The Phillies Have Had A Relatively Good Off-Season

Reading the reactions to every player the Phillies have been rumored to have shown interest in, you’d think GM Ruben Amaro was constructing a roster of beer league softball players. The knee-jerk negative reaction to every Phillies transaction, rumored or made official, has more to do with two, going on three, years of frustration after the Phillies won the NL East five seasons in a row. It has to do with losing faith in a GM who signed one of the worst contracts in baseball history, gave a significant amount of playing time to Michael Young and Delmon Young, and was sharply derisive of statistical analysis in baseball.

The Phillies won 73 games and lost 89 last year, their worst record since 2000. They have a lot of money tied up to old, injury-prone players whose best years are slowly fading into the horizon in the rear-view mirror. The Phillies aren’t likely to be in the mix for a playoff spot come the end of September. But you know what? They could be a whole lot worse, and whether you like it or not, Amaro deserves credit for showing discipline this off-season.

In the past, Amaro made a name for himself with at least one big-ticket acquisition. Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence are just a few of the names we’ve seen join the Phillies at exorbitant prices. Not only did Lee and Halladay require $20 million annually, Amaro had to trade what were then a handful of the organization’s highest-ranked prospects. It’s easy to look at the 2013 club and conclude that with a little luck going in the opposite direction, along with a couple of top-tier free agents, the Phillies could once again challenge for a spot in the playoffs. Amaro could have signed Matt Garza or Bronson Arroyo or Nelson Cruz or Carlos Beltran or Curtis Granderson or Jacoby Ellsbury.

He didn’t. He jumped out of the gate and signed Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract. It is the sixth-largest sum signed by an outfielder this off-season, but it pales in comparison to the $153 million the Yankees gave Ellsbury over seven years, the $130 million the Rangers committed to Shin-Soo Choo over seven years, the $90 million the Giants will pay Pence over five years, and the $60 million the Mets earmarked for Granderson through 2017. Byrd may be a 36-year-old coming off of what screams “career year”, but the signing also doesn’t hamstring the Phillies in the future in any way.

Amaro also, controversially, gave $26 million over three years to Carlos Ruiz, who turns 35 years old tomorrow. Ruiz was bothered by plantar fasciitis in 2012, missed the first 25 games of the ’13 season due to a drug suspension, and strained his hamstring in May. It all combined for his worst season since 2008. While three years is arguably one year too long, the free agent market for catchers was not particularly robust. The Marlins signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia, seven years Ruiz’s junior, to a three-year, $21 million deal. All else being equal, the Phillies could have gone after Salty and saved themselves $7 million, but Salty is not even projected to out-produce Ruiz in 2014 (though he likely will in the two ensuing years). Breaking up the rapport Ruiz has with the pitching staff, and the Phillies’ knowledge of a player they have known since 1998, for $7 million in savings and little to no gain in on-field production is debatable at best. Aside from Salty, the Phillies could have massively overpaid for Brian McCann or settled for dreck.

On December 3, the Phillies traded catcher Erik Kratz and Minor League pitcher Rob Rasmussen to the Blue Jays for reliever Brad Lincoln. In essence, Amaro traded a Quad-A arm and a back-up catcher for a 28-year-old reliever who could one day serve as a set-up man or even close. (Likely? No. Possible? Yes.) At around the same time, the Phillies signed Wil Nieves to serve as the back-up catcher for $1.125 million. Overall, the transactions are unimportant but Lincoln has upside and cost control which are always beneficial.

The Phillies tendered contracts to Kyle Kendrick and John Mayberry, eventually settling on respective salaries of $7.675 million and $1.5875 million. Many fans reacted harshly to the dollar amounts, but that was mostly out of Amaro’s control. Salaries for arbitration-eligible players are structured based on service time and how the player compares to his peers. Amaro could have avoided paying Kendrick and Mayberry by non-tendering them, but he did not want to risk curtailing the team’s depth — understandably so.

Then came the depth signings. Amaro has given minor league deals with spring training invitations to Chad Gaudin, Shawn Camp, Jeff Manship, Sean O’Sullivan, Andres Blanco, Reid Brignac, Ronny Cedeno, and Tony Gwynn, Jr. just to name most of an otherwise uninteresting list. These deals are non-guaranteed, so if any or all of the players fail to perform well in spring training, then they simply don’t head north with the Phillies to start the season. It costs the Phillies nothing to give them a tryout but it does potentially give them something to gain.

