Tag Archives: Cliff Lee

It is Time for Ruben Amaro to Act Like a GM Instead of a Fan

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat:

Ruben Amaro is not as bad of a general manager as you think he is.

Sports may be a “show me/what have you done for me lately?” business, but in order to evaluate the job performance of the Phillies GM since he inherited the gig in November 2008 fairly and in a non-scorching take manner, we need to look at the big picture and remember 2009-2011.

It may feel like eons ago now, but Amaro once turned a 92-win team into a 93-win team. He then followed that up overseeing a squad that won 97 games before topping out with 102 victories in 2011.

Appreciate that number for a second while allowing the next paragraph to sink in.

Since then, no team in Major League Baseball has finished the regular season with more than 98 wins. The last National League club other than those 2011 Phillies to reach the 100-win mark goes all the way back to the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals.

During the aforementioned time frame, there was no shortage of good moves made by Amaro. Even though he was a drag on the lineup by the time his contract expired after 2011, replacing Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez proved to be the right call. The Cliff Lee trade in July 2009 was highway robbery.

By not giving into J.P. Ricciardi’s outrageous asking price for Roy Halladay, Amaro essentially got the Blue Jays GM fired at the end of the season. Two months later, he got his man anyway. Not one player moved in either of those deals has gone on to have any type of successful MLB career.

While they weren’t the slam dunk trades that Lee and Halladay were, he essentially got Ed Wade fired for the Roy Oswalt and the Hunter Pence deals too.

Trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners on the day Halladay was acquired proved to be a disaster, but Amaro had way more hits than misses during that three-year span.

Travel back to December 14, 2010 when Lee spurned the Yankees and came back to Philadelphia. I guarantee that I could go back and find a ton of tweets from everyone talking about what a great job Amaro was doing as a general manager.

I’m not going to do that because it’s a waste of everyone’s time. I’m not the baseball Twitter police, and this is a blog post, not some in-depth investigative piece, but if you can honestly tell me that you never believed Amaro was a good GM between 2009 and 2011, reach out to me. I’ll take your word for it, but I’ll also be incredibly surprised.

The problem obviously is despite the increase in regular season wins each year, the Phillies never hoisted the World Series trophy again. Those 2009, 2010, and 2011 squads were not without their flaws, but they were certainly capable of winning 11 games in October.

I often wonder how differently Amaro might be perceived had they won again. If Cole Hamels was his typical self against the Yankees, if Ryan Howard lifted the bat off his shoulder when facing Brian Wilson, if Cliff Lee — one of the greatest big-game pitchers of this generation — had just protected a 4-0 lead against the Cardinals. The trophy case would be more crowded, and Amaro would have one to call his own.

In many ways, the odds were stacked against Amaro to sustain the success of 2008. The Phillies were on top of the baseball world, and aside from the 1998-2000 Yankees and 1992-1993 Blue Jays, teams don’t repeat. Furthermore, Amaro had inherited the keys from one of the best ever in Pat Gillick.

The architect behind the aforementioned Blue Jays repeat, he always left a team better than he found it, and teams always got worse once he decided to move on. Even though he’s now 76 years old, I’m honestly surprised no struggling club has tried to lure him with a lucrative offer to work his magic one more time.

What Amaro did during his first three years was impressive, but as the final result got worse each year, a troubling theme sticks out.

Just about all of the good decisions were big-name moves. When handed a very good team, Amaro has no trouble adding another piece come late July, but when the foundation begins to leak as it did in 2012 and 2013, he doesn’t know how to fix it.

It’s kinda like a driver who knows how to operate the vehicle but is awful with directions. He can fly down I-95 no problem, but once he gets off at the exit for Center City and has to navigate downtown Philadelphia streets, he’s lost and just praying the GPS gets him to his destination.

More to the headline, he begins behaving like a nostalgic fan instead of remembering that his actual job is to make smart baseball decisions that might annoy your 2008 apologists who believe everyone is above reproach because they delivered a championship a half decade ago.

When the tables are turned and Amaro is the seller, he’s either getting fleeced with the July 2012 Hunter Pence trade to the Giants, curling up into a ball and doing nothing last summer, and last but certainly not least, doubling down on old players who are now a shell of their former selves, but Amaro remembers the good ole days and dammit, he’s not loosening his grip no matter how hard the game pulls.

Not all of these individual moves are bad ones. Chase Utley is still sabermetrically one of the best players in the game. The contract extension handed to him last July looks alright.

A lot of Phillies fans have this confirmation bias at work whenever Amaro does anything. It goes something like:

I think Ruben Amaro sucks, and I can rattle off past decisions he’s made that sucked, so I’m going to look for any reason possible to say this particular move sucks because I think Ruben Amaro sucks. 

