Most of the site's writers and readers are not fans of the Phillies' General Manager Ruben Amaro, and the way he has handled the team. The dislike seems to come because the Phillies have taken a mostly non-sabermetric approach towards the construction of the team.
They seem to hold Amaro responsible for the Phillies falling from a championship contender to a team that some people think will be lucky to finish in 4th place in the National League East in 2012.
First off, it seems a bit premature to write off the Phillies. They finished at .500 in a 2012 season that saw them suffer quite a few injuries. It isn't a huge stretch to think of them as at least contenders for a playoff spot in 2013.
And considering the success that the team has had under Amaro, to declare him "a complete failure" is absurd. While some of the success can be attributed to his predecessors Pat Gillick and Ed Wade, Amaro has done more than his fair share as well.
I am not going to claim that Amaro has been flawless. He's made some moves which I have disagreed with, and that in hindsight, look like mistakes.
But I will defend Amaro by saying this:
He took over the team immediately following the championship season of 2008. He identified that the core of the team was capable of winning a championship. (A sound assumption since they had just won the World Series) He recognized that the core would only have a limited window, so he would have to do his best to maximize the team's chances of winning within that window.
Obviously, his efforts have fallen short, but it is hard to argue that in any given season from 2009-2011 he didn't make moves which would presumably increase the team's chances of winning the World Series that season.
The pessimism heading into 2013 is because the Phillies have an expensive roster of players who mostly appear to be on the downsides of their careers. Worse, the minor league system doesn't appear to be flush with talent ready to replace them.
According to many readers and contributors at Crashburn Alley, this was all due to Amaro's missteps.
Some claim that the Phillies' underwhelming moves this offseason were due to the team not having enough money to spend on more expensive free agents.
I am amazed at how many people in the blogosphere seem to have inside knowledge regarding the Phillies moves. For example, they seem to know for a fact that the reason the team didn't sign BJ Upton or any of the other expensive free agents was because their payroll was already too high.
For instance, most saberfans think that closer Jonathan Papelbon was overpaid in the 2012 offseason since according to sabermetric principles, a relief pitcher can't affect a team's fortunes all that much.
I will counter with my best guess as to how Amaro approached the signing:
Amaro assumed that the Phillies rotation would match their sterling performance of 2011. This would mean that the starters would regularly be providing seven or eight quality innings.
Perhaps it was foolish to assume that the starters would be as good as they were in 2011, but when you have as much money invested in starting pitching, that's the assumption you have to make.
Based on this assumption, it became extremely important for the team to have a solid option in the ninth inning, (to finish off all those strong starts) but not as important to have many other reliable relievers (because there wouldn't be too many relief innings to go around).
Therefore, Amaro paid top dollar to get the best, most reliable ninth inning option he could get, and tried to use cheaper options for the rest of the bullpen.
Did Amaro overpay for Papelbon? It looks that way, since Papelbon did receive a much larger contract than any other free agent reliever, but perhaps that was because he was the best option available.
Some people have a naive belief that all a team has to do is offer a player a contract and that player will sign with them. That's not how the free market works. If another team was also pursuing Papelbon, maybe Amaro felt the only way to sign him was to "overpay."
Aside from the payroll, the other main criticism of Amaro is that he has ruined the Phillies future by trading many of the team's minor league prospects for veterans over the past few seasons.
Here's a comment from Crashburn Alley which implies that Amaro's trades were shortsighted:
There was absolutely no need to "win now" because a smart team with lots of assets, both financial and talent-wise, can sustain their success nearly indefinitely.
Trading players to put you over the top for some near-term goal is the act that actually creates the window you're talking about! Read this: http://www.thegoodphight.com/2011/7/27/2299271/the-window-isnt-closing-unless-you-want-it-to-close
This comment and the linked article make one very foolish assumption: That you can depend on prospects to develop into major league contributors.
Some people seem to think that success in baseball is a simple three step process:
- Call up minor league prospects
- Have them play well in the majors
For a good example, look at the Oakland A's under Billy Beane. The famed General Manager's teams experienced success in the early 2000s thanks to a core of star players like Jason Giambi, Barry Zito, and Tim Hudson. All of these players were eventually deemed too expensive, so they were either traded away or allowed to leave as free agents.
In return, the A's received several highly touted prospects and were the beneficiaries of many high draft picks. Yet, the team went five years without a winning record.
The main reason why? Because the players they developed or called up turned out to be inferior to the players who left.
Prospects might be the biggest uncertainty in sports. Even the most heralded prospects might not pan out in the big leagues.
Just look at Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg. He might be the most "sure thing" prospect ever, and yet he's already missed a season due to injury, with the team scared to death of him suffering another.
|Even Stephen Strasburg wasn't guaranteed to be successful|
If you're going to take risks, I'd rather take risks on established players.
In 2009, the Phillies had two top prospects in their system named Kyle Drabek and Travis d'Arnaud. They were both traded away for Roy Halladay. While Drabek and d'Arnaud may some day develop into major league stars, it wasn't too much of a stretch to say that Halladay gave the team a better shot to win the World Series over the next few seasons.
Considering the Phillies went 28 years between developing championship caliber cores, why are people so sure that they can easily develop another one? Maybe some of the prospects he traded away might become stars one day. But at the time, Amaro felt like the Phillies needed an extra piece to win the World Series.
I'll say that it takes a lot less time to rebuild a pool of minor league prospects than it does to build a core of major league talent capable of winning.
In 2008, the Phillies were rumored to want to make a trade for pitcher CC Sabathia. But they simply didn't have enough valued prospects in their system to make it happen. Yet over the next couple of seasons, they had some minor leaguers develop to the point where they could trade for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt.
Some may counter that the postseason is a "crap shoot" and the Phillies shouldn't have made those moves since they only minimally improved the team's chances of winning a World Series.
As a fan, I much prefer the "All in" approach rather than the "Let's just give ourselves a chance and hope things break our way" mindset Did the moves pay off? Obviously not, since the Phillies have fallen short, but I can't say that management didn't make an effort to win.
Maybe the Phillies are truly finished as contenders. If that is true, was there any way to avoid that fate?
The Phillies conceivably could have let some of their now expensive players leave as free agents or traded some veterans for prospects. But considering the Phillies were championship contenders and were being supported by a rabid fan base who was selling out the stadium every night, was this truly an option?
There's a reason that teams don't regularly experience the kind of sustained success the Phillies have recently enjoyed. Inevitably, the star players who fuel such success either become too old or too expensive. Unless you have a truly great farm system that keeps providing the team with new top talent, the run will have to end at some point.
If the Phillies' championship window is truly closed, then instead of lambasting Amaro for his failure to magically sustain it, we should applaud him for doing his best to maximize the team's chances while the window was open.