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Grading Ruben Amaro on Phillies offseason
by Scott Butler 2/7/13

"Ruben? Ruben Amaro, will you come in here please? We have to talk. It's about your report card."

Report card time has not been fun for Mr. Amaro in the school of PhilsBaseball. I would have sent poor little Rub home crying after his offseasons in 2008, 2009...OK... after pretty much every one of his prior offseasons. But now, for the first time in the history of this blog, Ruben Amaro does not get a failing grade.

That opinion puts me in the minority, because Ruben is getting destroyed for his work over the winter. Sports Illustrated just gave him a 'D' for the offseason and fans are none too happy with Amaro’s multitude of “low risk-high reward” moves. Hard to blame them, either. Ruben openly said he was looking to free agency in the winter, so fans naturally assumed that meant guys like Hamilton, Michael Bourn, or BJ Upton. That is especially the case considering the precedent of wild spending set by him and the owners. We are so used to getting the big name that it is hard to watch other teams grab them.

But here’s the thing you need to realize: Ruben did not have the money to spend on top shelf free agents. The Phillies owners clearly used the luxury tax as their financial ceiling and therefore meant they weren’t going above $178 million. If you don’t like it, your beef is with the ownership group, not the general manager.

Think of it this way: the Phillies, despite their teeny little low risk-high reward moves, still find themselves at a payroll of about $172-175 million, leaving them at the most $6 million under the luxury tax.

All told, the Phillies spent $21.35 million on free agents. Josh Hamilton went for $25 million.

If the Phillies signed Hamilton, it would have wiped out their offseason spending and left them with no room to fill the holes at third base, the bullpen, corner outfield, and fifth starter. All of that for an extremely risky player with a contract the size of Ryan Howard’s. I would add Josh Hamilton to the lineup in a millisecond, but not if that is the only offseason move and if it jeopardizes the future of the franchise.

If you want to be realistic, ask yourself, “How would I have better spent $21-27 million?” Ruben Amaro used that money and added a young center fielder, top notch setup man, middle reliever, third baseman...and Delmon Young. Plus, he kept a first round pick (the highest first rounder in a long time) he would have lost had he signed one of the top tier free agents.

Let’s look at each of his moves on a position-by-position basis.

Analyzing Ruben Amaro’s offseason moves

Center Field Options

If centerfielders were twenty dollar bills, they would have sold for $25. This was a great time to be a free agent centerfielder. The money spent was absolute insanity and I give Ruben credit for not partaking in the sweepstakes.

Let's take a glimpse at the available free agents in CF along with how much they went for:

Michael Bourn (unsigned and seeking a $75-100 million contract)
As I mentioned last season, Michael Bourn would have been a toxic contract for the Phillies.

B.J. Upton (5 years/$75.2M)
B.J. Upton was the big name, but $15M+ per year for 5 years is WAY TOO MUCH cash for a player who hit .246 with a .298 OBP last season. $75M in guaranteed dollars? For a marginally productive player with no discipline and questionable dedication? Screw potential. I'm out and so were the Phillies.

Angel Pagan (4 years/$40M)
Was never really an option. He wanted back with the Giants and the Phillies would have needed to outbid the Giants to get him.

Shane Victorino (3 years/$39M)
Shane was my choice because he was coming off a bad year and I thought the Phillies could get him cheap. Then the Red Sox gave him $39M guaranteed bucks. Victorino had the worst year of his professional career and the Red Sox nearly doubled his $7.3M salary? Are you kidding me?!

So Ruben turned to the trade market and found Ben Revere. He grabbed a terrific defensive centerfielder with speed who hit .294 last season. Better yet, he is young (24), cheap, and not ready for free agency for several years. Sure, he has a few holes, but this solidifies one position of need. Dealing Vance Worley, who projects to be a #3 starter at best, and one top prospect in Trevor May isn’t a huge price to pay.

