Ruben Amaro Jr.: The Rainmaker – Phillies Nation
Analysis

Ruben Amaro Jr.: The Rainmaker

Writing about baseball is one of my many hobbies – I’m also a vinyl junkie. I avidly hunt yard sales, flea markets and the like, searching for anything that looks good or that I have heard good things about. For years, I had heard of a group called the Rainmakers out of Kansas City, MO. They had a few roots-rock hits in the mid-late 80s and, as cliche as this may sound, were kind of a big deal in Scandanavia. To me, the Rainmakers were a lot like the 1994 Montreal Expos: a supremely talented unit that had all of the tools and players to be a smash but just never made it for reasons out of their control. At one point, the Rainmakers were pretty en vouge, scoring big MTV video rotation with Let My People Go and having their debut record reach #87 on the Billboard chart.

Their 1987 follow up to their self-titled debut, Tornado, failed to crack the Billboard Top 100, despite the video for Small Circles featuring a very young “Stanley” from The OfficeI found Tornado on a record hunt and, for just $2, it was mine. Called “Rainmaker“, the eighth track on the album was driven by a harmonica and a 12-string. And I swear, even though it was written in 1987, it is an ode to Ruben Amaro Jr and the 2013 Phillies, where they are, who they have been, and where they are going, complete with a snap-shot of the sometimes-aggressive fans, capturing a “be careful what you wish for” attitude that I am surprised more supporters do not have.

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The Rainmaker came to town

And the people got what they wanted

The Rainmaker came to town

And everybody got what they need

Amaro inherited the 2008 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies, tens years after he was hired by Ed Wade as assistant general manager. Working as an apprentice under Hall of Fame architect Pat Gillick, Amaro witnessed Gillick pull off one shrewd move after another. Amaro watched as Gillick rid the team’s payroll of the then-redundant Jim Thome for Aaron Rowand in 2006. Gillick re-tooled at the 2006 deadline, trading away Corey Lidle and Bobby Abreu before acquiring Jamie Moyer. Jayson Werth, then, an outfielder with plus potential but sidelined by a series of freak injuries, was signed in the winter of 2006 for a song by Gillick.

Gillick continued to make a series of minor moves, including signing J.C. Romero in 2007 once released by the Red Sox, signing Greg Dobbs off of waivers, and trading very little of value for Joe Blanton, Matt Stairs, Rudy Saenez, Scott Eyre, and Tadahito Iguchi (twice). Gillick fared well with some big moves (trading for Brad Lidge) while others left a bit to be desired (trading Gio Gonzalez for Freddy Garcia and waving his physical, signing Adam Eaton to a three year deal, signing Geoff Jenkins to a two year deal).

As the dust settled from the 2008 championship parade, the keys to the Ferrari were now in Ruben Amaro’s hands. And while his first move was trading Greg Golson for John Mayberry Jr., he wasted little time after that making a splash. Amaro signed 37-year old Raul Ibanez to a three year deal, acquired the reigning AL Cy Young Cliff Lee from Cleveland for some spare parts, signed Pedro Martinez, and suddenly, he had given the Phillies fans exactly what they were looking for: a team that returned to the World Series.

The people wanted power and reputation galore

So they became a bunch of bullies in the assorted sizes war

And they sailed around the global block, looking for some heads to knock

And most of them came home heroes, heroes in a box

Something strange happened after reaching the World Series in 2009. Talk radio hosts started insisting that the Phillies were now a “win the World Series or the team is a disappointment” team, suddenly in a class with the Yankees and Red Sox with fans, sports writers, and pundits, despite having only won only two World Series titles and seven pennants in the 107 seasons that had a World Series. The people were out for blood, another World Series they wanted. Amaro was, too. He traded a fair package for Roy Halladay, only to get a not-so-good return for Lee.

The Phillies went out and signed names: Placido Polanco, Jose Contreras, Danys Baez, and Brian Schneider. The Phillies went out and traded for names: Roy Oswalt and Mike Sweeney. It was exciting – each piece seemed to be the missing ingredient that would have put them over the top from the last season. They were not – they closed out the 2010 season at home against the Giants. A few home runs by Cody Rose and one by Juan Uribe put a sudden end to a team constructed for a championship or bust.

The Rainmaker came to town

And the people got what they wanted

The Rainmaker came to town

And everybody got what they need

The rain came falling down

Cats and dogs and buckets

And the Rainmaker sailed away on a flood of relief

The fans got what they wanted: $143 million payroll, stars, notable players on the bench, and lots of them. But losing hurts and Amaro found an old flame, his relief. Amaro signed Lee and the rain continued to fall. The 2011 payroll was $172 million.

The people wanted beauty, prettiness and all

So they stretched and they dressed and they made up and put mirrors on every wall

‘Til they all went blind from eyestrain from the thing they wanted most

Now everybody’s so isolated, a good lookin’ bunch of ghosts

The Phillies were the vaunted “Mystery Team” in the Lee sweepstakes, signing the lefty to a $135 million contract. The Phillies had the shiniest toy of all and merchandise couldn’t be sold fast enough. Fans and analysts pegged the team as the instant World Series favorites. But the first warning signs were there: Polanco played only 122 games, Schneider hobbled his way through just 41 games as the back-up catcher, and Chase Utley played a career-low 103 games as a regular in what would begin a yearly guessing game of how many games the All-Star second baseman would play.

