Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In Defense Of: Ruben Amaro - Part Two

As expected, many saberfans did not enjoy my defense of Ruben Amaro.

Sadly, I think many of them saw the name of the blog, got their hackles up, and were simply determined to hate anything I had written.

So I thought: How can I make the blog more accessible for them?    How can I show them that I'm not just full of anti-sabermetric hate?  How can I show them that I actually hear and value their opinions?

The answer came to me: I need to bring in a lovable character from pop culture to help me out!

Fans of the book The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy will be thrilled when I introduce today's special guest.  He's short.  He's shiny.  He talks like Hans Gruber.  He's Marvin the Paranoid Android!


Much like many saberfans who follow the Phillies, Marvin is pessimistic about this year's team.  (Although to be fair, Marvin is pessimistic about everything)  And much like many saberfans, Marvin behaves like a robot.  He can analyze numbers and statistics with precision, but sometimes he has some trouble understanding how to put those numbers in the right perspective.

It may have been unfair to saberfans when I didn't give them a voice in part one.  So this time around, Marvin will serve as their spokesperson.

Thanks for joining us, Marvin!

Marvin: I wish I could say that it's a pleasure being here.  But it isn't.  It isn't a pleasure being anywhere.

Cutter: Well, thanks regardless.  Let's get started.  What's your first complaint about Amaro?

Marvin: He's overpaid for players and now the Phillies have no money left to improve the team.

Cutter: Overpaid is a funny word to use.  If you're just making your judgements based on some sort of dollars-to-WAR scale, then I'm sure the Phillies have overpaid.

While it is great to have money available, it's even better to spend that money on good players.

I get the impression that some Phillies fans would prefer that the team act like a small-market team who has to try and find market inequities so that they can outsmart the big boys.  They seem to think that it would somehow be more fun if the Phillies were made up of a bunch of Ben Zobrist types who have been unappreciated by the market, but are super valuable according to WAR.

I think it's more fun that our GM can say, "We need a reliever.  Who's the best one on the market?  Papelbon?  I'll take it!"

Finances in baseball aren't equal.  A Papelbon might not be a wise signing for most teams, but for a team in the Phillies' position, it does make sense.

If Ruben wants a Papelbon, then Ruben shall get a Papelbon!

Marvin: I thought you weren't going to use negative stereotypes regarding saberfans?

Cutter: You're right.  That was probably a bit of an exaggeration.

So why are you under the impression that the Phillies have been financially restrained?

Marvin: Amaro didn't make any moves to improve the team this offseason.  He didn't sign one of the free agent outfielders who were available.

Cutter: But wasn't the consensus that just about every free agent outfielder got "overpaid" this offseason?  You're criticizing Amaro for overpaying players...because it prevented him from overpaying other players?

Remember all the panic last season that the Phillies wouldn't be able to re-sign Cole Hamels?  Well, they re-signed Cole Hamels.

Still a Phillie

Marvin: Even that was a bad move.  Had they signed him earlier, they could have gotten him cheaper.  Players get more expensive the closer they get to free agency.

Cutter: That's usually true.  But there's no indication that Hamels would have signed any earlier than he did.

Some players sign early extensions because they're very comfortable in their situation and they'd rather have immediate financial security. Other players would rather take the risk that they'll stay healthy and productive and be able to make more on the open market.

I'm sure that at some point, Amaro did indeed say something to Hamels' agent along the lines of, "Here's what we think you're worth.  Please sign this contract."

Hamels' agent probably responded, "That's sweet and all, but if Cole becomes a free agent, some team is going to offer him more money than that."

So what's your next complaint?

Marvin: The Phillies are an old team because Amaro let them get old.

Cutter: The Phillies are indeed an old team.  But that's mostly because they've had a very good team for a few years, and now that core has gotten older.

But could that have been avoided?

When you've got a team in contention, is that the time to start rebuilding?  Was he supposed to break up a 102 win team after the 2011 season?

Championship quality cores don't come around all that often.  Amaro needed to do all he could to help that core to win another championship.

Besides, being an old team doesn't necessarily keep a team from being good.

