Part two of a series. In case you missed part one, please check it out here.
As the last remaining Ruben Amaro apologist left on the internet, I am attempting to explain why it is wrong to pin all of the blame for the 2013 season on the Phillies’ general manager. Last time, I discussed the large contracts Amaro has handed out. This time, I’ll talk about the farm system.
Plundering the Farm System? Maximizing the Farm System.
A large part of the problem with the 2013 Phillies is that they were too dependent on older players. As often happens, many of them suffered injuries or declines in performance.
This is a somewhat common problem for teams that experience sustained periods of success, but it does not necessarily have to be fatal. Teams can overcome this age-related decline by producing a steady supply of young talent who can replace or supplement the older players. Unfortunately, the Phillies farm system was unable to provide many quality replacements in 2013.
Amaro’s critics will claim that is his fault because his predecessor Pat Gillick left him with a lush farm system which he plundered through numerous trades for veterans. Is that really the case? Let’s take a look at a list of the Phillies top prospects from shortly after Amaro took over:
There aren’t too many stars on that list. There aren’t even a lot of solid depth guys there. Most of the players on that list are exactly the caliber of player who ended up on the Phillies roster at the end of 2013. Dom Brown is the only player on that list who has appeared in an All-Star Game, and it should be noted that he was the one player who Amaro refused to part with.
Perhaps Amaro was aware that those players didn’t necessarily have futures as productive major leaguers. Perhaps that is why he used them in trades to obtain the likes of Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence. While none of those players enabled the Phillies to win the World Series, they did help contribute towards the Phillies five-season long dominance of the NL East.
Would any of the players traded away have definitively helped the Phillies last season? PhillyBurbs.com’s Patrick Berkery helpfully caught up with them and examined how they fared after leaving the Phillies organization.
If you didn’t want to click the link, I can summarize his findings: It would be a stretch to think that any of those players would have made a difference in the fate of the 2013 Phillies.
What does this tell us?
1. Amaro’s trades were not the main reason why the Phillies didn’t contend in 2013.
2. The deification of Pat Gillick needs to stop.
Not only did Gillick’s tenure result in an underwhelming farm system, but a couple of trades he made did far more harm to the 2013 team than any trade made by Amaro.
In 2008, the Phillies traded away Michael Bourn – a young outfielder who was under club control for the next five seasons. Bourn would go on to record 19.1 WAR over that time. What did the Phillies get in return? A closer who was one year away from free agency.
The team needed a closer was because they wanted to convert incumbent closer Brett Myers back into a starter. This move was necessary because veteran starter Freddy Garcia failed in 2007. Gillick had traded for Garcia in December 2006, giving up young pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Gavin Floyd, both of whom have had solid major league careers.
In other words, if you want to blame the Phillies general manager for the team’s problems in 2013, you probably shouldn’t stop with just Amaro. Pat Gillick had a hand in the failure as well.
Why this Will Be Amaro’s Fault in 2014
Some of those prospects that Amaro traded away might not have done much to put the 2013 Phillies into the playoffs, but they would have been nice to have around in the years ahead. If the Phillies want to return to the playoffs, they’ll need to start calling up productive players from the minors. There are signs that some of their former farmhands like Jared Cosart and Jonathan Singleton will become solid major leaguers, and would have been very nice to have around as rebuilding progresses.
Even if the prospects don’t pan out, the Phillies farm system has been stripped of its depth and that will hinder their ability to make trades. In this article, I talked about how we might see an increase in star player trades throughout baseball. If the Phillies want to get in on this action, they’ll not only need to have some prospects that other teams covet, but they need enough depth so that such a trade doesn’t leave their system barren again.
To his credit, Amaro seems to have realized this, and this will help the situation going forward. Unfortunately, when it comes to 2014 (and probably 2015), much of the damage seems to already be done.