You’ll notice that last year, our attitude towards these signings wasn’t so accepting because the players had real fundamental flaws and were likely to get more than an insignificant amount of playing time. We saw that come true with both Youngs, combining for -2.2 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference. Yuniesky Betancourt, too, presented a legitimate risk to the Phillies’ production but the Phillies ignored his hot spring somehow. Betancourt went on to post a .595 OPS with the Brewers in 409 plate appearances.

This off-season is superior to the last couple of years in many ways:

  • Filled holes at starting positions with productive players without getting bogged down in expensive, long contracts
  • Avoided pitfall players like Youngs Delmon and Michael as well as Betancourt, and did not make a significant amount of playing time available to obviously unproductive players
  • Did not “bolster” the bullpen by signing old and/or injury-prone relievers to multi-year deals (Mike Adams)
  • Did not hamstring future teams by blocking a young player’s progress in favor of a veteran

Did Amaro’s moves this off-season make the Phillies significantly more likely to compete for the post-season? Not really. But there were no moves the Phillies could have made that would allow them to compete without punting future seasons. The Phillies were always going to be mediocre in 2014. The next-best thing is having a cautious approach. While it was Amaro who put the team in this position with some poor decisions in the past, he deserves credit for putting the team in a better position to be a consistent, long-term winner with his restrained approach to the off-season.

It’s very easy to jump on the Amaro hate bandwagon, and the 2014 Phillies won’t be terribly exciting to watch, but Amaro has done better this winter than the knee-jerk negative reactions (for which I’m guilty of making, as well) would have you believe. We’ll be thankful for it in 2016 and beyond with a more robust farm system and plenty of payroll flexibility.

Leave a Reply

*

39 comments

  1. Bubba0101

    January 21, 2014 12:25 PM

    Happy Birthday Chooch!

  2. Frank

    January 21, 2014 01:17 PM

    TL ; DR
    Shorter version: “Amaro did less moronic things than usual.”

  3. amarosucks

    January 21, 2014 01:58 PM

    Let’s not lose sight of why the phils are in their current predicament…which is because amaro stinks at his job

    • Chuck

      January 21, 2014 02:44 PM

      He’s been pretty awful at making the small moves, but “stinks at his job” ignores the deals for Lee (1st and 3rd anyway, and that the 2nd was Amaro’s decision and not ownership’s is debatable), Halladay, and Oswalt that made the team a much stronger contender for 3 years. It’s hard to see them going as far in 09 and 10 without Lee or Halladay, much less breaking the franchise record for wins in 11 without Lee and the Roys. After 15 years of small-market mentality it was really nice to see a GM go out and spend to keep the team in contention. So, regardless of all the stupid moves His Smugness has made, his decisions played a large role in keeping the good times rolling for a while. I’m hopeful that some of these moves may be a signal that he’s learning, or at least listening to the rented statistics guy.

      Now watch him sign Vernon Wells right after I stick up for him.

      • amarosucks

        January 21, 2014 03:12 PM

        team has regressed every year during his tenure. he stinks at his job.

        also, he just signed bobby abreu.

        at this point I don’t even get mad anymore. just have to laugh at his incompetence

      • Chris S.

        January 21, 2014 04:03 PM

        I like the Bobby Abreu signing, he is a veteran bat that would be a nice bench player who knows how to work a count. It just might rub off on some of the current players who don’t know how to work a count.

      • Chuck

        January 21, 2014 03:34 PM

        I hope they start to “regress” the way they did during his first 3 years:

        2008 – 92 wins
        2009 – 93
        2010 – 97
        2011 – 102

        Go ahead and blame him for his mistakes, which are numerous, but don’t forget the significant things he did to make the team better during maybe the best run in franchise history.

      • hk

        January 21, 2014 03:52 PM

        Chuck,

        I don’t forget the significant things that he did to make the team better during the first 3 years of his tenure, but I also don’t forget the significant competitive advantages that he inherited when he took over the team. In my estimation, 5 years in, he has done a bad job in that he squandered many of those competitive advantages and short circuited what could have been positioned to be a much longer run as a contender.

      • Chuck

        January 21, 2014 04:14 PM

        I generally agree with this, in that I think the 12 and 13 could have been more competitive years had he made smart moves for the small role players. I think I’m mostly pushing back at the idea that he is objectively awful at his job.

