Yuniesky Betancourt doesn't play baseball all that well. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

This Is The Question That Will Keep All Phillies Fans Up At Night...


Does Ruben Amaro know what a good baseball player looks like? Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Many fans of the Philadelphia Phillies have lost confidence in Ruben Amaro Jr.

This is not a surprise to anyone who follows the team closely. Amaro’s off-season has been nothing short of disappointing, if not a complete and total cluster-funk.

With one questionable move after another this off-season, including yesterday’s acquisition of the on-base and defensively challenged Yuniesky Betancourt, Amaro’s ability to assemble a roster capable of challenging for a playoff spot in 2013 has been called into question by many.

Doubt has crept in not just because of the players he has brought aboard this year, but also because of troubling statements like the one he made on 97.5 FM The Fanatic last week in which he said (and I’m paraphrasing), “I don’t care about walks, I care about production.”

Of course, any baseball man worth his salt knows that, in order for an offense to be productive, on-base percentage and walks must be a big part of that production. In fact, that was a huge part of the largely successful offenses of 1993 and 2007-2009.

 

After Betancourt was signed on Monday, I openly wondered if Ruben Amaro had a stroke. That could be the only explanation for bringing aboard a player who is so unbelievably terrible, right?

Admittedly, taken alone, the Betancourt signing ordinarily would be worth an eye-raise and nothing more.

But after signing Delmon Young, keeping Michael Martinez on a roster for an entire season, signing aging veterans Raul Ibanez and Placido Polanco to long-term contracts, bungling the development of Domonic Brown, and giving out ridiculous contracts to players like Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Howard, the Betancourt signing only forces fans of this franchise to ask themselves one simple question.

Does Ruben Amaro know what a “good” player is?

The job of a baseball general manager is to bring as many “good” baseball players onto his team as possible. And, to be fair, Amaro has done that sometimes.

The Mike Adams signing was a reasonable deal and brought aboard an arm that has a track record of success. Adams should stabilize the eighth inning, an issue that cost the Phillies maybe a dozen games last year.

The John Lannan and Chad Durbin signings were nothing spectacular, but they are not bad pitchers, were both only one-year deals, and could prove to be smart moves if they pitch as they have in the past.

Ben Revere, for all his lack of power, is a solid defensive player whose youth, cost, and potential at least make the trade to acquire him somewhat defensible. Although, the cost of Vance Worley was still a little too much for such a one-dimensional player. And, Revere’s lack of on-base skills make him a questionable long-term answer in the lead-off spot. It would be a shame if the Phils traded one of their most valuable pieces for a hitter who will be no better than a #8 hitter throughout his career.

Michael Young, his horrific 2012 season aside, has been a decent hitter for most of his career and, if he returns to the form that made him a perennial All-Star from 2003-2011, will be looked at by most as a good acquisition. The move, as a one-year stop-gap until Cody Asche is hopefully ready, at least makes some sense, even if he is allergic to walks.

Papelbon, bloated contract aside, is a good baseball player. Is he overpaid? Absolutely. No closer should make the kind of money he’s making. But it cannot be argued that he isn’t a good pitcher.

Jimmy Rollins, for all his warts (and there are some big ones), is still a somewhat productive offensive shortstop and defensive player who came back to the club on a team-friendly contract.

And, of course, the trade for Roy Halladay and acquisition of Cliff Lee also count in his favor, although any idiot knows how good those two guys are.

Credit where credit is due, not every move Amaro has made has been garbage.

But what is worrisome is that, as the Phils seem to be heading toward a time of rebuilding over the next couple years, Amaro doesn’t seem to understand just what makes a player “good.” He’s also shown a tendency to favor veterans over young players, a tendency that is counter-intuitive with the future in mind.

It’s an organizational philosophy that permeates into their draft strategy as well.

The Phils do not typically look for good, polished baseball players in the draft. They look for “athletes” with “tools” who can maybe one day learn to play baseball at a reasonably high level. The theory is that, while the risk of flame-out his high, so is the potential reward of finding a dynamic talent.

Only, that hasn’t really worked out yet, has it?

Despite public pleas for his players to have a better approach at the plate, Amaro goes out of his way to sign players who have demonstrated an inability to do just that.

In no way does the team value things like getting on base or taking walks. Not only that, Amaro seems to have eschewed the need to play defense at certain positions as well, most notably third base, first base, left field and right field.

This off-season, Amaro has brought in four players, Michael Young, Delmon Young, Revere and Betancourt, all of whom hate walking with the fiery passion of the white-hot sun. They have shown an inability to get on base with any regularity unless it is via the base hit.

And hey, if these guys all hit .330, then everything’s fine. But hitting .330 requires a lot of luck and skill. There aren’t many Tony Gwynns or Wade Boggs out there.

Whether Betancourt or Delmon Young actually play significant minutes at the Major League level is beside the point.

At the end of the day, the mission of a Major League GM is to sign “good” players.

Of course, no general manager is going to be able to stock their rosters with All-Stars at every position, and every roster must be filled out with a player or two that isn’t a dynamo. No one is expecting that from Ruben.

What people do expect is that Amaro would go out of his way to avoid bringing aboard “bad” baseball players.

A “bad” baseball player is a “bad” baseball player. No matter the age of the player or the cost associated with him, bad baseball is bad baseball. And a team has absolutely no use for “bad” baseball players, even if they’re competing for the last bench spot or the last spot in the bullpen.

The problem with targeting “bad” baseball players, especially bad players who are veterans, is that they have already maximized their potential and take playing time away from younger players whose potential remains unknown.

Why sign a player like Betancourt when Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen are already on hand? And, if the need really is there for another utility infielder, why not sign Alex Gonzalez or Ryan Theriot, players who are clearly better than Betancourt and who would have cost about the same amount?

No one is arguing the Phillies don’t spend money (well, almost nobody is arguing that). And everyone applauds Ruben for not throwing money wastefully at players like Josh Hamilton and Shane Victorino.

But the true test of a GM is how he builds his team around the edges. It is the little moves that often win a championship.

Maybe there was no Jayson Werth out there, a young player who was injured but whose skill set was worth taking a flyer on. Those types of things don’t happen very often.

But there certainly were better options than Delmon Young and Yuniesky Betancourt.

Because given how awful those two players are, there HAD to be.

But Amaro doesn’t care about those sub-.300 on-base percentages. He cares about production.

That, more than anything else, should make every Phillies fan worried that their general manager has no idea what a “good” baseball player is.

That, more than anything else, should worry Phillies fans about the future of this franchise.

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