Marvin: But he seems to go out of his way to make the team older.  All of the players he's picked up over the years have been older like Raul Ibanez and Placido Polanco.

Cutter: Once again, when you've got a championship level core, would you rather add younger, unproven players, or proven veterans? 

It would be nice if the Phillies had picked up some young stars who were about to enter their primes, but those players aren't readily available, especially if they're really only supporting pieces to the core of the team.

I don't recall the other available options, but I don't think there were any 28 year old All-Star outfielders on the free agent market.

Speaking of 28 year old All-Star outfielders, want to talk about Hunter Pence?

Many saberfans regard the Pence trade as a bad idea

Marvin: Ugh, yes.  What a horrible trade. Amaro traded some top prospects for one year of a player who would be only a marginal upgrade.

Cutter: Let's re-visit the 2011 trade deadline.  The Phillies were essentially a lock to make the playoffs.  However, the lineup was still a slight question mark.

In the 2009 and 2010 playoffs, the team's fatal flaw was probably it's vulnerability against left handed relievers.  Opposing managers used lefty specialists to great effect against the Phillies hitters.

Pence was an attempt to correct that flaw.  He was a 28 year old right handed hitter in the midst of an All-Star season  Was he overachieving that season?  Probably.  Was he the best available option to improve the Phillies' chances of winning the World Series?  I think so.

And here's the part that people seem to forget: Pence wasn't supposed to be a one-year player.  Part of the reason Amaro wanted him was because he was under team control through the 2013 season.

Did they trade away a top prospect in Jonathan Singleton?  Yes, but keep in mind that Singleton is a first baseman, and the Phillies have a guy signed long-term at that position.  (No matter how you feel about the Howard contract, that was the reality at the time of the trade)

Personally, I thought it was a bad move to trade him away last year, as he would have been a solid part of the lineup this season.  But maybe Amaro felt like a top catching prospect (Tommy Joseph) was too much too pass up.

Marvin: If they hadn't traded for Pence, they would have been able to trade for Justin Upton this offseason.

Cutter: That's probably true.  But trading for Justin Upton now wouldn't have helped them win the World Series in 2011.  (And yes, I know that they didn't.  But as I've said, I think the trade for Pence helped their chances)

Marvin: It was just one example of Amaro's insistence on destroying the team's farm system.

Cutter: No, it was an example of Amaro using those prospects as ways to help his current team.

Marvin: But then you have nothing left for tomorrow.  This is the reason that teams have "championship windows."  Doing things like trading away prospects causes those windows to close.

Cutter: I'll ask again: Which would you rather take a chance on?  Adding a piece to a championship caliber team or a bunch of prospects who might never pan out?

Every team has a window.  The only way to truly extend it is to have the minor leagues develop players as good as the ones who have gotten old or departed.

Marvin: Yes, and Amaro hasn't done that.

Cutter:  That is indeed an issue.  It certainly doesn't look like the Phillies are producing new talent that can capably replace the aging core.  Part of that is because they Phillies have given up both draft picks and prospects in an attempt to "win now." 

You should remember that the draft system is designed to promote parity.  It's much easier for losing teams to build a good farm system.

Losing teams get better draft position.  Losing teams can trade away players for prospects or obtain extra draft picks when their players leave as free agents. 

The Phillies have been in the opposite situation and it has hurt them.

Marvin: It doesn't matter why the minor league system is weak.  You admitted that it is, and therefore, there's no chance to rebuild, and therefore there's no hope for the future.

Cutter: Why are you acting like Amaro has failed at a rebuilding process that hasn't really begun?

The way I see it: The core of this team has one more chance in 2013. If they fail, then veterans like Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, and maybe even Carlos Ruiz are likely gone.  They'll then have plenty of money to spend to build around the remaining core.

And even though the farm system looks a little weak right now, as I mentioned in part one, that can turn around in a hurry. If Dom Brown pans out, and if prospects like Jessie Biddle and Tommy Joseph continue to develop, then all of a sudden, the Phillies farm system looks pretty good.

Marvin: Dom Brown?  He's not going to pan out because the Phillies signed Delmon Young, and Young is going to take all of Brown's playing time without providing any value.