        As for the significant competitive advantages he inherited, yes, the team was an offensive juggernaut, but one that was bound to not produce at such a consistently level as the players aged. I think it’s a possibility that he actually extended the period of competitiveness by signing a bunch of stud pitchers while the offense was declining.

        Hindsight is also 20/20. After 2011 lots of smart people, including writers here and at TGP, were saying the phils were still well-positioned to win the NL East in 2012, and I definitely felt the same way (eg, www.fangraphs.com/blogs/fangraphs-audio-bill-baer-of-crashburn-alley/). Once the phils started sucking it up it seemed like everyone couldn’t say quickly enough that they saw it coming . So I’m also pushing back against that (perceived) impulse a bit, but again, I agree a better GM could have fielded a more competitive team for the past 2 seasons.

  4. sweatingisnormal

    January 21, 2014 02:57 PM

    He’s actually been pretty conservative since the 2012 deadline….relatively short term, low cost moves to fill in holes & low cost (dubious) gambles. Most of the sucking has been the core getting old & not having any young guys to step up (decides Dom). None of the prospects traded away have amounted to much (Villar would prob be a bench piece & Cosart would be given a crack to be the #4 or #5). Amaro has been pretty much average…..the rest is just immature fans complaining & not accepting that no team can stay on top forever in today’s baseball environment).

    • amarosucks

      January 21, 2014 03:17 PM

      This could be the worst post ever. Most of the prospects traded away are still prospects, so it’s far too early to determine whether or not they ‘haven’t amounted to much’ (especially guys like d’arnaud, santana, singleton, cosart, etc). Also, most of the vets amaro has decided to keep have been awful investments (as howards’ contract epitomizes)…and all of the prospects he has received in return (for lee, pence, victorino) have been disasters.

      At this point anyone defending amaro’s tenure needs to get a clue. The guy is AWFUL at his job

      • sweatingisnormal

        January 21, 2014 03:30 PM

        Even if some “are still prospects”…….that means they would have been/will be no help 2012 – present? I love prospects as much as the next guy, but each of the guys you mentioned are far from sure things – let’s not get carried away.

        Go back and look at all trades involving veteran stars for prospects………the overwhelming don’t work out for the team receiving the prospects; that’s why they are called “prospects.” The ones that work out get all the press & hoopla, but the hit rate is extremely low all around baseball – Amaro is just average in this regard.

      • Chuck

        January 21, 2014 03:36 PM

        you need to not be so combative, friend.

  5. BPS

    January 21, 2014 03:21 PM

    I like the Abreu signing more than the Delmon Young signing. Which is not saying much.

    • sweatingisnormal

      January 21, 2014 03:44 PM

      Yeah….not penciling him in as the starting RF makes a hoooge difference. The Abreu signing is almost a non-factor & only his past Philly history makes this even a blip on the radar.

  6. Robby Bonfire

    January 21, 2014 03:53 PM

    Bobby Abreu??? BOBBY ABREU??? Good grief!

  7. Chuck

    January 21, 2014 04:17 PM

    I like this format more, generally, but

    1. my comments keep saying “your comment is being moderated” and then disappearing. Is that just the blog lords censoring, or some kind of bug?
    2. There’s no way to reply to subcomments, eg, my reply to hk9965 actually shows up before his comment.

  8. Robby Bonfire

    January 21, 2014 04:34 PM

    Just think, the Phillies got nothing for Abreu when they traded him to the Yankees, and now they are getting nothing in return for signing him. Great work, guys!

  9. Joecatz

    January 21, 2014 04:46 PM

    Couldn’t have said it better myself bill (and I’m about half way through what is basically the exact same piece over at the good phight)

  10. Corinne

    January 21, 2014 05:11 PM

    How could you neglect to mention the glorious return of Lou Marson?

    Aside from that omission, I’m 100% in agreement.

  11. Pencilfish

    January 21, 2014 05:21 PM

    Not mentioned in the post is that RAJ managed to keep up and coming minor-leaguers and young ML players in the fold (Asche, Brown, Franco, Biddle, Crawford, the 2014 picks, etc) so far. People may say very few of these guys will be stars (and they are right), but these guys potentially represent important pieces post-2015, whether on this team or in future trades. Given the state of the farm, this is important for the future, too.

