Ruben Amaro Jr. was named general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies prior to the 2009 season fresh off the Phillies’ first World Series win in 28 years. Throughout the past five seasons, Amaro has not shied away from going after the big name on the market or been afraid to fork over the big contract. He was responsible for bringing in Cliff Lee, twice, Roy Halladay and Jonathan Papelbon as well as re-signing Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.
These names sound great and are very attractive to a sports crazed city, but age and value suggest otherwise. The six players named above combine to sign contracts for 24 years, $433 million. That’s an average signing of six players, age 32, to contracts of $18 million per year for four years.
Lee made his first stint with the Phillies when Amaro made a trade with the Cleveland Indians, sending the Indians four prospects for Lee and Ben Francisco. Amaro and the Phillies won this trade as Lee came in and dominated in postseason play while the four prospects they sent to the Indians have not developed. Amaro then went out in the offseason and traded Lee to the Seattle Mariners and three prospects to the Toronto Blue Jays in order to acquire Halladay, $6 million from the Blue Jays and three Mariner prospects. Halladay went on to sign a contract extension, earning $20 million per year for an additional three years.
Halladay lived up to the hype and contract his first two seasons with the Phillies, racking up a 40-16 record, 483.4 innings pitched, 17 complete games, 439 strikeouts, one perfect game, one postseason no-hitter and averaged a 2.40 ERA. He was a great value considering they paid him $29.75 million over two seasons for top notch pitching. However, his final two seasons did not go as planned. Halladay’s age and health became a major issue, and he only managed a record of 15-13, 218.1 innings pitched, one complete game, 183 strikeouts and averaged a 5.66 ERA. That’s $40 million for lackluster pitching and terrible value.
As a free agent, Lee signed a five-year, $120 million contract with the Phillies prior to the 2011 season. Lee has pitched admirably in his first three seasons with the team but will make $25 million this season; that’s more than Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, last season’s Cy Young award winners. It will be difficult for Lee to perform up to his contract this season as he is another year older and elite pitchers are outperforming him while making less money.
Amaro later signed 30-year-old Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract. Papelbon has been a roller-coaster ride thus far for the Phillies. $13 million is a lot of money to be paying a streaky closer who has become a locker room problem.
Then there is the Phillies’ homegrown, loved, hated, debated and paid veteran trio: Howard, Utley and Rollins. Howard is entering the third year of the five-year, $125 million extension Amaro awarded him. Over the first two years of his extension, Howard has played 151 games, hit 25 home runs and accumulated 99 RBI — about half of his total valued worth. He has battled injuries, but that is expected to happen with wear and tear.
Over the past two years, Amaro has signed aging veterans Utley and Rollins to two and three-year contracts respectively. Both have battled injuries, and their numbers have declined; yet Rollins is making more money now than in his prime, and Utley is just shy of his largest yearly salary.
Although Amaro continuously peruses big name players and rewards them with contracts based on their youthful prime performances, he is failing to put together a team that wins and improves of late. Amaro’s first three seasons saw the team improve its record, but now that the highly paid players are reaching their mid-30s, the team has experienced a severe drop off the past two seasons.
Trading for Ben Revere, a young, talented, promising center fielder last winter made it seem like Amaro was going to start going after youth. Then he went out and signed Marlon Byrd and proved he hasn’t changed by adding another 35-year-old, overpaid, past his prime veteran who will likely play less than 82 games this season.
If the Phillies’ highly paid veterans don’t produce and stay healthy this season, will team owners have enough of Amaro, the frivolously spending general manager, and cut him off? Only time will tell.