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).

View image | gettyimages.com – Look At That Handsome Young Man

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.

Grade: A

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38 comments

  1. Michael C Lorah

    November 13, 2015 08:07 AM

    Actually, I agree with this assessment. The Hamels trade gets the bulk of the goodwill, but the bullpen pick-ups and Odubel show a good sense of talent judgment and talent acquisition.

    Even his bad seasons, I understood his general intent. I thought he was given a deck that was stacked to lose (winning team with barren farm system – where is there to go but down as your players age?). The Howard contract was/is bad. Trading Lee to Seattle was terrible – right idea given the farm system’s depletion, but he didn’t shop Cliff around and maximize the return. His media skills were poor. Yes, there were moves he could’ve made to start the rebuild sooner, but we’ll never know how much control he had of those decisions.

    But I didn’t fault him for the Michael/Delmon Young stuff too much (“I value production, not walks” was pretty much indefensible though), because it was obvious that the core was aging and, without any minor league talent ready to rise to the occasion, Amaro was smartly trying to complement the core without getting tied into another long-term contract with an aging, breaking-down veteran. He rolled the dice that we might get a bounceback from Michael Young or a breakout from Delmon. He missed.

    His tenure still goes down as an overall negative on the results of it, but I honestly think 98% of the GMs in baseball would’ve wound up in the same place, a season sooner or a season later, maybe only 90 losses instead of 99, but the Phillies just didn’t have the farm system to keep it rolling.

    • Brad Engler

      November 13, 2015 08:12 AM

      To your point about other GMs winding up in the same place – I chose to ignore the Hunter Pence trade because the players on the other end have not panned out, (at least not yet), but I wonder what a better GM would have done differently with that group of kids – maybe there was a more creative way to package them to push the team ahead sooner. We’ll never know.

      • Michael C Lorah

        November 13, 2015 08:22 AM

        They haven’t panned out, but I still hated the Pence trade. As you note and I agree, those players might’ve gotten a better, more diverse package. And if not for Pence, I’ve always felt the Dom Brown issue would have been resolved two or three seasons earlier than it was.

        Amaro’s trades remind me of another reason the team fell so far, so fast. Two of the his moves that we all loved – acquiring Halladay and re(acquiring) Lee started strong, but ended with career-ending injuries. You can argue that injuries are always a risk with pitchers in their 30s, but what are the odds of two of the best pitchers of their generation both going down permanently in such short order. Right now, I wish the Phillies still had Carlos Carrasco and Travis D’Arnaud, but keeping them would’ve meant maybe missing the playoffs in 2009-2011 and missing out on all the great memories that Halladay and Lee brought.

  2. Bob

    November 13, 2015 08:29 AM

    He earned an “F” grade. This was one of the worst Phillies teams I can remember since the 1990s. The team was almost unwatchable at points in the season. The starting rotation was one of the worst in baseball. We had no answer or depth at catcher, first base, second base, shortstop, LF and RF. That’s 7 out of 9 positions. He picked Sandberg as manager. When you’re team is the worst in baseball unintentionally, you messed up real bad. The Phillies will likely be one of, if not the, worst in baseball next year too. That’s supreme mismanagement.

    • Brad Engler

      November 13, 2015 09:50 AM

      If Amaro had been fired the same time last year as this, and Matt Klentak had made all of the same moves, what grade would you have given him? That’s what we’re talking about. If another club in a similar situation was looking for a “fixer”, do you not think they would consider Amaro a viable solution (likely in an advisory role) to help them get as much as he got from last offseason to this? He did well from Fall 2014-Sep 2015, and if you can’t concede that, then you’re clearly biased against him for his prior actions. I won’t begrudge you that bias…he earned it, but I can’t agree that his 2015 was anything but a success.

      • Bob

        November 13, 2015 11:48 AM

        Last year’s team was terrible. It’s the GMs responsibility to field a competent team or at least develop players. I’ll give you Nola, Eickoff, Giles, Franco looked good in a small sample size. But the rest of the team was not competent and did not show signs of improvement.

