So this is going to be my last post here. I already said a good bye of sorts a few week ago, so I’ll make this about the team and the GM, and not about me.
As you all likely know, I have been far from an Amaro apologist in the past. The biggest mistake of Amaro’s tenure, and the ultimate downfall of any hope to compete in the 2012-2015 timeframe, has to be the Ryan Howard deal. It was the domino that took down the “whole big thing of dominoes” that was a perennial contender. It seemed at the time like Amaro was hedging against the free agent first base market in the winter of 2011/12, which was set to include Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. So when Pujols contract runs out in 2035 or whatever, and we compare those players’ hindsightedly questionable deals to Howard’s, Amaro may have gotten off lightly. However, he could have done any number of other things to get the same (read:no) production out of first base, and allowed himself a great deal of flexibility (Cody Overbeck at first and Jayson Werth in right, anyone?). Of course, the what ifs and the maybe woulddas are nice now. Who knows what wild deals Amaro would have turned to try to fill the perceived gap Howard left in the middle of the lineup.
I think Amaro also did some potentially substantial damage to the franchise when he unnecessarily traded for Hunter Pence in 2011, the full extent of which we won’t know for several years. I don’t give him much trouble for the Cliff Lee trades. The Indians are finally getting some value out of Carlos Carrasco after getting little to none out of the other three guys. The guys Amaro got back for Lee when he moved them on Halla-day obviously did not pan out, but it’s not like the two headliners were empty uniforms when he got them. That’s the nature of trading present value for the risk of prospects. Also, I don’t believe for a second that Amaro wanted to move Lee. His hand was forced. And getting Halladay for what he did was a steal. Doc was the man and unless Travis D’Arnaud turns into Johnny Bench over the winter, the prospects we gave up were well worth it.
That was then – Amaro in the winning years…what we have now is, out of necessity, a much different Amaro from that. The slow attempt to build upper level talent began in 2012, with the Victorino and (second) Pence trades. Those deals netted centerpieces Tommy Joseph and Ethan Martin, among others. Those two guys have yet to pan out, and they very well may not, having been through difficult injury situations, both – but they represented pretty good value for the contracts he moved, IMO, and there remains a non-zero chance that Ryan O’Sullivan and Seth Rosin could add value to the big club at some point.
As it stands, we see a handful of interesting young pieces up in the bigs right now, in Franco, Asche, Buchanan, Hollands and Giles, in addition to Diekman and DeFratus and bench guys like Hernandez and Galvis. Add in an average regular catcher we hoped Joseph would be and two mid-back-end starters we hoped Biddle and Martin would be, and this club would be looking up already. (FWIW – Martin always seemed like a bullpen piece to me, though him figuring it all out sticking as a 4/5 starter wouldn’t have surprised me a whole lot).
Only problem with that is that every org can go through their upper minors and talk up the what-ifs and the maybe woulddas and look better than they do now. Have the Phillies seen their fair share of bad luck lately? Sure. Is it worse than other orgs? Hard to say without knowing other orgs as well as I know the Phillies. But even if it is worse, I tend to think that’s cyclical, with the luck coming and going, bolstered mainly by the advantages the people on your scouting, development and training staffs give you over your competition.
Either way, over the last two deadlines, Amaro has been a little cautious for my tastes. He probably could have pushed harder on moving Cliff Lee last year, but he didn’t (and I wasn’t super upset about it until Cliff got hurt this year), and 2013 trades brought in little of note, (sorry, Nefi Ogando fans). And Rube’s free agent deals have included too much baggage to make them as easy to move as you’d hope – the no-trade and options in Marlon Byrd’s deal seem to have played some part in keeping him from being moved. However, too much griping there forgets that the return offered, even with the Phils picking up the tab on his option year, may have been underwhelming, leaving no haul at the July deadline for a second straight year. But on the August market, Amaro managed what looks like a very shrewd deal in getting Jesse Valentin and Victor Arano for Roberto Hernandez, so that’s hard to complain about at all.
The draft strategy this year netted the club too many college guys in the first ten rounds to be considered balanced, but the picks themselves were nothing much to complain about. 2011 thru 2014 could all still turn out to be decent drafts. 2011 seems like a winner, with Asche and Giles already in the bigs and Quinn looking like a AA center fielder next year, plus a couple others. 2012 is a little thin, but I still think Dylan Cozens, Zach Green and/or Andrew Pullin could break out, plus I like Drew Anderson. 2013 has Crawford, Knapp and Sandberg as headliners and a few more guys to like. And I’m into the first five guys from 2014, also. As for international, the amateur market has become really interesting since Carlos Tocci four years ago, (and really was a success the year before that where they found Maikel Franco for a reasonable sum). Deivi Grullon seems like a winner, and I really like how Luis Encarnacion handled himself as the youngest pro in the states this year. Plus this year they got a guy named Arquimedes Gamboa, which totally owns.
So I guess I’ll sum up, (and the congregation says “Finally!”). There’s plenty to not like about the last several years of Phillies baseball. Post-season messes and losing seasons and bad contracts and bad trades and the like. Were it not for a historically lucky stretch of health from his veterans this year, this club could have challenged for the worst team in the game. Imagine how poor the team would have been if Utley, Rollins, Ruiz and Byrd had all missed, say, another three weeks a piece due to injury. Or if even one of them was out for half the year. Not good. But as it went, the rube got lucky. Crooked carnival game operators everywhere are scratching their heads.
So, would I fire the General Manager today if I were the Phillies? Yes. I probably would not have hired him in the first place, and certainly would have canned him after 2012, when it became obvious that his plan to keep the team going forward had failed. I don’t think he’s the worst at what he’s doing right now, and he’s managed to not shoot himself in the foot for a while, (unless Trevor May or Lisalverto Bonilla turn out to be aces), but his stated preferences for traditional stats over the modern methods most winning teams employ is not acceptable in the today’s game. Luckily for Amaro, no one who thinks like that seems to be running the show in Philly right now.
The poor roster that he’s sent out for the last three year now has left the club with a glimmer of hope, though, in high draft picks and big international bonus pools. And with a budget that doesn’t seem likely to contract after adding significant new television money, the next big step forward could be some upside out of Kelly Dugan/Aaron Altherr types, a healthy Jesse Biddle, solid debuts from J.P. Crawford, Aaron Nola and whoever comes along with the 10th pick in 2015, and a couple International Pro Free Agents away. So playoff contention in 2016 if all breaks right, 2017 if it’s slower, the division in 2018 and parades in 2019-2028. Seems about right, no?
Ok, that’s it – one last personal note – thanks again to Gregg for taking me on, and thanks again to all of you for your support of my quirky (read:weird) work over the years. It’s been an honor to pass my knowledge, such as it is, to all of you, and to continue to learn about the minors and development and the draft and everything else from all of you who comment. I hope you all will keep reading my work at Crashburn Alley, and maybe say hello in the comments once in a while so I know you’re still with me. Best of luck to Gregg and Jim and Victor and whoever else contributes in the future.