Cutter: Why are you so upset about Delmon Young?  Young is signed to a one-year contract for less than a million.

He also was once a top prospect and minor league player of the year (What was I saying about prospects not always panning out?) who is still young enough that he might fulfill his potential given a second chance. If not, then the Phillies can easily part ways with him.

Not worth the angst

Marvin: I doubt that. Amaro and Charlie Manuel will always favor veterans. Just look at Chad Qualls last year.

Cutter: Always? How many games did Luis Castillo or Dontrelle Willis play for the Phillies?

As for Chad Qualls, he wasn't blocking anyone's progress. He was pitching because Antonio Bastardo was inconsistent, and guys like Michael Stutes and Justin DeFratus got hurt.

If Dom Brown (and Darin Ruf as well) prove more worthy of playing time than Delmon Young, then they'll likely receive it.

I don't think that the Phillies success hinges on Delmon Young.  And it certainly doesn't hinge on Yuniesky Betancourt, another low risk singing Amaro made this offseason.

This year's team will depend on their expensive players playing up to their capabilities. If Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee all play well, then I think the Phillies make the playoffs.

Marvin: Your optimism depresses me.

Cutter: I know.  It does the same to me sometimes.  But thanks for coming here, Marvin.  I had fun!

Marvin: That makes one of us.

I'll conclude by saying this:

Am I making guesses and assumptions regarding Amaro's motivations and thought processes.  Yes, but I think that's no different than what most of his critics have done.  I think that if you like Amaro, then you'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the best.  If you hate Amaro, you'll do the opposite.

We can speculate over which moves were the right ones, but all we know for sure is the results. And despite what some Amaro critics might have you believe, Amaro has gotten results.

The team improved its record every year from 2009-2011, and in each of those seasons, Amaro made moves which increased the team's chances of winning the World Series.

Did those moves all work out?  Obviously not, since the team didn't win the World Series.  But there's a difference between a bad move and a good move that didn't work out.

I feel the 2012 Phillies missed the playoffs because Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley suffered injuries that caused them to miss time and be less effective.  I feel they also had some veterans suffer disappointing seasons.

I am optimistic that given good health (Which I know is certainly no guarantee for an older team), the Phillies will rebound in 2013.

If the Phillies fail, then I think that Amaro needs to concentrate his efforts towards rebuilding.  But he should certainly be given a chance to do that.

My point is this: Until the Phillies actually encounter failure under Amaro, I don't see any way that you can declare him to be a failure as general manager.

A failure?  No.


  1. I'm interested to read the rest of this post (I need to leave work soon), but one thing you could do to not immediately have "saberfans" put their guards up is change the name of the blog. Or, do you hate every statistic that exists? If you really want to respond to me, I might be more likely to see your response on crashburn or you can always email me scottgrahamcm@yahoo.com

  2. I certainly don't hate every stat that exists. I actually like using statistical analysis.

    What I hate is when people want to push a narrative, and think that because they've found a statistic that backs it up, that they are more correct than opposing opinions.

    And yes, the name is obviously a bit inflammatory. Yet, it is much catchier and workable than "Sabermetrics are Fine Within Reason" or something along those lines.

  3. Wow Marvin is a bit of a knob.

    Ultimately I think Amaro is going to be judged on whether or not the Phils are a playoff team/WS winner on his watch. So if he does what saberfans want him to do, gets fired when the team doesn't succeed with the unlimited budget he's been given, THEN they win in 5 years, it doesn't help him at all. (And of course he doesn't get a ring if they indeed win a WS with said prospects years after his firing.)

    When you are a big market like NY/Philadelphia/LA/etc, you don't go through long rebuilding processes, you reload. (Look at how easily the Yankees do it, yes they do have a good farm system but the name of the game is buying the best players available to help the Yanx keep on winning.)

    You take a chance and win, you're a genius, you take a chance and lose, you're a jackass. It's the nature of sport, not something you can just program into a computer and have 100% certainty. Saberfans need to actually play in a beer league or watch a game live once in a while instead of in playthrough mode on Playstation.

    1. Agreed about the reloading. The next offseason will be very interesting, as the Phillies will have quite a bit of money available to spend.