Grading Ruben Amaro in 2012
by Scott Butler 10/20/12

I spent the last couple weeks discussing how Ruben Amaro disrespected his manager and how Amaro evaded blame for the 2012 season. Time now for one last parting shot and an evaluation of 2012 before we look ahead to 2013. Sorry Rub.

Just going by his words, Ruben Amaro feels the 2012 season boils down to little more than injuries. In his mind, 2012 was just a dose of bad luck. Reality provides a different story. There is no question injuries crushed the Phillies, but they are not the main reason the Phillies did not make the playoffs. Injuries hurt, but Amaro’s mistakes with the bullpen, bench, outfield, and injury management were devastating. Let's get to the good, the bad, and the ugly from Ruben Amaro.

Phillies bullpen

It’s difficult to find any admissions of guilt from Ruben Amaro, but here is the best you will get: "Obviously, you can't cover for all the things that happen as far as injuries and stuff are concerned, but I guess we probably could have done a little bit better job in the bullpen."

Way to step out on a ledge there, Rub. I can think of a few harsher words to use which might not be quite kosher, but let’s use his words and go with “probably” and “a little better.”

Amaro’s primary objective entering 2012 was to secure a closer. He opted not to go with Madson and instead made a four year, $50 million offer to Jonathan Papelbon, giving him the largest reliever contract ever. Although he may have overpaid for him, Papelbon had a good season, converting 38 of 42 saves and finishing with a 2.44 ERA. His 38 saves were tied for seventh in baseball and tied for third in the National League. His 90.5 save percentage ranked seventh among closers with at least 25 saves.

But Papelbon's success came at the expense of the rest of the bullpen. With so much dough tied up in Papelbon, Amaro had little left to improve the remainder of the 'pen. In fact, Papelbon accounted for the biggest percentage of bullpen salary in all of baseball with 67% of the Phillies bullpen spending being used on the closer.

With little money left to spend elsewhere, the only "upgrades" to the Phillies' bullpen were Chad Qualls, who did not even last the entire season, and Dontrelle Willis, who never made the regular season roster. As a result, the Phillies were forced to rely on young, mostly unproven relievers with disastrous results. Relievers not named Papelbon posted a 5.04 ERA in the first half of the season. Even with one of the best closers in baseball, the ERA for the entire bullpen was 4.45 through July.

The end result was that Papelbon was rendered essentially useless. Even if Amaro still spent big and signed Ryan Madson to the reported 4 years/$44 million, he would have had an extra $2 million to spend on the rest of the bullpen.

The Phillies also suffered several injuries in the bullpen, which Ruben Amaro was quick to point out. "We were kind of relying on some guys that had some success last year, and after having lost four of those guys during the early part of the year, it was a little tough for us to recover. That was something that I think I regret a little bit."

The fact is, the players who were injured (Contreras, Stutes, and Herndon) were nearly as unproven as the pitchers who eventually replaced them. Here is the bullpen roster Amaro took with him to start the season before a single injury took place.

Antonio Bastardo - Bastardo only had one decent season (2.64 ERA in 2011) and a history of control problems.
Jose Contreras - Contreras entered the season at age 40 and was coming off surgery.
Chad Qualls - Qualls had a 7.32 ERA in 2010 and a 3.51 in 2011 in pitcher friendly San Diego. And that was the guy Amaro counted on for a veteran presence. Qualls finished with a 5.33 ERA.
Mike Stutes - Stutes had a mediocre rookie season (3.63 ERA) and struggled down the stretch.
David Herndon - Herndon was average at best with a career 3.85 ERA.
Kyle Kendrick - Kendrick was a decent choice as a long man, but still an erratic pitcher.
Jonathan Papelbon - Pappy was the only truly reliable pitcher on the bullpen staff.

To allow such a group of shaky relievers was irresponsible for a general manager who expects to contend for a championship. Ruben Amaro made a choice to put all his eggs in one basket, which left the Phillies extremely vulnerable and eventually cost them dearly in the standings.

Ryan Howard and Chase Utley

Ruben Amaro is quick to mention the effect of losing Howard and Utley. "It is hard to cover for two guys in the middle of the lineup that aren't going to be back for a significant period of time. I wish we could have covered a little bit better from that."

In reality, Amaro grossly mishandled the situations with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. He knew heading into the offseason that Ryan Howard would miss significant time due to his Achilles injury. Although it would be impossible to replace Howard's bat, it was Amaro's job to find complementary pieces as a stopgap. As I will get into later, his choices of Thome, Wigginton, and Nix were ineffective.

He fumbled equally as badly with Chase Utley. The Phillies were aware entering the offseason that Chase Utley had a chronic knee condition. Chronic meant his condition would not go away and the best he could do was manage the pain. That is in addition to his overall propensity for injury. Amaro had an obligation to plan for the eventuality and almost inevitability that Utley would return to the disabled list again in 2012.

Amaro not only did not add a backup second baseman or upgrade the position, but he traded utility player Wilson Valdez. Without Valdez, the Phillies were left with Michael Martinez, who hit .196 the year before, and Freddy Galvis, who had never played second base and had a lifetime minor league average of .246. Valdez hit just .206 with the Reds, but Martinez was still worse at .174.

The bench

To help shoulder some of the offensive burden of losing Ryan Howard, Ruben Amaro added Laynce Nix, Jim Thome, and Ty Wigginton. While we will not know Laynce Nix's possible impact since he missed most of the season with a calf injury, we do know that Wigginton and Thome did not work out.

Jim Thome proved he was unable to play first base anymore and was ineffective in his role on the bench and needed to be shipped to Baltimore.

Ty Wigginton was another failed experiment. Wigginton proved to be versatile, as he played 125 games at three positions, but he was a defensive liability and committed a total of 12 errors. He also failed at the plate, hitting just .235 with 11 home runs.

