When former Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. returned as part of 1993 alumni weekend earlier this month, he was met with a surprisingly warm response. Amaro – who was much maligned in Philadelphia but is still thought highly of in baseball circles – did hear some boos when introduced with the 1993 team, but the 53-year-old largely heard claps and cheers when Dan Baker called his name.
In some senses, this wasn’t the same Amaro that the Phillies fired in September of 2015. This wasn’t the same Amaro that signed Ryan Howard to a five-year/$125 million extension nearly two years before he could become a free-agent. It wasn’t the same Amaro that traded Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners for Phillippe Amount, Tyson Gillies and Juan Ramirez, just before the 2010 season, arguably the finest of Lee’s career. Instead, Amaro was at alumni weekend as the 28-year-old who hit .333 in 48 at-bats for the 1993 Phillies, perhaps the most popular team in franchise history.
But it was still Amaro, who likely would have been welcomed with thunderous boos if the event had been held two or three years ago. Amaro will likely never be a popular figure in Philadelphia again, but his reception represented a thawing in the relationship between him and Phillies fans, at least to some degree.
Amaro said he was “really proud” of how his time ended with the Phillies. “If you look at players who have been acquired or drafted when I was GM, by and large 80-90 percent of those players are in the field for the Phillies right now and competing for an NL East division title, first seeing progress in ’17, and if things went right we thought we’d be competing in the ’18 year.”
In 2015, Amaro’s final season at the helm, the Phillies finished at 63-99, which was baseball’s worst record. They did, however, begin to see some necessary turnover that helped to begin their rebuild.
In Cafardo’s piece, Amaro said that he was most proud of the December 2014 trade in which the Phillies acquired Zach Eflin from the Los Angeles Dodgers for a 36-year-old Jimmy Rollins and the July 2015 trade that saw the Phillies acquired Nick Pivetta from the Washington Nationals for a disgruntled Jonathan Papelbon. The Phillies, unquestionably, won both of those trades.
Cafardo also cited the July 2015 Cole Hamels trade to the Texas Rangers as a positive move made by Amaro. From here, the jury is still very much out on that trade. While Hamels, now 34, figures to be traded again next month, it’s still not entirely clear how the Phillies half of the return will pan out. Jerad Eickhoff posted a 3.65 ERA and a 2.9 fWAR in 197.1 innings in 2016, but posted a 4.71 ERA and 4.30 FIP in an injured-riddled 2017 campaign. He’s yet to pitch in 2018. While Nick Williams has been an excellent pinch-hitter in 2018, he’s slashing .200/.281/.363 in 160 at-bats as a starter. Jake Thompson, once viewed as likely to be a long-term cog in the Phillies rotation, is now a reliever and has worn out his E-ZPass traveling back and forth between Philadelphia and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The success of Jorge Alfaro will likely determine how the trade is ultimately viewed. While the 25-year-old has displayed a world-class arm behind the plate and currently has a 6.0 defensive WAR, he’s sporting a -5.3 offensive WAR and has struck out in over 38 percent of his plate appearances in 2018.
Now the first base coach for the division rival New York Mets, Amaro did admit that he wishes the Phillies wouldn’t have fallen behind the rest of the league in terms of their analytical presence:
“There’s always a few things,” Amaro said. “I understand now there’s greater value about something I should have been more adept with, is data. I was very proud of the way we managed our scouting and player development. I would not do much different there. As far as the other piece of the puzzle, I wish I had been more aggressive analytically. We were in that transition phase when I was let go. I felt we were doing fine without it. I wish I’d been out in front of it more.”
Amaro appeared on the Phillies telecast during a June 2014 game and didn’t seem to understand the difference between walks and plate appearances. Numerous outlets at the time suggested that the Phillies determined a player’s value based off of how many runs they drove in per season, which is highly frowned upon in the sabermetrics community because how many runners are on base in front of a hitter is largely out of a hitter’s control.
Under Amaro’s successor, Matt Klentak, the Phillies have rapidly expanded their analytics department, including creating PHIL, the organization’s own analytics system.
It is true that when you look around the Phillies current roster, there is quite a bit of Amaro’s influence. It was his front-office that selected Odubel Herrera in the 2014 Rule-5 Draft. It was his front-office that drafted Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery. So for whatever missteps his front-office may have made in the second-half of his nearly seven-season tenure as general manager, some of the moves made in his final years as general manager figure to pay dividends for the Phillies for the next decade.