It’s 2013. Ryan Howard is 33. Jimmy Rollins is 34. Chase Utley is 34. Roy Halladay is days away from being 36. Cliff Lee is 34. And right before our eyes, a team that features those names, has aged rapidly and is no longer the World Series contender that a team with those names should be. And fans are finally coming to the conclusion that it is time for a “re-tool”. The problem is that you don’t just wake up one day, and decide that, “things aren’t going well, let’s re-tool at this trade deadline, and by the beginning of 2014 seasons we’ll be a World Series contender.” And I don’t even think Ruben Amaro believes in that thought process, let alone, what it will take to truly re-build the Philadelphia Phillies.
Ruben Amaro is a shock-jock general manager, who replaced Pat Gillick, and did a complete 360 in terms of style and philosophy, and while we loved acquiring Cliff Lee twice, acquiring Roy Oswalt, signing Jonathan Papelbon, and re-signing Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Cole Hamels to long-term deals, it is evident that Ruben Amaro wasn’t building the next great Phillies championship team, he was trying to hold onto the one who won the World Series in 2008.
Before I continue on, let me define re-tool and explain the difference between re-tooling and re-building. Re-tooling, is keeping pieces on your team that have allowed you to have success in the past, but will still be able to produce at a high enough level to be worth keeping on a deal of two or three years, or in the case of Ryan Howard longer. And sometimes it means letting players go, that fans and and analysts believe are still worth the market value of the next contract that they are going to get, because you know that they don’t fit into keeping you at the level of a World Series contender. The Red Sox letting Pedro Martinez walk away after 2004 comes to mind. Not only does it mean being very selective about players that you keep on your roster, it means evaluating and bringing in the right pieces in free agency, that sometimes make a splash, but more often than no go un-noticed until they are producing at the level of an all-star, (see Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino). And Pat Gillick got that because he used the waiver wire to pick up pieces like Greg Dobbs and Jayson Werth, and utilized the Rule-5 draft to grab Shane Victorino and while those signings didn’t grab national headlines, they produced one more World Title than Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence, Roy Oswalt, and the other big signings/trades of the Ruben Amaro era have. The final piece of re-tooling is moving players from your team that represent a losing culture. Pat Gillick did that with Bobby Abreu and while the trade had a mixed reaction and the Phillies got virtually nothing for Abreu it was addition by subtraction, because it got rid of a losing culture and opened the door for Shane Victorino to explode onto the scene. Unfortunately the Phillies are past the point of re-tooling, because you don’t decide you are going to re-tool, you just gradually do it. You let Jimmy Rollins walk away, you filter in younger players and gradually turn over your roster. No, the Phillies didn’t really do that because anytime they let players walk away, take Placido Polanco for example, they filtered in another older player like Michael Young.
Instead, Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to sap all of the juice out of this current Phillies core, and instead of realizing that you weren’t going to win another title with current Phillies core, he continued to try to see if he couldn’t make things work just one last time. And at no time, should it have been more evident that the 2008 and post era Phillies were over than when Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, and Joe Blanton were all dealt last trade deadline. That should have been the point where Ruben Amaro said, no more big contracts for the time being, because instead of trying to build the core of this team through big contracts, I’m going to try to rebuild the depleted minor league system to help build the core of the next great Phillies team, And the way to really go all in, and rebuild the minor league system, would have been to trade Cole Hamels. I love Cole, but the bottom line is that he isn’t a top five pitcher, but the Phillies could have gotten that type of value in a trade for Hamels, and instead they gave him a six-year/144 million-dollar deal. Not only is Cole Hamels, just not good enough for that type of deal, but in my mind the only time you give that type of deal, is when your team is set and has no other holes. The Phillies were far from that. They had no long-term stability at second-base, third-base, or any of the outfield positions, and their bullpen was a mess. So needless to say the Phillies could have used the re-tooling then, and used the prospects that they would have gotten for Hamels to help build a brighter future, and the salary relief to fill other holes. And Ruben Amaro chose to continue to try to believe this current Phillies team could still win a title.
And here we are on May 12th and it is clear as day that the Phillies are at best a team that will win 85 or 86 games this year, and that is if all goes well. And beyond this year, there isn’t a ton to look forward too, because Ruben Amaro hasn’t changed his stripes. He hasn’t figured out that you don’t build a great team through free-agency and big trades, but rather through the farm system. And his tenure has put the Phillies past the point of re-tooling, and to the point that it may be a longer process or a re-build. And I don’t trust that he can re-build this team into a long-term contender that can win a World Title.
So when I hear people say, “It’s time for Ruben to re-tool this team”, I get sick. The time to re-tool this team, was two or three years ago. Now it is time to re-build this team, and I don’t need to see Ruben Amaro stick around as General Manager to do that, because nothing he has done thus far, has led me to believe that he is the right man to do that.