    • Scott G

      January 21, 2014 10:32 PM

      Sooo the phillies important pieces who were put and kept in place by amaro aren’t good, and we should be happy/thankful for this? Whaaaaat?

      • hk

        January 23, 2014 11:32 AM

        Scott G,

        It is definitely odd that some of the same people who credit RAJ for the fact that the prospects that he traded away (D’Arnaud, Singleton, Gose, Cosart, Villar, Zeid, Santana) haven’t done anything in the majors yet also credit him for not trading away Asche, Biddle and Franco, all of whom haven’t done anything in the majors yet.

  12. Fenst

    January 21, 2014 05:28 PM

    Unfortunately, RAJ made is bed with one of his first moves, the Howard deal. As soon as he signed that I said it would be the end of the Phillies run. Unfortunately, clueless Phillies fans couldn’t see passed his inflated RBI numbers from the past few seasons prior and all thought that we had one of the premier 1B in the league. In actuality, we were getting an aging player whose skillset was already on a steep decline and history had shown that players similar to his skillset and body type decline quickly. Not to mention we signed this deal with 18 months of control left on the player, who would have been a FA the same time as other top tier 1B so options would have been available.

    That deal was so terrible, it almost has not mattered what he has tried to do since. While he has put together a “competitive team” this year and the few years prior, chances are is that probably wasn’t the right move to do. They have kept an old, aging, oft-injured core at the cost of rebuilding (probably influenced by the TV deal) that can’t truly compete for a playoff spot. I love still being able to watch the guys that brought the only WS ring to Philly of my lifetime, but they are all shells of the players they were (outside of Hamels) when this team was successful.

    Now we still have an old core, still owe out tons of money and have untradeable contracts that will prevent us from being able to move these players for potential replacements. We have a sub-par farm system to replace these guys and our fickle fan base is already starting to turn their back on this team. I hope we find a way around this or a few of these guys can stay healthy and find the fountain of youth. The result could be another dark period of Philadelphia.

    • amarosucks

      January 21, 2014 08:02 PM

      Exactly. The Howard and Papelbon contracts are the prime examples (there are many others) of how clueless amaro is.

      Kinda funny that the Amaro defenders are applauding his lack of dumb moves this offseason. That tells you all you need to know. I don’t know how anyone can defend the guy. He is not good at what he does.

    • Just Bob

      January 23, 2014 07:25 PM

      Yup. The only thing Amaro did this offseason was ensure that basically the same core is here for the next 2 years and at best the status quo is mediocrity. Given their recent injury history, even that isn’t very likely and the utter lack of organizational depth on this team will once again get exposed this year for the 3rd consecutive year.

  13. WayneKerrins

    January 21, 2014 06:42 PM

    Great piece. I loved living in Philadelphia and I loved most things about Philly sports fans but balance isn’t a strong point if the area… Amaro has done so much wrong but it’s refreshing to see an article that gives a modicum of limited credit where limited credit is due. That doesn’t absolve him of past errors nor really make me feel that he’s racing up a learning curve; but this off season wasn’t a cluster.

  14. Fabiano

    January 21, 2014 07:53 PM

    Hi Bill, thanks for the article. You mention that “we’ll be thankful in 2016″. Do you think Amaro deserves to be here in 2016?
    I find it hard to accept the thought that we should simply accept mediocre teams for the next two years due in large part to mistakes by Amaro, AND Amaro gets to rebuild the team at that time.

  15. Major Malfunction

    January 21, 2014 08:52 PM

    “….., and the 2014 Phillies won’t be terribly exciting to watch….”

    People don’t buy tickets to watch “cost cutting” or “bench depth”. Remember when the Nationals would trot out shit talent? NOBODY would go.

    But I’ll bite on that this is a carry over year to get to next year’s grand rebuilding. But look at the GM’s track record. I’m to believe he makes grandiose choices and doesn’t throw big money at dumb long term contracts next year and returns us to what is now expected good Phillies baseball?

    Sorry, but looking at past, present, and future makes it easy to get on the RAJ hate wagon.

  16. Mark66

    January 22, 2014 08:43 AM

    The way the front office is going I will not be surprised to see the Phils sign Bowa and Schmidt to the spring roster. Heh, how about Jim Bunning ?

