Inside the Phillies: Amaro finds trading up is hard to do

Ruben Amaro Jr.'s early moves were mostly good, but some recent deals could haunt the Phillies.
Ruben Amaro Jr.'s early moves were mostly good, but some recent deals could haunt the Phillies. (CHARLES FOX / Staff)
Posted: June 17, 2013

Not everything Ruben Amaro Jr. has done as Phillies general manager has gone wrong.

It just seems that way these days.

In the beginning, Amaro's moves were mostly good. His first transaction after replacing Pat Gillick was to acquire John Mayberry Jr. from Texas for Greg Golson, an exchange of two underachieving former first-round draft picks. By no means was it a blockbuster deal, but Amaro at least got an extra outfielder who is still with the team while the Rangers took on a draft bust who is long gone.

A month later, Raul Ibanez became Amaro's first free-agent signing, and the leftfielder ended up having an all-star season for a World Series team.

Seven months after that, at his first trade deadline as a GM, Amaro secured Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians for four minor-league prospects who will never come back to haunt him. Earlier that same month, he signed Pedro Martinez to help fill the team's obvious need for starting pitching. The 2009 team went a combined 16-5 in the starts made by the two additions and nearly won a second straight World Series behind Lee's strike-pounding left arm.

If you could put a batting average on Amaro's first-year moves, he'd have been the first .400 hitter since Ted Williams.

Since then, the man who hit .235 in parts of eight big-league seasons has struggled to stay above the Mendoza Line. There have been some good moves, but some of them have been offset by others.

The trade for Roy Halladay, for instance, would have been outstanding as a stand-alone move even when you consider that the last two years have been a physical struggle for the two-time Cy Young Award winner. You can't judge a trade solely on winning a World Series, however. That's the goal, but seeing somebody do what Halladay did his first two years weighs heavily into whether a trade was a good one or not.

The well-documented problem with the Halladay deal was that the Phillies sent Cliff Lee out of town the same day when they could have paid him $9 million to pitch the 2010 season with them. Amaro said the Phillies needed to replenish their farm system, but the additions of Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and J.C. Ramirez from Seattle have been of little help.

Amaro's reasoning for making the second Lee deal was considered a financial cover at the time, but that theory was shot when Lee re-signed with the Phillies for five years and $120 million. Maybe they could have him for less if he had stuck around another year.

Regardless, it would have been better to have two shots at a World Series title with a healthy Lee and Halladay rather than the one the team had in 2011.

The decision to give Joe Blanton a three-year, $24 million deal that same offseason ranks among Amaro's biggest mistakes, especially when Kyle Kendrick could have done just as well or better in that role.

I do give Amaro credit for getting Roy Oswalt at the 2010 trade deadline even if shortstop Jonathan Villar becomes a solid big-league player. It was a huge move that season and worth the price. Give Amaro credit for getting Lee to return, too.

The Ryan Howard contract has become a franchise millstone, but it's understandable how it happened. Team president David Montgomery loves homegrown players, and Howard's power accomplishments over the previous four seasons were unmatched in baseball. When you sign someone early as Amaro did, you risk their being injured and their skills eroding. You wait too long and you risk losing them. It's a gamble that Amaro lost, but it was not the worst move he has made.

Much worse moves have been made in recent years.

The trade for Hunter Pence is going to haunt the Phillies when Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart become outstanding big-leaguers in Houston, especially since the rightfielder was really nothing more than a rental. Domingo Santana, also part of that deal, could become a quality big-leaguer, too.

The return for Pence from San Francisco - catcher Tommy Joseph, pitcher Seth Rosin, and the already departed Nate Schierholtz - does not look nearly as attractive.

Trying to fill offensive needs with Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix last year, when the Phillies knew Howard would be missing for an extended period, was a huge mistake, and the Delmon Young signing is looking even worse.

Ben Revere's addition deserves more evaluation, but so far he has not been the answer in center field. Going into Saturday's game in Denver, he had hit .293 with a .329 on-base percentage since April 18, but those numbers are empty when you consider that he had scored only 18 runs, driven in five and had six extra-base hits in that 47-game stretch.

Chad Qualls wasn't the eighth-inning answer last year and Mike Adams has not been so this year. Letting Brandon Moss and Schierholtz walk away without decent big-league looks was a mistake.

There's not enough space to go over everything Amaro has done in the last two years, and for that the general manager should be thankful. Let's just say the bad has outweighed the good and left us all wondering if he is the right man to take this franchise into the future.

The only vote that matters, of course, belongs to team president David Montgomery.


Inside the Phillies: Amaro's Best and Worst

Here's a look at the best five and the worst five moves of general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.'s tenure with the Phillies.

BEST FIVE

July 29, 2009: Acquired Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco from the Cleveland Indians for minor-leaguers Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Jason Knapp, and Lou Marson.

Dec. 16, 2008: Signed Raul Ibanez to a three-year, $31.5 million deal.

Dec. 13, 2009: Acquired Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays for Michael Taylor, Kyle Drabek, and Travis d'Arnaud.

July 29, 2010: Acquired Roy Oswalt from the Houston Astros for J.A. Happ, Anthony Gose, and Jonathan Villar.

Dec. 15, 2010: Signed Cliff Lee to a five-year, $120 million deal.

WORST FIVE

Dec. 13, 2009: Traded Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners for Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and J.C. Ramirez.

Jan. 21, 2010: Re-signed Joe Blanton to a three-year, $24 million deal.

July 29, 2011: Acquired Hunter Pence from the Astros for Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Domingo Santana, and Josh Zeid.

April 26, 2010: Extended Ryan Howard's contract through 2016 with a five-year, $125 million deal.

Dec. 3, 2009: Signed Placido Polanco to a three-year, $11.6 million deal.

- Bob Brookover


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com.

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