That’s not the case. Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett — while certainly playing into the old narrative — have been very good signings.

The real issue is that Amaro has inspired no confidence that he has a any type of long-term vision and is simply trying to catch lightning in a bottle as the lid gets tighter and tighter.

A spontaneous go with the flow and let the chips fall where they may lifestyle can be fun, but when running a sports franchise, you need a blueprint.

As the crowds at Citizens Bank Park get smaller and the calls for his head get louder, it’s somewhat understandable from a human nature standpoint that Amaro doesn’t want to undergo a full rebuilding process considering his contract only runs through the 2015 season.

That reasoning is good enough in late May. No one blows it up 47 games into a season, however that won’t be good enough come late July.

Between now and then, the Phillies ownership needs to approach Amaro with a loaded yet valid question:

WHAT’S YOUR PLAN? 

If Amaro presents a realistic strategy, he should be given ownership’s blessing and promised that his job is secure through the length of his deal.

A franchise cannot be completely turned around in a year, but there will be signs to determine whether or not progress is being made when evaluating Amaro’s future.

I’m not paid a hefty salary to come up with a plan, and I haven’t really begun studying prospects that I would want back in trades, but let’s start with Cliff Lee — one of my favorite athletes of all time. If this injury is just a minor blip and Lee is back and effective, he’s the type of player who could bring you back a couple of guys that go on to be future franchise cornerstones.

Jonathan Papelbon is pitching well enough that a contending team would be willing to overlook the salary and give a decent return. Jimmy Rollins — if willing to waive his no-trade clause — is having a good enough season to fetch something back. The list goes on with similar players like this.

The one wildcard here is Utley. CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury has a solid piece on just that topic today where he advocates for pulling the trigger if the right offer comes along. Salisbury, in my opinion, is the best on the Phillies beat, and 10 months ago, I would have completely agreed with him, but now I’m not so sure. Even at age 35, Utley looks like a guy you could rebuild a team around.

Either way, the worst thing that can possibly happen in two months is a repeat of last year where Amaro sits on his hands and does nothing — Another year of prolonging the inevitable as the wheels spin but the car remains stuck in mud.

If ownership is convinced that he has no plan after speaking with him, then it’s time for them to move on rather than accepting the status quo.

Amaro has shown in the past that he can be a competent general manager.

Quite simply, it is time for Ruben Amaro to do his job, and if he won’t, it is time for the Phillies to find someone else who will.

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Cole Hamels is on the Mound Tonight and I am Hella Hella Pumped

One of the longest tenured and most polarizing athletes in Philadelphia sports makes his season debut tonight. If a five-year pattern holds up, it will likely be a complete disaster, and I cannot wait.

I really mean that. I love baseball, but if tonight’s Phillies-Dodgers game featured any other starting pitcher for the away team, it would be well below the NHL playoffs and the NFL schedule release show on my priority list. The return of Cole Hamels has bumped it up.

Watching the Phillie pitcher get lit up during his opening start is a spring ritual for Phillies fans. Unfortunately the annual tradition was delayed just a few weeks this year due to some shoulder tendinitis.

Now, before you close this tab without reading another paragraph, I’m not trying to troll you nor am I a Cole Hamels hater. He just historically has real rough outings in his opening start dating back to 2009. Here’s the pitching lines to prove my point and to make your eyes bleed a little:

Rockies 09: 3.2 IP, 11 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 17.18 ERA, — L, 10-3

Nationals ’10: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 3.60 ERA — W, 8-4

Mets ’11: 2.2 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 20.25 ERA — L, 7-1

Marlins ’12: 5.1 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 5.06 ERA — L, 6-2

Braves ’13: 5 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 9.00 ERA — L, 7-5

I’m excited for tonight because Cole Hamels can’t go on to have his typical very good season without some sort of first start. I’m excited for tonight because I remember fondly when this trend wasn’t yet a thing nearly eight years ago.

On May 12, 2006, a 22-year old lefty from San Diego, California with Hollywood looks and a nasty changeup went into Great American Ballpark and shut down a Cincinnati Reds team that entered the contest 11 games over .500. Five shutout innings, only one hit, seven strikeouts in his Major League debut.

I knew watching on that Friday night that he was something special and I would likely still be talking about him 95 months later.

Here’s a list of active MLB starting pitchers who are still with the same team dating back to that memorable night:

Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain

Jered Weaver missed the cut by two weeks, Jon Lester by a month. Adam Wainwright was with the Cardinals but as a reliever.

That’s a pretty impressive trio right there to join. The three of them combine for 13 All-Star games, two Cy Young awards, two perfect games, two no-hitters, and two World Series rings.

Pitchers just don’t last nine seasons in the majors on the same club without doing something incredibly right, and with his current contract, Hamels has a chance to be in the same place for at least 14 years.