The Rainmaker came to town

And the people got what they wanted

The Rainmaker came to town

And everybody got what they need

The rain came falling down

Cats and dogs and buckets

And the Rainmaker sailed away on a flood of relief

Amaro, sensing an opportunity to improve the team, traded just a little too much to acquire Hunter Pence before the 2011 trade deadline. Pence was quirky with an all-or-nothing swing, endearing himself to the fans rather quickly with quotes like “Good game, let’s go eat.” And once again, Amaro improved the team and won the public opinion battle.

And the women just wanted their food to eat

Instant potatoes and rubber meat

The kids just wanted to watch TV

And now the girls can’t spell and the boys can’t read

The men just wanted a steady job, now they’ve got to pay the union mob

And everybody wanted to be free, laws and rules should keep it that way 

If it was not apparent before, the Phillies became a brand much like the Cubs or the Red Sox. The women flocked to Utley’s good looks, while the men liked his gritty play. Ibanez’s two hot months to start 2009 kept him in the fan’s good graces and Ryan Howard was still seen by many fans as the preeminent power hitter of Major League Baseball. The fans got their meat and potatoes and then some.

Meanwhile, the farm suffered, the kids weren’t alright. After building a World Series winner out of home-grown talents like Howard, Utley, Rollins, and not missing on first round picks like Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, and Cole Hamels, the Phillies found themselves missing left and right in the draft, capped in 2011 by one of the biggest potential bust first round picks in quite some time, Larry Greene. When they did hit it square on the head (Jonathan Singleton, Jared Cosart), those players were traded for established stars. The Phillies were suddenly like a gambling addict believing they were just one hand, one major move from winning the World Series. The Pence trade was the move they thought would do it, to keep the fans happy.

Meanwhile, box office gates couldn’t have been higher. The Phillies were in the middle of a record sellout streak, sometimes pricing the common man out of the ballpark. The cheapest ticket in the ballpark went from $9 in 2009 to $16 in 2011 and the more expensive tickets? Well, I could never afford so I cannot simply look at stubs to tell you, though I’m positive those rose accordingly.

I don’t have to remind anybody: popular opinion dictated that the Phillies should have beaten the Cardinals in 2011 in the playoffs. Laws and rules should have kept it that way. They did not.

Well everybody wants to be happy

Everybody wants to be warm

To be loved and liked and wanted

And to have some kind of home

But kid made his word and keeping it is tough

And destroying it is the easy bit, we’ve all got the magic touch

Fans, writers, and supporters alike entered the 2012 disillusioned with what had happened. Amaro, like a compulsive gambler, added 31-year old Jonathan Papelbon to the payroll to once again stretch it to $171.5 million. Just one more piece. All we need is a reliever. As fans, we told ourselves Howard would be the 2007 Howard if he came back. We told desperate lies to one another that Utley would again be an All-Star second baseman. Yet, the both of them together would play only 154 games.

We kept ourselves warm with fantasies of a Domonic Brown break out campaign, of a rotation that still looked quite formidable, and maybe, just maybe a Thome walk off homer in the playoffs. But in 2012, the Phillies finally lost to Father Time and Mother Nature, who are both, as far as my records dictate, are still undefeated. Polanco would play only 90 games at third base, leading to Mike Fontenot seeing significant time as the starting third baseman before one of the true highlights of the season occurred: Kevin Frandsen leading an unlikely, and somewhat unfamiliar, Phillies club into the playoff mix late in the season.

But Amaro, to his credit, noticed the odds were pretty stacked against the team that was six games off its current 2013 pace at the All-Star Break or an astounding 17 games below their pace from the year before. Amaro had given his word to be a contender and kept it but the 2012 version of the Phillies were beat down by injuries. Amaro traded Thome, then Pence, and Gillick-acquired players Blanton and Victorino. The sentiment stung, but here at Phillies Nation and on Phillies Nation TV, Pat, Corey, and I argued it was the right thing to do.

The Rainmaker came to town

And the people got what they wanted

The Rainmaker came to town

And everybody got what they need

The rain came falling down

Cats and dogs and buckets

And the Rainmaker sailed away on a flood of relief

Sail away

And now, the crossroads. Amaro, thus far, has given the people exactly what they have wanted: a bigger payroll, star players, and, to his credit, a slowly improving farm system. Now what he no longer has is a first place team. The All-Star Break will end promptly at 7:05 PM tonight in Queens, NY, the Phillies, winners of two straight, now at 48-48 and one of the oldest dogs in the fight, looking to climb firmly back into the race. So far, Amaro’s tenure has been a series of “be careful what you ask for”s; some (trading for Lee, Halladay, and even Mayberry) have worked out better than others (trading Lee, trading for Pence and then getting substantially less back for him), while the verdict is still out on others (Gabriel Lino for Thome is looking good in his favor while Oswalt for Jonathan Villar and others is not).

Whether you wish the Phillies to buy or sell – be careful what you ask for: whichever way the coin falls, the rain will fall. A few wrong decisions, and nobody is sailing away on a flood of relief.

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