Think back to last offseason. Armed with a sizable budget, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. couldn’t contain himself. He just had to spend. Jonathan Papelbon was the fortunate benefactor of Amaro’s generosity.
At the time, the deal was met with much criticism. Papelbon was, no doubt, a very talented closer with an established record of success. But the $50M deal Amaro gave him was the largest in guaranteed money ever given to a closer. Instead of waiting out the market, Amaro, in a fit of imprudence, had set it. As effective closers with a lesser pedigree signed much smaller deals, it became clear that the Papelbon deal was an overpay.
Now think back to April 2010, when an overzealous Amaro gave Ryan Howard a massive contract more than two years before he would hit the open market. Once again, instead of waiting out the market for a player, Amaro had established it.
What do these two deals have in common? Two things: First, they’re both viewed as bad contracts. Not necessarily because the players aren’t productive, but because the deals are so large. Secondly, and more importantly for this conversation, they both exemplify a lack of patience on Amaro’s end–something fans have criticized the GM for with regularity in the last few seasons.
This offseason, Amaro is seemingly learning from his mistakes. Here we are, in the middle of the Winter Meetings, and Amaro still hasn’t done a thing. Instead of haphazardly throwing money about, he’s being cautious in his spending, much like he did with Jimmy Rollins last year–a sensible contract that is recognized as one of the best under Amaro. He’s recognized that, although there is money to spend, he has a limited budget and more holes to fill this offseason than in any other during his tenure.
Amaro should be lauded for this type of shrewdness. Somehow people don’t see it that way. His inaction thus far has been met with as much, if not more, ire from the fanbase as the Papelbon and Howard deals were.
He’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.
But I ask you: Which deals have been struck so far that the Phillies have missed out on? $75M for B.J. Upton? Four years for Angel Pagan? $39M for Shane Victorino? A $20M, three-year deal for the 37-year old Marco Scutaro? A two-year, $16M deal for Melky Cabrera? I know it’s an expensive market and the game is thriving, but these aren’t exactly moves I’m clamoring to make. While Eric Siedman argued earlier that the Upton and Pagan deals were fair–and they may be the fairest of the bunch–I don’t see the appeal in any of them, frankly. Let the other teams have these guys at those prices. Amaro clearly has needs, but he shouldn’t fill them at the expense of a bad contract, either in dollars or in length of commitment.
Are there some moves that have been made that leave me wondering? Sure. The Angels signing of Ryan Madson for $3.5M looked like a great fit for the Phillies. But who knows if Madson was willing to deal with Amaro after last offseason’s drama? I like the Rangers’ deal with Joakim Soria, but there are still bullpen options out there (Brian Wilson, for one). The trade for Wilton Lopez fell through and there seems to be some mystery surrounding it. But it is interesting that people are so up in arms about losing out on a guy most of us hadn’t heard of until last week. The Nationals acquisition of Denard Span seemed sensible, given that they only had to trade away one prospect. But, even though he’s a great defender, I’m not in love with Span’s bat. It’s not as if he is a game-changer. The Phils can still find a comparable piece to Span, either through trade or on the open market.
I think that’s really the point. There are still plenty of options out there. The Phils have been linked to both Josh Hamilton and Michael Bourn, plus many others. In the past, one of those guys would be signed by Amaro already. This year, he’s waiting for the price to fall or saying no thanks. He’s waiting for the right guy to come along at the right price.
This is unquestionably the philosophy with which he should operate. There are still two months left in this offseason and plenty of time for Amaro to find the right guys.
And, hey, look on the bright side: If you’re still not convinced that patience is the way to go, giving Hamilton a seven-year, $150M contract is still an option.