        (1) Ryan Howard was bad.
        (2) Utley was bad.
        (3) Ruiz was bad.
        (4) Sizemore was bad.
        (5) Francouer was bad.
        (6) Brown was bad.
        (7) O’Sullivan was bad.
        (8) Williams was bad
        (9) Harang was bad.
        (10). Billingsley was bad.
        (11) Couldn’t get a top prospect for Hamels.
        (12) Wouldn’t have been able to trade anyone unless ownership ate half the money on contracts essentially giving away players.
        (13) De Fratus was bad
        (14) Asche was bad
        (15) Ruf was bad
        (16) McGowan was bad
        (17) Asher was bad
        (18) Traded HOF closer for org depth and had to eat money
        (19) Correia was bad
        (20) Buchanan was bad
        (21) De Fratus was bad
        (22) Sandberg was bad
        (23) Galvis is not a starter
        (24) Aumont was bad
        (25) Rupp was bad
        (26) Kratz was bad
        (27) Loewen was bad
        (28) Diekman was bad
        (29) Sweeney was bad

      • Brad Engler

        November 13, 2015 12:03 PM

        Bob, do you want him to field a better team out of thin air? There are 29 other clubs fighting for free agents. This club was not going to be good. NO WAY WAS THIS CLUB EVER GOING TO BE GOOD. So what did you want him to do? Trade prospects to make the 2015 team win 10 more games? Come on.

      • 100Bucks

        November 13, 2015 12:20 PM

        Bob’s list alone is worth a +1

      • Bob

        November 13, 2015 01:00 PM

        ARE WE GOING TO MAKE CERTAIN POINTS IN ALL CAPS NOW BECAUSE WE CAN NO LONGER HAVE CIVIL DISCOURSE.

        I wanted RAJ to release Howard. I didn’t want him to sign Williams and Sizemore so early in FA before exploring the market. I wanted him to find at least one competent FA pitcher who could make it through six innings. I didn’t want him to sign or play Francouer or vets at the expense of players with a higher upside like Altherr. I wanted him to get creative and try and make some interesting moves kind of like how Klentak is feeling out the market for Giles. I didn’t want him to make smug remarks when this team was so bad. I wanted him to sign some MLB-ready international talent. I didn’t want to be told that Asche and Galvis were anything more than low-end depth. Instead, I got spoon-fed how much they’d develop this year given the chance. I wanted him to be more active in minor league FA to bolster depth at positions of need. There are many ways that he could have incrementally improved the ball club more than what we have now – the worst team in baseball – with another dreadful season on the horizon.

      • Brad Engler

        November 13, 2015 02:40 PM

        Hey Bob, wasn’t yelling. I don’t believe in that caps = yelling bit. If that’s how you took, it I apologize. I was stressing the point. That’s all.

  3. 100Bucks

    November 13, 2015 08:31 AM

    I think if we are grading Ruben on the past 12 months we have to give him an A. He showed real strength in hanging in there and getting the best deals he could for Hamels and Utley.
    Grading his tenure is different. I think anyone can offer more money than any other team for a player’s services and that is what RAJ excelled at. So, I give him a low grade for his tenure because I think he did a poor job of maintaining a winner. If St. Louis could let Pujols go, (Pujols!!) in the middle of multiple title runs, we could have let Howard go. Imagine the possibilities.

    • Michael C Lorah

      November 13, 2015 09:14 AM

      Unfortunately, I imagine him going after Pujols and being locked in for even longer (though Albert has remained at least a useful player if not a great one).

      No GM would ever have been bold enough to do what I wanted in 2010 – trade Ryan Howard while his value was still very, very high for 2-3 strong close-to-ready prospects. Imagine the backlash – particularly if those prospects didn’t pan out!

    • Bob

      November 13, 2015 09:47 AM

      This revisionist history on the Hamels deal is troubling. The large majority of fans demanded that either Hamels be kept or that we get the top prospects from whichever organization he was dealt to. Anything other than the best prospects from the other team for Hamels was considered a failure.

      The Phillies did not get the top prospects from the Rangers. We did not get Gallo or Mazara. It’s intellectually and logically dishonest to demand the top prospects or bust, not get them, and then laud the trade as a windfall.

      • Brad Engler

        November 13, 2015 12:00 PM

        Bob, are we looking to the majority of fans to decide on the parameters of an acceptable trade? The problem with some clubs “best prospects” was they had so few “good prospects” beyond that lumping them together got you a bland deal. Without any of the three big pieces from Texas, or even supplementing one of them with someone else from their group between #5-Eickhoff, could have turned the deal south in my mind. But not getting either Gallo or Mazara isn’t the same as not getting Urias, Seager or De Leon from LAD. LAD’s second tier of prospects was not nearly as good as Texas’ was, IMO. No three of the rest of their top guys would come close to the value you got from the three guys from Texas. You could have made a comparable deal with Boston, though. After their top tier Swihart/Betts/Moncada were considered off the table, if Boston had given up Margot, Devers, and Johnson, and added maybe like a Sam Travis to replace the approximate value of Eickhoff, I personally would have been totally fine with that deal.

