Ruben Amaro Now a Buyer?


Apr 12, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies general manager

Ruben Amaro

Jr during batting practice prior to playing the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a few days make.

Just before a crucial 10-game homestand against Atlanta, Washington and the Chicago White Sox, Ruben Amaro made it known that it would take a good showing in order for him to avoid selling some of the team’s well-known veteran trade pieces.

Five games in, the Phils are 4-1 after last night’s heart-pounding 4-2 win over the Nationals, pulling them to within 5 1/2 games of the wild card (trailing only Cincinnati and the Nationals) and just one game under .500.

And all of a sudden, things seem to have changed.

Oh boy. Someone get me off this merry-go-round.

The 2013 Phillies are not as good as their predecessors, this much is known. But with Atlanta playing .500 ball after a scorching April and the Phillies now 23-13 against the NL East so far this year, an argument could be made that this flawed Phils squad does have a chance at making the playoffs.

It’s not a good argument, but it’s an argument. And of course, they could just as easily lose four out of their next five games and turn Amaro into a seller again. That’s been the nature of this ballclub this year.

But, let’s say the Phillies win this series against the Nats and then win their series against the White Sox. That would almost certainly avoid any selling of players and, while it might not mean the Phils would officially become buyers, they would certainly stand pat and see what the next couple of weeks would bring.

So, if the Phis were to become buyers, what would they be looking for?

The days of the Phillies adding former Cy Young Award winners and/or impact bats are gone. The payroll is too high and one would imagine they would be reluctant to trade any of their top young minor league talent this time around. More than likely, Amaro would be looking for one or two bullpen arms, and perhaps another starting pitcher and/or another outfielder.

Making trades for bullpen arms has not been a particularly positive action for past Phils’ GMs. Just ask Ed Wade, who must still have nightmares of Dennis Cook and Turk Wendell imploding on the Veterans Stadium turf rolling through his subconscious. The only time in recent memory trading for a reliever has turned out well was the off-season acquisition of Brad Lidge, and even in that deal the Phillies had to give up an All-Star in Michael Bourn.

But, as last night’s eighth inning proved, Charlie Manuel has absolutely no confidence in any of the relievers in his bullpen not named Jonathan Papelbon. So if the Phils are going to buy, the ‘pen is the most likely area to receive some help.

The White Sox’ Matt Thornton could be a possibility. He has a 4.00 ERA in 27 innings this year with 20 strikeouts and 11 walks. Chicago’s Matt Lindstrom could also be a target, with a 3.06 ERA in 35 1/3 innings with 27 strikeouts and 18 walks. Houston has two potential relievers in Jose Veras, who has a 3.29 ERA in 38 1/3 innings this year with 41 strikeouts and 14 walks and Wesley Wright, with a 4.18 ERA in 32 1/3 innings with 30 strikeouts and 10 walks.

Miami’s Steve Cishek (2.82 ERA, 38 1/3 innings, 36/17 K/BB ratio), Mike Dunn (3.00 ERA, 39 innings, 38/22 K/BB), and Chad Qualls *vomits* (3.09 ERA, 35 innings, 24/11 K/BB) are all likely on the block.

Chicago’s Kevin Gregg is sure to go, and he’s pitched extremely well this year (1.78 ERA in 30 1/3 innings, 33/10 K/BB ratio), although his past numbers (4.37 ERA in 2011, 4.95 ERA in 2012, 4.02 career ERA) indicate his first half is likely a freak occurrence.

San Diego’s Huston Street is a big name who had a good year last year (1.85 ERA in 30 innings in 2012), but is struggling in 2013 (4.30 ERA in 29 1/3 innings, 16/8 K/BB ratio) and isn’t striking anybody out. But we all know Ruben Amaro likes names he knows.

Jul 3, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; San Diego Padres relief pitcher

Luke Gregerson

(57) pitches during the eighth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres’ Luke Gregerson might be the best reliever on the market. His career ERA is 2.89 in 317 2/3 innings, and this year it’s 2.68 with a 33/9 K/BB ratio. He would likely also cost the most in terms of prospects.

And one interesting name is Seattle’s Oliver Perez, the former starter-turned-reliever who has actually pitched pretty well out of the ‘pen the last two years. Last year, his ERA was 2.12 with a WHIP of 1.247 in 29 2/3 innings and this year he’s continued that success with an ERA of 1.89 in 33 1/3 innings with a K/BB ratio of 46 to 17. Plus, he’s a lefty.

Undoubtedly there are other names out there, but these are just some of the pitchers that Amaro could be considering.

As for outfielders, the White Sox’ Alex Rios is the prize of a group that also includes Chicago’s Alfonso Soriano, Seattle’s Raul Ibanez (you remember him, don’t you?), the Mets’  Marlon Byrd, and San Francisco’s Hunter Pence could all be available, although none of these options would be huge upgrades, although they might provide some depth and perhaps insurance for a Delmon Young regression to the norm.

That being said, I don’t want any of them.

Finally, the Phils could look to add some starting pitching, especially if they don’t feel confident that Kyle Kendrick is a true #3 starter. And I still have my doubts.

Chicago’s Matt Garza is probably the best starter available, and one wonders if the Giants might make Tim Lincecum available if they fall farther down in the standings, although Lincecum is pretty much damaged goods right now. Minnesota’s Mike Pelfrey is likely available, but that 5.63 ERA is a non-starter.

A return of Roy Halladay in a month or two could factor into any trades for starters. According to reports, Hallady is feeling good after surgery to repair his shoulder. If the surgery was successful, he could be a big addition to a team trying to make the postseason.

Although, frankly, I’m not expecting to get anything out of Halladay, and the Phillies certainly shouldn’t make any future plans with him in them.

If Ruben Amaro has shifted into buying mode, he hopefully has some other irons in the fire other than the targets specified above. Because none of those names are all that exciting.

And of course, there’s the question of whether or not buying makes any sense at all. The Phillies’ recent hot streak makes talk of selling premature to be certain, but also more needs to be seen before Amaro starts spending any capital on other players.

A sell-off is still the smartest move for this franchise for the long term. But apparently, Amaro’s mind is not headed in that direction.

At least, not today.