far with $72M of AAV still due.

  15. BobSmith77

    December 28, 2013 04:32 PM

    The worst thing about the Howard deal was that the Phils didn’t get a ‘hometown discount’ on the AAV despite signing him 2 years early. Far worse was how they handled his initial injury which played a key part in his Achilles Heel rupture and then how they dealt with it afterwards.

    Papelbon deal was horrible but the worst part was that it cost the Phils a first round draft pick because Amaro couldn’t wait another week. Signing a closer though who relied primarily on his fastball velocity though to a lonf term deal during tge years when almost all pitchers experience a notable drop in velocity was mind numbingly stupid.

    Always felt the Papelbon deal was far worse both in terms of execution and thought process behind it. Also didn’t bother to check on the ‘chemistry’ issues either which would think an organization that prides itself on traditional issues would have looked into.

  16. Pencilfish

    December 28, 2013 09:25 PM


    “I believe that BB was referring specifically to the free agent markets for 1B’s and closers.”

    I know.

    Pujols, Fielder, Votto, Goldschmidt signed their deals AFTER Howard. Bill also forgot the 7/154 extension Gonzalez signed in 2011.
    No evidence is presented that RAJ’s deal with Howard affected the other deals significantly, though Bill goes on to say Napoli, LaRoche, Swisher and Abreu did not get the same rich contracts. Equating Pujols et al with the latter group is laughable. The two groups are not even on the same planet.

    “Amaro’s poor decision-making completely altered free agency and two positions. Amaro was burned so badly that GM’s have become reticent to risk getting singed themselves.”

    GM’s are still forking out money after the Mike Hampton and Barry Zito’s bad contracts for SP. The Mets gave Wright a 7/138 deal, even though the Yankees got burned by the A-Rod deal. The Mets 4/66 contract with Jason Bay was a disaster, but that didn’t prevent other teams to offer even bigger deals for Werth, Choo, etc.

    My point is that there is no such thing as other GM’s being afraid to sign FA’s to long-term deals because RAJ got burned. RAJ’s mistakes are not “market-changing”, when other deep-pocketed teams, such as the Yankees, Rangers, Angels, Boston, Washington, Detroit, etc are around.

  17. Ryan

    December 31, 2013 11:53 AM

    No one could’ve predicted Howard’s Achilles injury at a relatively young age and subsequent issues coming back from it. RAJ gambled (most likely a poor gamble but certainly not on the magnitude that many on this website conclude it was) and had about the worst possible outcome.

    Personally, I find the Papelbon deal to be worse since he’s also an asshole and it was apparent that closers weren’t a big necessity but power is always at a premium.

  18. hk

    December 31, 2013 02:09 PM


    Many people on this site and elsewhere commented at the time – not concluded four years later – that it was unwise to sign a 30 year old to a contract for his age 32 to 36 seasons and pay him like you expect to get production similar to his age 28 and 29 seasons. One of the reasons behind such thinking was that players typically decline and often become more injury prone as they age, especially players with Howard’s body type. Whether the Howard extension is worse than the Papelbon contract, which also cost the team a 1st round pick, is debatable.

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