Amaro passed on several free agents who would have done a much better job covering for the losses of Howard and Utley. Two of the more expensive options would have been Yoenis Cespedes or Josh Willingham.

The 26-year-old Cespedes signed as an outfielder with Oakland for four years and $36 million. All he did was hit .292 with 23 home runs and 82 RBIs in a pitcher's park in Oakland. The Minnesota Twins signed Josh Willingham for three years and $21 million. He hit 30 doubles, 35 home runs, and drove in 110 runs.

Amaro would have needed to shed some salary elsewhere to acquire either player, but passing on Nix ($1.15 million) and Wigginton ($2 million) would have saved $3.15 million, while replacing Papelbon with Madson would saved another $2 million. The $5.15 million they would have saved along with possibly dealing Victorino or Pence would have more than covered for Willingham or Cespedes.

Several more reasonable options were also available to the Phillies.

Cody Ross signed for one year/$3 million and hit .267 with 22 HR and 81 RBI.

Raul Ibanez at $1.1 million hit .240 with 19 HR. Not great, but still better than Wigginton.

Brandon Moss hit .291 with 21 HR and 52 RBI. He would have cost practically nothing and Ruben did not need to look far since he was with the Phillies and Lehigh Valley just last year.

John Mayberry, Jr.

John Mayberry, Jr. was another bust for Ruben Amaro. I will admit I was a big fan of giving the left fielder's job to John Mayberry prior to the season. After hitting .315 with 10 HR, 25 RBI, and a .621 slugging percentage after July 22 last season, Mayberry had us both fooled. In 2012, he hit .245 with a .301 OBS, 14 HR, and 46 RBI. Worse than that were his numerous mental mistakes at the plate, on the base paths, and in the field. John Mayberry will not be a starter in 2013.

Placido Polanco

Ruben Amaro gets the blame for Placido Polanco, as well. Polanco has been a terrific hitter throughout his career, but he was a bad signing three years ago. How can I blame Amaro for Polanco getting injured? I'll tell you why. Amaro decided to bring in a 34-year-old free agent onto an already aging team. Polanco would have been a steal at $6 million per season had he been healthy, but he was only healthy for one of the three seasons.

Although it looked good at the time, a general manager must have the ability to see further than just in front of his face. A young team like the Nationals or the Marlins can afford to gamble on an aging player, but an old Phillies team could not. It was an especially costly gamble in 2012, as Polanco played only 90 games and hit .257 with 2 HR and 19 RBI.

Hunter Pence

Hunter Pence might be the single worst decision in Ruben Amaro's tenure. Pence hit fine for the Phillies this season (.271 avg., 17 HR, 59 RBI), but his undisciplined approach, inability to move runners, and awful outfield play was maddening at times and absolutely not worth the top prospects it took to get him on a terrific 2011 Phillies team.

To acquire Pence, the Phillies gave up three of their best prospects and four players total, exhausting nearly all of the Phillies' remaining quality minor league pieces. Included in the deal was outfielder Jonathan Singleton, who was one of two highly ranked outfielders the Phillies had available. Singleton hit .284 with 21 HR and 79 RBI in AA last season while Domonic Brown hit just .235 with the Phillies this season.

And for what? The Phillies held a 5 game lead over the Braves at the time of the trade. It was nice to add some offense at mid-season, but it was not worth emptying the farm system.

Good moves by Ruben Amaro

Amaro made a good decision in re-signing Jimmy Rollins. It is hard to overlook his continual failure to run hard, propensity for pop-ups, and unwillingness to take pitches, but he still ranks as one of the best shortstops.

Rollins' .746 OPS ranked sixth among the 16 major-league shortstops with at least 500 plate appearances. His 23 home runs were second only to Washington's Desmond, who had 25, and his 33 doubles were second only to Miami's Jose Reyes, who had 37. His .978 fielding percentage was the best in the National League.

For $800,000, Juan Pierre hit .307, scored 59 runs, stole 37 bases, outworked everyone, hustled every play, mentored any young player who would listen, and had one of the best overall attitudes you will ever encounter. However...

"He obviously had a great year for us," Amaro said. "I think where we're going to go, however, may affect his chances of being with our club. You can look at our club and see how lefthanded we are, and that righthanded bats are something we have to consider. That may not necessarily preclude him from coming back, but I think we have some other fish to fry and that may not be the first one." Along with Pierre goes one of Ruben's few good moves.

Amaro was smart to retain veterans Kevin Frandsen and Erik Kratz as minor-league insurance. Not sure how much work was involved in keeping them both, but Frandsen and Kratz were welcome surprises.

Remember when you laughed to yourself when the Phils signed Kendrick to a two-year, $7 million contract? Who would have thought that would be a bargain. After a fairly disastrous first half, Kendrick posted a 2.87 ERA in the second half. Kendrick was so dominant that he is a lock for the fourth or fifth starter position in 2013.

Last chance for Ruben Amaro

Ruben Amaro, Jr., has lived a charmed life as Phillies general manager, inheriting a World Champion and enjoying the National League's highest payroll. Yet since his arrival, he has bought one free agent after another and continually depleted the farm system while his teams have ended their seasons sooner and sooner.

The Phillies general manager completely failed in 2012. It is hard to state it any other way. Largely because of his failings, the Phillies face roadblocks in many areas. He is now short at third base and all three outfield positions. His staff ace is no longer an ace. His team is getting older. Contracts expire next season for three of his superstars. And he doesn't have the Nationals to kick around any longer.

The party is over, Rub. Your inheritance is largely gone and you can't buy your way out of this one. Time to start acting like a real general manager because this might be your last chance.

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