      • 100Bucks

        November 13, 2015 12:22 PM

        Its not revisionist for me. I think the Phillies got what the market would give and in total I like the players we got.

      • Timber

        November 13, 2015 12:36 PM

        The Phillies ended up with three top 100 prospects, each with an argument for top 50, and a pitcher who has already had early MLB success. For all the hype on Gallo, he’s running MiLB/MLB strikeout rates close 40% that make Adam Dunn look like a contact hitter.

        They spread the risk (and the potential reward) across a number of really good (and close to major league ready) prospects instead of one elite prospect and some chump change. If one of those players turns into a regular 3-4 WAR player, it was a good trade. If we get any more than that, it becomes a massive win.

      • Bob

        November 13, 2015 01:07 PM

        How many times did RAJ say that the other teams were being stingy with their top prospects and that other teams were over-valuing the worth of their top prospects? The fans fell in line with RAJ’s, and Gillick’s for that matter, complete misapprehension of the market.

        I’m not saying Brad or Timber are guilty of this but there was a large, vocal majority who shouted down anything other than Swihart, Betts, Seagar, or Urias saying that the proper value of Hamels was an org’s top prospects. For these same people to now come back and say that the return RAJ got from the Rangers – which didn’t include the Rangers top prospects – was a shrewd move is puzzling.

      • Bary Onyx

        November 13, 2015 01:10 PM

        Unless the trade is successful Bob. I personally would take any team’s 3,4 and 5 over their 1 (well, not ANY team). The point is you’re more likely to get a useful player (or two) out of a deal that nets you a 3, 4 and 5 than a 1. We all need to remember something, something that none of us want to hear, these rankings are meaningless. Sure there’s a difference between a 1 and a 20. But there’s not really much of a difference between 1 and 3. In fact, the 1 may be overvalued simply because he’s been ranked #1 by some sports writers. Sports writers who can no more predict the future abilities of a player than you or I can. The trick to getting prospects is not quality or quantity, it’s quantity OF quality. And that goes to what I said above, I’d take MOST teams (I am assuming there are one or two teams out there with a steep drop off in talent after their #1 prospect, Texas NOT being one of them) #s 3, 4, and 5 over their #1.

  4. ...

    November 13, 2015 08:31 AM

    That’s if you believe Rube was pulling all the levers at the end. Yes, MacPhail and Gillick have said he negotiated everything himself, but this is the organization that values loyalty above all else, and they went out of their way to ensure RAJ had a soft landing when it came time to move on. It’s possible he was in charge throughout all of this, but I find it hard to believe with two former GMs standing over his shoulder, that he was left alone to begin a rebuild that everyone knew he wouldn’t be around to see the end of. There’s just no way.

    • ...

      November 13, 2015 08:40 AM

      Addendum: Since there’s no way to know for sure what Rube’s actual contributions were, I think it would be more appropriate to grade the Phillies FO as a whole.

    • Brad Engler

      November 13, 2015 09:46 AM

      He was the man on the phone, piecing it all together, from what we’ve been told, and I personally don’t doubt that. I agree that it would be silly to assume he did anything without direct consultation from Pat or Andy or both, but I don’t think either of them was on the phone convincing Jon Daniels that this was a good package for him.

      • ...

        November 13, 2015 11:17 AM

        I just don’t buy into this narrative of Ruben Amaro suddenly morphing into a competent GM in his last year when there exists a six-year history of habitual mismanagement. The man did not suddenly see the light, and he certainly did not acquit himself of his wrongs.

      • Brad Engler

        November 13, 2015 12:05 PM

        @… – he was playing a totally different role this year with different direction from above. I am more and more willing to blame Monty for the sins of Amaro’s past as we see what new ownership is willing to do to move the club forward. Amaro worked well within the parameters he was given this year.

      • Bary Onyx

        November 13, 2015 01:20 PM

        There was a distinct change in the FO strategy this past year relative to the previous years and that begs the question, “what changed?”. Yes MacPhail joined the group and it would be naive to think he would have NO imput. But also likely incorrect to think he was running the show. Gillick has always been there. Amaro, again same guy. What changed?

