Your boss walks up to you and says “you have made poor decision after poor decision. It is hindering this company. I am giving you one last chance.” That sort of warning might alter how you do your job, and the decisions you make at this hypothetical job. There has been no such warning, that we know of, given to Ruben Amaro Jr. but its no secret that he has to get the Cole Hamels trade right. My question is; has that pressure made Amaro gun shy?
Amaro took a once proud franchise, and packed stadium, and turned them into a laughing stock that no one wants to go see play. The downfall of the Phillies is easy to pinpoint. The Phillies made a crippling trade for right fielder Hunter Pence, giving up four prospects, two of which are Major League regulars, and one (Santana) is close. But trading prospects is easy, getting quality prospects back is the hard part and Amaro has failed in many instances. Most notably the return he got when he traded Pence to the Giants, and the return he got for Shane Victorino. Both were sub par to put it mildly. And I am not saying they are sub par a few years after the dust has settled, I am saying at the time of the trades they were sub par.
Then you can look at the contracts given out by Amaro. Amaro went all Oprah Winfrey with “You get a vesting option! AND YOU get a vesting option! EVERYONE GETS A VESTING OPTIONNN!!!!”. It is no secret that the Phillies still have valuable assets on their team, but those assets are hard to move thanks to obtainable vesting options in their contracts. Both Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon would likely be in another teams uniform right now had it not been for the obtainable vesting options in their contracts.
I will give Amaro credit however. The Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins trades were pleasant surprises as the Phillies managed to get three pretty decent arms, all of whom should be starting the season in AA Reading. But Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd were not the names that were keeping Phillies fans on the edge of their seats with anticipation. That name is Cole Hamels, and to a lesser extent Jonathan Papelbon.
Amaro let a golden opportunity pass him by with Papelbon, as the Milwaukee Brewers reportedly had interest in the 34 year-old closer. But thanks to a combination of money, players, both? The Brewers decided to pass on Papelbon and sign Francisco Rodriguez to a two-year deal Thursday. Even with Papelbon rebounding from his struggles in 2013 to have a successful 2014 season, most scouts are not convinced that he will be able to sustain the success in 2015. His is striking out less, his velocity is down, and he has a paycheck of $13 million dollars this season. Most general managers with sheer common sense will stay away from an overpaid reliever who is not getting any younger, but the Brewers had a real interest. And with closer in waiting Kenny Giles sitting in your bullpen, moving Jonathan Papelbon to the Brewers was a golden opportunity to get the future (Giles) started this season.
But Papelbon was a salary dump, and maybe an attitude dump. If Jonathan Papelbon is dealt no one is expecting a top level prospect in return. The top level prospect would be Kenny Giles coming in in the ninth inning. What most Phillies fans are all wondering is why is Cole Hamels still in a Phillies uniform?
I understand some people reading this are going to throw their hands up and say “You have got to be kidding me! Amaro is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.” That is totally fair. If Amaro makes a bad trade he will be ripped (and likely fired) and if he makes no trade at all he is ripped. But Amaro said in early February that “four teams have made real offers.” Umm…. excuse me? Did you say four? As in the number after three? How in the world has Ruben Amaro Jr. not been able to leverage each offer against one another to get a deal done? This is not Jonathan Papelbon where you had the Brewers and no one else. The Phillies had four real offers on the table for Hamels and yet Hamels is sitting in Clearwater Florida. And with every practice, with every pitch, Cole Hamels risks an injury that hurts his trade value.
We saw this already with Cliff Lee. Phillies waited on Lee, did not trade him, only to see him get injured the next season and subsequently ruining his trade value. Now Lee, who will be 37 years-old in August, is owed $25 million in 2015 and has a vesting option for $27.5 million for 2016 if the former Cy Young winner reaches 200 innings pitched. So Lee, who is coming off an injury plagued 2014, needs to establish that he is healthy and effective and even then he may not fetch a top level prospect because of his age and price tag. I would like to avoid the same fate for Hamels.
Ruben Amaro knows that he has to get this one right. He needs to get at least two Major League ready (or close to it) top level prospects for Hamels. I think Amaro is overplaying his hand here and its hindering the Phillies ability to bring in a youth movement. Even looking towards the 2016 MLB draft the Phillies would likely have a better pick without Hamels services than with his services. So I will ask again, with four “real” offers with Hamels and no deal, has Ruben Amaro gotten gun shy?