Inside the Phillies: Amaro's subpar season

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has six days to close a deal that will give the Phillies a boost.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has six days to close a deal that will give the Phillies a boost.
Posted: July 25, 2010

A year ago at this time, Ruben Amaro was being loudly applauded for acquiring Cliff Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco from Cleveland without giving away top prospect Kyle Drabek.

It was the move that got the Phillies back to the World Series.

A year later, Lee is gone, the applause has died, and the Phillies are in need of another major alteration. (Greg Gross for Milt Thompson is not going to be enough.)

The discontent directed at Amaro, the Phillies' general manager, this season mostly has been a result of the Phils' decision to trade Lee to Seattle for three prospects. The key to that sentence is that it was "the Phillies' decision" and not just Amaro's.

Sure, Amaro wanted Roy Halladay and he got his man, but it meant he could not keep Lee. Rest assured that was not entirely the general manager's decision, even though he is the man taking the heat for what happened.

If Amaro is to blame for anything, it is the three minor-league players he acquired from Seattle for Lee. So far, pitchers Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez and outfielder Tyson Gillies have done nothing to make anyone feel good about the Lee trade. It's premature, however, to consider the three players failures.

All three are 21 years old, and Gillies has been injured the entire season. There is no guarantee they will become productive big-league players, and there is no guarantee they will not. Chase Utley hit .257 in his first professional season at single-A Clearwater, and Halladay went 7-10 with a 4.58 ERA in his first season at triple-A Syracuse.

None of this changes the fact that the Phillies would be better with Lee and Halladay, but that territory has been well covered.

Amaro's poor season to date is not simply about "the Phillies' decision" to trade Lee.

It has as much to do with some of his other decisions in the months after the Phillies lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series.

The worst of the GM's decisions was giving righthander Joe Blanton a three-year extension worth $24 million. Blanton had done a good job for the Phillies during his first two seasons and was a big reason why they won a World Series in 2008.

But he was not a free agent and they did not have to give him a three-year extension. They could have let him walk or gone to arbitration on a one-year deal. Either move would have made more sense than what the Phillies did.

The best of the GM's decisions was signing third baseman Placido Polanco. It's true he has missed a substantial amount of time because of an elbow injury, and Boston's Adrian Beltre, who was also a free agent, has had a better season. But Polanco works perfectly as the second batter in the order - provided the order is intact.

Amaro's efforts to upgrade the bullpen and bench also have backfired. He spent $6.75 million for Danys Baez (two years, $5.25 million) and Jose Contreras (one year, $1.5 million) in the hope they could pitch near the back end of the bullpen.

Manager Charlie Manuel no longer trusts Baez with a lead, and Contreras has been inconsistent at best.

Were there better bullpen options?

Kevin Gregg signed a one-year deal with Toronto for $2.75 million and has 21 saves. Guillermo Mota signed a one-year deal worth $750,000 with San Francisco and has a 3.03 ERA in 39 games.

Lefthanded specialist Will Ohman signed with Baltimore for one year and $1.35 million and has a 2.51 ERA. Texas' Darren Oliver signed a one-year, $4 million deal with an option and has a 1.29 ERA in 41 games. Tampa Bay got Joaquin Benoit for one year and $750,000, and he has a 0.85 ERA in 33 games.

Amaro's two biggest bench signings were outfielder/first baseman Ross Gload and infielder Juan Castro. Gload, who received a two-year, $2.6 million deal, has done a respectable job with little playing time. Castro, who signed a one-year deal worth $750,000, has been released and replaced by Wilson Valdez, who was a minor-league free-agent signing.

In fairness to Amaro, there were not a lot of great bench options in free agency during the off-season, and it was time to move on from Eric Bruntlett and Matt Stairs.

Then last week, Amaro suffered a self-inflicted wound when he acted as if he was about to make a big trade to replace Kyle Kendrick in the starting rotation.

"I think we know exactly what we're going to do," Amaro said after Kendrick was optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley on Tuesday in St. Louis. "I just choose not to tell you."

Amaro should have learned as a young assistant GM in 1999 that no deal is done until it's done. That was the year that former Phillies general manager Ed Wade thought he had made a trade with the New York Yankees for Andy Pettitte, only to discover in the 11th hour that it wasn't going to happen.

Now, Amaro has six days to close a deal that could make a difference for the Phillies in the final two months of the season. There is still time for him to restart the applause.


Inside the Phillies:

Read The Inquirer's Phillies blog, The Phillies Zone, by Bob Brookover and Matt Gelb, at www.philly.com/phillies.

Blog response of the week

Subject: Kendrick optioned to triple A.

Blog response from PSU DEJA B LUE at 1:21 p.m. Tuesday:

"It's about damn time. KK is a lost cause. He's a head case. He's

Lidge Jr."


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

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