Ruben Amaro, Jr. has earned a stellar reputation as the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Since taking over for Pat Gillick in 2009, Amaro has guided the Phillies to three consecutive NL East division titles as well as a World Series appearance in ’09. Along the way, Amaro has made his mark for acquiring the big name player.
He traded for Cliff Lee midway through the 2009 season, then signed him again in the offseason following 2010, stealing him away from the New York Yankees. He traded for the game’s best pitcher in Roy Halladay, acquired Roy Oswalt from the Houston Astros in ’10, and then Hunter Pence the next year.
But he will be facing his toughest test ever in the ensuing months, and this could make or break his tenure as the GM.
The Phillies lost again tonight, dropping a 6-3 decision to the Atlanta Braves. It was the Phillies’ ninth loss in 10 games, and it leaves them at a dismal 37-49, a full 14.5 games back of the Washington Nationals in the division race and nearly double-digit games behind in the wild card race.
The Phillies have dealt with more than their fair share of injuries this year, as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley missed nearly all of the first half of the season, and Halladay will miss at least six to eight weeks by the time he returns. Lee has been sidelined, and relievers Michael Stutes, David Herndon, and Jose Contreras – all of whom were expected to be mainstays in the bullpen – have logged just a combined 32 innings pitched so far this season.
Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino will be hitting free agency after the season, and how Amaro handles the Hamels situation will speak volumes about his abilities as a GM. He could sign Hamels long-term during the season or wait until after the season to do it. Then again, he could also ship Hamels to a team in the hunt for a slew of young prospects. And he could even trade Hamels and then try to get him back after the season.
Victorino could also be traded, and while he won’t bring in nearly what Hamels will demand, he should get at least $50 million in free agency considering he’s a five-tool outfielder, although in the midst of a subpar season.
When the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, they had Howard and Utley in their primes, and Brad Lidge in the midst of a memorable season. But they also benefited greatly from some of Gillick’s minor moves.
He traded for Joe Blanton right before the All-Star break, and Blanton went 4-0 in 13 starts, even hitting a home run in his World Series start. Matt Stairs was arguably the game’s best pinch-hitter, and he etched his name into Philly lore with his mammoth blast off of Jonathan Broxton in the NLCS.
This year, the Phillies need serious bullpen help, as the unit has a 4.85 ERA, a number that ranks second-worst in all of the major leagues. The Phillies have given up at least five earned runs in 39 games this year, more times than all but two teams in the game.
When the Phillies won the World Series in ’08, they had a 3.22 bullpen ERA that ranked second in the game and first in the National League. That figure jumped to 3.91 in 2009, largely because of Lidge’s awful season, and by 2010, it was up to 4.02.
In 2011, the Phillies got that number back down to 3.45, and that was helped mainly by the breakout season from Antonio Bastardo, who was all but unhittable until September. The Phillies need some quality relief pitchers, especially considering their top right-handed man out of the bullpen other than Jonathan Papelbon is Michael Schwimer.
They need a better performance from Bastardo, who has regressed mightily after his breakout ’11 season, and they need Stutes to return from injury and fill in during the seventh and eighth inning. And they need a surprise performance like what the team got from J.C. Romero back in 2007 or Scott Eyre in 2009 or even Bastardo last year.
Amaro could trade Victorino for a quality relief pitcher and probably another prospect or two but then that leaves center field up for grabs, and that position would likely have to be filled by Domonic Brown or John Mayberry, Jr. That’s certainly not an ideal situation for the Phillies, as neither of those two can come close to Victorino’s baserunning abilities or the work he does with his glove.
The Phillies could trade Hamels for a quality position player and a relief pitcher and some top prospects, but then the team is without the pitcher who has their most consistent man out each time. The rotation would become Halladay (when he returns), Lee, Vance Worley, Blanton, and Kyle Kendrick.
Realistically, the Phillies are probably too far back for anything to happen in 2012. They would have to go 50-26 just to win 87 games, and that probably wouldn’t put them in the playoffs, even with two wild card teams. That’s .658 ball, and that’s pretty tough to do.
What is really hurting the Phillies – besides the obvious bullpen flaws and the fact that they haven’t had Howard and Utley for so long – is that they have to start Blanton and Kendrick for 40 percent of their games. Those two collectively have been downright awful this season, combining to go 9-16 with a 4.93 ERA in 30 starts. They have given up a ridiculous 30 home runs in 191.1 innings. They’ve given up at least five earned runs in a game 13 times so far, and they’ve accounted for just 13 quality starts in 30 opportunities, a 43.3 percentage that would rate 52nd among 58 qualifiers if they were one pitcher.
There’s a lot of what-ifs about the Phillies this season. If Kendrick and Blanton can settle down and post league average numbers, if Bastardo can get back on track, if Amaro can pull of something genius for Hamels and/or Victorino, if he gets a steal a la Juan Pierre this year (.312 batting average for less than $1 million), if Howard and Utley play like Howard and Utley, if the other teams in the NL East start losing more than they’ve been losing, and if Lee can settle down and pitch like the $120 million pitcher the Phillies are paying him to be, then the Phillies may have a shot.
But that’s a lot of what-ifs, and it’s more likely the 2012 Phillies season goes down as something to forget. That means this coming offseason will be Amaro’s big opportunity to get the Phillies back on track, because another losing season in 2013 with big-name players like Halladay, Lee, Papelbon, Howard, and Utley won’t sit well in Philly.