  17. dejesus54

    January 22, 2014 12:28 PM

    I agree Amaro’s offseason hasn’t been terrible (I like the Hernandez signing, which wasn’t mentioned here, along with Gaudin, Lincoln, and the flyer on Abreu), but is this a good thing, or do we want to destroy the village in order to save it? If the difference is between 73-89 with more long- term commitments than the Phils already have and 73-89 (or 74-88 or 75-87) with even more long-term commitments, yeah, I’ll take the former, which was the point here. But does the calculus change if it’s 75-87 with even more long-term commitments and a new GM in 2015?

    (For me, no, I don’t think. Or at least, not without new ownership, because the new GM would be Jack Z. or Dayton Moore or Ned Colletti’s secret brother or someone else equally Amarolike. But if you told me 75-87 with even more long-term commitments and a new GM and new ownership in 2015? Andre Ethier, come on down. Who’s going to LA in return? Pick em…)

    • dejesus54

      January 22, 2014 03:10 PM

      My last post would have made more sense if I didn’t leave out a word:

      If the difference is between 73-89 with *NO* more long-term commitments than the Phils already have and 73-89 (or 74-88 or 75-87) with even more long-term commitments…

  18. Kevin

    January 22, 2014 05:13 PM

    Great article. Amaro has to be thinking of the future of the team while still trying to put a productive team on the field. It is clear that the Phillies are keeping the 08 core together for as long as possible hoping to catch lightning in a bottle for one more year. By building around the aging core of Utley, Howard, and Rollins, Amaro has giving those guys a shot at winning the NL East without hamstringing the future. Any team that gets into the playoffs and can roll out Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels has a legitimate shot. It is a long shot, but there is still a possibility everything falls into place. If that doesn’t work out, the Phillies have flexibility for the future.

  19. GeoffJenkins

    January 23, 2014 04:42 PM

    I’m interested to see how well Miguel Gonzalez throws. Three years, $12 million.

  20. Just Bob

    January 23, 2014 07:28 PM

    Amaro wasn’t able to make any large FA moves because the gate revenues will likely take another huge tumble this season and the Opening Day payroll be will be the same or even slightly less than last year. It was a mandate imposed by the FO due primarily due to profitability concerns in ’14. Not the long-term health or competitiveness of the baseball team.

  21. Kevin

    January 24, 2014 10:47 AM

    I’ll admit, I got used to this team being a contender, and what makes me despair isn’t that they won’t be contenders this year, but that I don’t foresee a time when they will be. In my mind, Ruben managed to sink this team by grossly overpaying some players and by loading the bench and bullpen with players who could help the team about as much as I could.

    The payroll for this team is huge. Not average, but huge. Which says to me, Rube could overpay a couple of players here and there and still have a terrific team. That he’s managed to create a mediocre (at best) team with a large payroll and a barren farm system should be enough to prevent anyone from defending him.

    But this article is about recognizing you have a lost cause and fighting the urge to throw good money after bad. I’m on board with that faint praise, but I’m not clear why 2016 should present any hope. Sure, some contracts come off the books, but there’s no new core in development that I can see. That puts you back to the “have to overpay free agents” boat, and that’s a hard hill to climb if you have to fill your whole roster that way.

    From where I sit, it just looks like the organization has been dug into a hole it can’t get out of any time soon. Poor performance -> decreased revenue -> lower payroll -> more difficult to assemble a quality team -> continued poor performance -> etc., etc.

    It will be a real challenge for the next GM.

  22. Sal

    January 25, 2014 11:24 AM

    Think you’re being too kind to Ruben. He took over a team on top and they gave him nearly double the salary to work with and he has bungled it. They were too loyal to an aging and underperforming core, and he finally gets a right handed bat when they needed one 4 years ago.

    Going into last year with an outfield of Dom Brown, Revere and Delmon was atrocious. The Phils spent 4 million for the outfield last year and 20 million for Papelbon and Adams. How do you justify that in a hitters park with a club that doesn’t hit? If Dom Brown didn’t have a breakthrough first half, the Phils would have lost 100 games.

    Amaro should be gone. He kept doubling down on pitching when they needed hitting and he made the decisions on the long term contracts that locked them in. The Phils are spending plenty of money, they just need to make better decisions.

  23. Dennis

    February 24, 2014 06:11 PM

    Good article. Was referred to it by your more recent one…also very good.

Next ArticlePhillies Sign Bobby Abreu to a Minor League Deal