2015 Phillies Report Card: Ruben Amaro Jr.
It’s been easy to shit on Ruben Amaro Jr. Has been for years. After all, he was given a championship club and turned it into a 99-loss disaster over the course of his six seasons as Phillies General Manager. He did some good things, like trading for Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, and eventually signing Cliff Lee as a free agent. But we all know he also did some things that were bad, (Ryan Howard’s bloated and unnecessary contract extension), dumb, (signing Jonathan Papelbon when waiting a week would have saved him a first-round draft pick penalty), and downright ugly, (the second Cliff Lee Trade – I mean, gross, right?).
I shat on him. You shat on him. We all did. He was, at times, terrible with the media, especially for fans who care even a little bit about progressive statistics. He was accused of needlessly holding onto Cliff Lee, among others, at the trade deadline in 2013, and then doing the same to Cole Hamels, among others, at the trade deadline in 2014. And he brought in some of the worst ballplayers in the league to start, (I’m looking at you Michael and Delmon Young), and, not unreasonably, but still laughably, to try to fill in the gaps, (Yuni, we hardly knew yni). Some of that was likely his doing directly, but much of it was just as likely dictated by ownership, in the form of former team President David Montgomery.
But that had all passed by the time this year rolled around, and like we wouldn’t judge Ryan Howard’s 2015 on what he did in 2006, we’d do best to review Amaro’s actions solely from last offseason through his sacking in September of this year. And based on that time, Amaro acquitted himself quite well. He proved to be a quite capable trade negotiator, and a shrewd, if likely a little bit lucky, scrap-heaper. His last two years have been so good that it got him a job on a different pro baseball team where he gets to teach guys to play outfield and show off his switch-pitching chops and wear a uniform and everything, so I guess someone sees his value.
So let’s review – last winter and mid-year, Amaro grabbed three interesting bullpen pieces out of nowhere, in the forms of Elvis Araujo, Dalier Hinojosa, and the nearly-dominant Jeanmar Gomez. He picked Double-A Rangers’ infielder Odubel Herrera, arguably the best Rule 5 selection since MLB added an extra year of control to the system in the 2006 CBA, (a tip of the cap to Mike Ondo and the rest of Pro Scouting on finding those players for Amaro to consider). Amaro also gave the club room to play young players, and importantly, after Ryne Sandberg departed, he gave the Interim Manager position to Pete Mackanin, and not Bench Coach And Caustic Human Being Larry Bowa.
But the area in which Amaro seems to have most excelled is in the return he received for trading away veterans Marlon Byrd, Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon, long-time team leaders Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, and most importantly, ace lefty Cole Hamels. The haul for the first five includes a position player we already have seen in the bigs in non-shortstop-utility man Darnell Sweeney, plus a handful of interesting arms, chief among them AA righthander Zach Eflin who figures to be a middle-to-back end starter. Add to that less-enticing but still interesting starting pitching prospects Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta, and a lefty reliever we may see break camp with the big club in 2016 in Tom Windle, among others, and it’s hard to complain about all the pitching depth Amaro was able to add to the high minors in exchange for this groups of mainly diminished players. (Note – I totally forgot about Ben Revere. Good work there, as well, IMO).
But beyond that, the return for Hamels appears enormous. We may yet witness some or all of the Hamels pieces falter and fade away, but Amaro not only got a starting pitcher who showed great promise in the big leagues in 2015 in Jerad Eickhoff, and a lesser MLB-ready arm in Alec Asher, but three Top 50-type, high-minors talents. These are guys who, if they stay healthy and reach reasonable peaks, could be a first division centerfielder, (Nick Williams), a solid mid-rotation arm, (Jake Thompson), and a star catcher or everyday rightfielder, (Jorge Alfaro, depending on if he can stick behind the plate). Guided by Andy MacPhail and Pat Gillick, Amaro got Texas to do what so many other organizations didn’t seem prepared to do: pony up the prospects for a real ace (plus Jake Diekman) at a reasonable price. I wasn’t sure he had it in him, but he showed us all what he could do, and it looks pretty good.
And so, dear people, I say unto you: Shit on Ruben Amaro no longer. When tasked with starting an orderly rebuild of the only Big Four franchise in town to win a championship in the last 30 years, he handled himself quite well. Shit on Rube no more, my friends. He swabbed the deck and was made to walk the plank anyway. Shit no more on our departed leader.
Shit no more on he.