On that memorable May night, you knew that if the Phillies ever caught the Mets and Braves in the NL East, Hamels would be a part of it. Seventeen months later, that happened, and it was a Hamels gem that gave the Phillies their first lead all season in the division after 160 games.

A year later, he put the city on a parade float. The fact that someone seven months younger than the city’s championship drought was the driving force behind a World Series title is almost unfathomable.

The landscape began to change as 2008 turned to 2009. Hamels initially didn’t handle success well and showed up to spring training behind schedule and unprepared for the title defense season. While he didn’t miss a start, it was the worst year of his career.

If we break things down with sabermetrics, it honestly wasn’t that bad. His .317 BABIP was 22 points higher than any other professional season. Still, a hanging curveball to Andy Pettite essentially handed the Yankees the 2009 World Series.

The Phillies were two-wins away from back-to–back titles, and if Cole Hamels was Cole Hamels, they get it. A lot of fans — myself included — held this against him.

In 2007 and 2008, Hamels days were something to look forward to because he was so much better than Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick, Adam Eaton, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, and anyone else who made a start. If you had tickets to a game and anyone else was scheduled to pitch, you were a little upset.

I was lucky enough to see him work in person a few times during those two years including June 2, 2007 when he made Barry Bonds flail at a ninth-inning changeup on the way to a complete game. If I ever have kids and they like baseball, I will tell them about that early summer night when 45,000 fans of a team two games below. 500 stood and went wild as a budding ace struck out one of the game’s greatest hitters ever.

Hamels represented hope that gone were the days of Andy Ashby, Robert Person, Omar Daal, Jon Lieber, or some other in-over-their-head pitcher trying to play ace and anchor a rotation. Things were about to be very different.

After delivering on that hope though, things got way, way different. Cliff Lee arrived, then Roy Halladay, then both of them. Hamels stabilized into a very good, consistent pitcher but sort of faded into the background, occasionally hearing boos at Citizens Bank Park after a rough start.

I knew some people who were big 2008 apologists. They believed anyone on that World Series winning team was immune to criticism. I hated that thought process. It was so lazy and complacent, but I also knew forever holding that 2009 debacle against someone who brought you a championship wasn’t exactly fair.

I don’t even love Roy Halladay as much as most Phillies fans love Roy Halladay, but I loved Roy Halladay because he’s Roy Halladay. I love Cliff Lee because he told the Yankees to take 150 million and shove it, instead choosing to come back to Philadelphia.

While the same amount of love might not exist, there’s something Hamels has on them. He’s ours. Lee and Halladay were hired guns from Cleveland and Toronto brought in to keep a good thing going. Hamels was here before they arrived and will be here long after they’re both gone.

There was a brief time though where that wasn’t a slam dunk. Slated to become a free agent at the end of 2012, the Phillies had to either work out a long-term deal or trade him for prospects before the deadline. They couldn’t risk losing him that winter and getting nothing back. The ball was more or less in his court, but the desire to be courted by multiple MLB teams as the prize of a free agent class is tempting. No one was certain how it would play out.

On July 21, 2012, it suddenly dawned on me that I might be watching his final start as a Phillie. I choose the word “suddenly” because my Phillies watching had slacked a bit that summer.

If you’ve ever met me, you know that there’s a 5-6 year stretch where if you name a date, I can tell you what happened in that particular game right away, but they were having a pretty pedestrian season and Penn State football was two days away from being hit with unprecedented sanctions.

It was going to be a long week, and the Phillies had been far from the top of my priority list, but I made sure to watch every pitch of that Saturday afternoon start.

Don’t go Cole, I said to my TV as he walked off the mound to a standing ovation after 7.2 innings. Normally 10 hits and five runs allowed doesn’t earn you that, but despite the occasional rocky relationship, fans knew it could be their final chance to a World Series hero in red pinstripes at home.

Less than a week later, he and the Phillies agreed on the richest contract in team history. Phew. Whether that deal was a good baseball move still needs to play out over time, but when it was inked, I celebrated because that’s what you do when your homegrown ace decides this is the place he wants to be.

He was here before things started to get good and saw things get bad again after five straight NL East championships. While this all happened, off the field he grew from a laid-back kid to a husband with children including an adopted Ethiopian baby. His wife runs a successful charity foundation with a global impact.

If the Phillies can snap out of this downward spiral and right the ship over the next few seasons, he’ll be a huge reason why, just like back in 2007.

This city has taken too many good athletes for granted over the years only to become aware of it long after they had either left town or left the game entirely. While it’s not always perfect, I don’t want to realize in 2024 that I did that with this one.

That’s why I’m excited as all hell for Cole Hamels to be back on the mound tonight, and you should be too.