        By all accounts Dave Montgomery is a hell of a nice guy, and I certainly don’t mean to disparage a cancer survivor. But, as the rumors say, it was his policy to not trade the “core players” and that, more than anything else, is what set back the Phillies rebuild. A rebuild that would have been needed regardless of who was in charge given the age of the players Amaro inherited and the apparent lack of talent in what was called a deep farm system (none of those guys have done anything yet). I wish nothing but the best of health for Dave Montgomery, as he sits on his couch and watches Phillies games with as much FO influence as I do. Cheers Dave.

      • ...

        November 13, 2015 01:56 PM

        Brad, he routinely scoffed at advanced analytics throughout most of his tenure. Do you really believe he was doing this at the direction of David Montgomery? How about the scouting department? Was David Montgomery telling Amaro and Wolever how they should be drafting? Year after year, RAJ was perfectly fine making scapegoats out of the coaching staff but kept going to bat for Marti Wolever despite a string of historically awful drafts. You’re defending a guy who doesn’t know the difference between at-bats and plate appearances…

      • Brad Engler

        November 13, 2015 03:00 PM

        Fair enough points on Amaro, especially wrt analytics. He really missed the boat there and it harmed the franchise. I do tend to believe that Gillick and Monty were involved in the decision to avoid analytics in favor of scouting (and loyalty to their scouts, perhaps), but I don’t doubt that Amaro was with them.

      • ...

        November 13, 2015 03:51 PM

        IMO, I think it’s telling how he seems to think he’ll be more at-home coaching than working in a modern front office in some capacity. Yes, managers do look at the numbers, but the old school approach to baseball is still strong on the field.

      • Brad Engler

        November 13, 2015 04:35 PM

        True. For the former players out there in front office roles it can probably be hard if they don’t fall in line with anayltics, especially when it seems obvious it’s going to take a special case to ever see a player hired as a GM in this era.

  5. TommyDigital

    November 13, 2015 09:30 AM

    Raj was terrible. I couldn’t believe it when he gave up that big lead against STL. And why would he sign two of the best pitchers in baseball and then tell Manuel to have them pitch 100+ pitch games early in the year with 10 run leads so they don’t fulfill their contracts. Also, why tell Hamels to have a bad year after the WS title? Doesn’t make sense.

    • Brad Engler

      November 13, 2015 09:42 AM

      I personally can’t believe all the damage Amaro did to Chase Utley’s knees. What a jerk!

      • TommyDigital

        November 13, 2015 10:04 AM

        Also can’t forget how he took one of the best hitters in the game and blew up his Achilies

      • Brad Engler

        November 13, 2015 10:49 AM

        Best Hitters is a little strong, but I take your point. He SHOULD NOT have hurt his stars.

  6. Romus

    November 13, 2015 09:34 AM

    Good grade for the one year, and the last year of his tenure as GM.
    In hindsight, hiring a young analytic asst in ’09 after the Yankee defeat,, to go along with the Lamarrs, then Scott Proefrocks may have help Ruben avoid the pitfalls that awaited him.
    But that is 20/20 hindsight now.

  7. Timber

    November 13, 2015 09:58 AM

    You forgot to include the trade of Ben Revere for two live arms, Jimmy Cordero and Alberto Tirado. Or was the loss of Benny’s smile just too difficult to put into print?

    • Brad Engler

      November 13, 2015 10:50 AM

      Ha, I totally spaced on Revere after having all those wonderful things to say about him last week.

  8. TommyDigital

    November 13, 2015 12:13 PM

    Pretty simple…phils rebuild and a few years from now we’re arguing that the next GM stinks and that he’s winning with the guys Amaro got/drafted. Ed wade all over.

    • Brad Engler

      November 13, 2015 12:23 PM

      This is entirely plausible.

  9. GB

    November 13, 2015 01:17 PM

    I think most of the credit goes to Gillick and MacPhail who did a lot more during his “learning” period than sit around the clubhouse. Moving Monty out and shifting Giles to emeritus status allowed for the full emergence of Middleton and younger Buck brothers. These moves clearly put Gillick in control as the new President and Amaro on watch as GM. Gillick had final say and Amaro had to clear things with him (and then MacPhail as well) before anything was done. Amaro is a proven terrible GM and will likely never get another GM gig in the ML nor should he. The Phillies finally realized their management and ownership leadership was totally broken and have replaced them all. That is why we’ve seen the changes we have – Amaro played along to play out his string which is fine, but there was no way he was staying and thank god for that.

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