Phillies Need Ruben Amaro To Learn From Mistakes


Can Ruben Amaro learn from past mistakes? Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

We, as humans, are learning computers. We take the lessons of the past and, if we’re smart, learn from the mistakes we’ve made and make future decisions with the knowledge gained from those failures.

Ruben Amaro has made mistakes as general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. He’s also done some very good things. But if the Phils are going to become a World Series contender at some point in the next two or three years, they are going to need Amaro to prove that he is, in fact, capable of learning from his past mistakes.

The Ryan Howard contract extension was unwise. Signing Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract was dumb. Signing Delmon Young as a free agent was destined to fail from the start. He traded away Cliff Lee after the 2009 season for a bunch of low-end Seattle Mariners prospects, none of whom have helped the Phillies out at all yet. And he gave up way too many high-value prospects in order to acquire a flawed hitter like Hunter Pence.

And don’t get me started on the team’s reluctance to look at advanced metrics or create an analytics department to support and work with their scouting department. It’s stone age thinking and will hurt the team moving forward.

All these things have crippled the Phillies in 2013. But Amaro has also done some very good things as well.

The trade for Roy Halladay was a stroke of genius, and the subsequent contract he got Halladay to agree to was brilliant as well. He signed Pedro Martinez as a free agent during the ’09 season, a move that helped get the Phillies to their second straight World Series. His trade for Roy Oswalt helped propel the team to the 2010 postseason, and signing Lee as a free agent before the 2011 season gave the team one of the most dynamic starting rotations the game has ever seen.

He’s been an aggressive GM, which most of the time if a very good thing. And there are many more moves that Amaro has made, good and bad, too many to briefly enumerate.

Jul 21, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee (33) pitches during the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The fact is, Ruben Amaro has a mixed track record as general manager. He has taken a Phillies team that won the World Series to a team that is now a mediocre shell of itself, weighed down by aging stars and bloated contracts. And he’s now paying the price for many of those mistakes.

What will make the next two days so fascinating is watching Ruben Amaro work. He plays the media brilliantly sometimes, making sure that no one ever really knows what he’s thinking.

What we do know is that the Phils are going to sell. The degree to which they will do that remains in question.

As he considers trading Cliff Lee once again, one hopes Ruben has learned from the deal that netted him Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez.  One hopes he will not trade Lee unless he gets at least one top notch prospect in return. Think Xander Bogaerts from Boston. Anything less than a player of that caliber would be akin to making the same mistake with Cliff Lee twice.

If they’re going to trade Lee, they can’t afford to get virtually nothing for him again.

One hopes that if he does decide to sign Utley to a contract extension that it’s short on years and not to steep in dollars. A two-year guaranteed contract, with performance-based options for a third year, at about $12-13 million a year would be a sensible deal for a 34-year-old player with a degenerative knee condition. Signing him to a three or four-year deal that pays him $15-17 million a year would be another bloated contract to another aging player. Would it be as bad as the Ryan Howard deal? No, but it could be as bad as the Raul Ibanez contract, which the Phils couldn’t wait to be out from under by the time the deal was done.

And one hopes Amaro never, ever, EVER signs another “closer” to a long-term, big-money contract, like the one he gave Papelbon.

Happily, Amaro at times has shown that he can learn from the past. Last offseason, he refused to overpay for one of the many free agent outfielders on the market, instead allowing players like B.J. Upton, Josh Hamilton, Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino sign for way more money and years than would have been wise. He then made two trades which have turned to be very shrewd moves in acquiring Ben Revere and Michael Young for virtually nothing.

He also waited out Jimmy Rollins two offseasons ago and got his franchise shortstop to sign a deal that was fair to both sides. Instead of jumping into the market and setting the price, as he so often does, he let things develop. And, in the end, he got what he wanted.

The single most interesting thing about this year’s trade deadline is not the prospects the Phillies could acquire or the veterans who might be leaving. It is watching Ruben Amaro work.

This could be the make-or-break trade deadline for him, and what he does this year could either put the Phillies on a course for near-term success, or doom the team to another half-decade of futility.

The knives are out, to be sure. Confidence in Amaro’s ability to rebuild this franchise is not what one would call “rampant.” For many Phils fans, Ruben needs to prove that he’s learned from some of the mistakes he’s made in the past and do things differently this time around.

It is the most interesting aspect of this year’s trade deadline.