Corner Outfield Options

Josh Hamilton (5 years/$125M)
How does a .285 average, 43 homers, 128 RBI, and a .930 OPS sound like in the middle of your lineup? But, as I said, the Phillies didn’t have the money and probably couldn’t afford adding another aging, risky contract to their lineup anyway.

Ryan Ludwick (2 years/$15M)
This is a player I wanted in a Phillies uniform (partly because I recently discovered that our grandfathers fought in WWII together..hmm, free tickets maybe?), but he wanted to stay with the Reds.

Cody Ross (3 years/$26M)
Cody Ross would have been a nice fit, but do you really want to give three guaranteed years to Cody freakin Ross? Sorry, but I’m not blocking the path for Dom Brown or Darin Ruf for Cody Ross.

Nick Swisher (4 years/$56 million)
Good hitter, but too pricey and he would have forced the Phillies to surrender their first round draft pick.

Delmon Young (1 year/$750,000 + bonuses)
Out of all the outfield names available, this dude ranks dead last as a player and maybe even as a person. But he is the cheapest of the group and the only guy who didn’t sign for two or more years. Although I think they would have been better off with Nate Schierholtz.

Would the Phillies be better with Hamilton, Ross, or any of the centerfielders in 2014? Without question. But let me ask you this: Would you rather eat the warmest, moistest, juiciest, dump from a horse or an average tasting burger? There were concerns with all free agents and they all signed for much more than their actual value. Sometimes a bad deal is a bad deal, and these were bad deals.

Setup Man Options

Mike Adams was at the top of my list of free agent relievers. They got a pitcher whose 1.98 ERA over the past five seasons is third lowest of all relievers with at least 153 innings pitched for $6 million per year and for only two guaranteed years. Ruben added a proven veteran arm at a decent rate and without the risk of a long term contract. It’s a reasonable deal for a pitcher who can really solidify the back end of the bullpen.

Rafael Soriano/Ryan Madson/Jonathan Broxton
All three of these pitchers were looking for nothing less than closer roles with closer salaries. The Phillies couldn't offer either.

Jeremy Affeldt (3 years/$18M)
The only other name with a similar pedigree was Jeremy Affeldt, who also signed for $6 million per year. But Affeldt earned 3 guaranteed years while Adams had just two years guaranteed. Adams is just one year older, had a similar ERA over the last two seasons, and has a career ERA nearly two full runs lower. I think the Phillies made the better deal.

It is hard to argue that any of the rest of the names are superior to Adams. Check out my previous article on free agent relievers for a closer look.

Third Base Options

For an idea of how bad the free agent crop was for third base, just look at what the Yankees ended up with. They signed Kevin Youkilis, who is a few months older than Michael Young and who hit all of .235 last season, for $12 million. Youkilis hit more home runs and had a higher OBP and OPS, but he also cost nearly double the $7.2 million the Phillies paid for Young.

Ruben Amaro's Offseason Grade: B+

I’m not trying to tell you that you should be super excited about the 2013 additions of Ben Revere, Michael Young, Mike Adams, Chad Durbin, and Delmon Young. I’m just saying that they were the right moves for this team right now. I hate to say it, but these moves are more to offer flexibility in 2014 and beyond than they are to win a championship this year. 2013 is the season where Ruben’s all in, win at all-costs, go for broke, (insert your favorite cliché), approach to this point finally caught up with him.

It's hard to call 2013 anything other than a transition year. These moves were made with 2014 in mind. Utley, Halladay, and Ruiz all potentially come off the books in 2014. Cody Asche might be ready to play third base in 2014. Several young starters and a couple catchers might be ready for the bigs in 2014. The luxury tax increases by $11 million in 2014. Oh, and a big TV contract is looming.

Maybe all of the stars align and everyone stays healthy and produces as they should. Or maybe they don't and we just have to bite the bullet this year. Either way, this will be the first Spring Training worth watching in quite some time and better days might be right around the corner.

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