One of the common complaints you hear about Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. is that he cannot make the little moves that help take a team over the top. People compare him to his predecessor, Pat Gillick, who was the master of finding key small pieces to a winning puzzle. Guys like Greg Dobbs or Joe Blanton, who both played key roles on the ’08 world champions.
Certainly Amaro is no Gillick, but few are. After all, executives don’t go into the Hall of Fame unless they are once-in-a-generation baseball minds, which is what Gillick was for the Phillies, the Blue Jays and the Orioles.
Amaro has not had that kind of success during his tenure running the Phillies. That being said, if you look at the supporting cast Amaro constructed this season, it really isn’t that bad.
People around here seem to hate Ben Revere. Yet the numbers seem to point to a relatively productive player. After a miserable month of April, Revere’s contact numbers have been other-worldly. The centerfielder has not endured a month where he has hit less than .300 after April. His overall average, which dropped to a season-low .200 May 1, is back up to .300 overall for the season. No, he does not walk enough (or at all to be technical about it) to be a leadoff hitter, and he lacks power, but he has helped the Phillies win games this year.
Michael Young has not set the world on fire at third base, yet he has stayed healthy (starting 73 games already) and has been a huge upgrade over Placido Polanco. Young is a train wreck on defense and is too streaky at the plate, but when you consider what the other options in front of Amaro were this winter, Young was the best the Phillies could have done.
Pitching-wise, he screwed up the Mike Adams move. As it turned out, the right-handed reliever was not healthy. He threw money at damaged goods. It was a risk that did not pan out. But so was John Lannan, who has also bounced back nicely after a shaky start. Lannan went 0-1 with a 6.14 ERA before missing two months on the disabled list. Since his return, the right-hander is 2-2 with an earned run average just over three. That’s pretty solid stuff.
Amaro takes heat all the time for the way he jerked Domonic Brown around over the years, jockeying him up and down between the bigs and the minors. As frustrating as the process was to watch, it seems to have worked out pretty well. Brown just made his first All-Star team and is one of the 15 most feared hitters in the National League right now. Sure doesn’t seem like Amaro screwed Brown up to me.
The Phillies are languishing just above mediocrity due to five reasons. Cole Hamels has been bad, Roy Halladay has been bad and injured, the bullpen has been awful, Chase Utley missed a month (which really hurt considering how good he has been) and Ryan Howard is horrendous and injured.
The bullpen is Amaro’s fault, and he deserves to take heat for it. The Adams gamble came up snake eyes, and he had no backup plan to fix it. Still, you have to give him credit for finding a lights-out closer like Jonathan Papelbon, which is a tough task for most executives.
Hamels and Halladay are not his fault because no one could have possibly seen their issues coming. And while Utley is injury-prone, he is a cornerstone of the organization, so you cannot really get frustrated with Amaro for depending on him to be able to stay in the lineup.
The Howard situation is a different story. I was not a proponent of giving him that huge contract extension when the Phillies did, but plenty of people who know a lot more about baseball than I could ever hope to, were. To me, that means he gets blame for the decision to invest so heavily in Howard, but he deserves a real chance to try and dig the organization out from under that monstrosity of a contract. Yet if you listen to most Phillies fans, they are ready to pay personally for the flight to run the guy out of town.
He may not be Gillick, but he’s not nearly as bad as everyone makes him out to be.