Same Old Ruben
Ruben Amaro, Jr. recently had an interview with Ken Rosenthal at Fox Sports and, judging by his answers, really hasn’t made any adjustments to his philosophies. I don’t know if I should have expected anything different, or even if he would admit to mistakes in public. But let’s take a look at some of the things he said.
First, Ruben seems to be going in circles with the whole age issue. When discussing the team, Amaro says: “The problem is getting them on the field consistently.” Rosenthal correctly points out that many of the players are getting older. Ruben responds by saying “I guess they’re a little older, but they’re not ancient. There are a lot of players out there who can be extraordinarily effective and be a little bit older. You can sit here and name a zillion of ’em.” And then Amaro names none of them. A little less than a zillion. That’s a lot. He does mention the Red Sox, saying that they are a “little older” which is sort of true, but they are still younger than the Phillies. He mentioned the Red Sox before in the context of not having to go through a rebuilding period, which is nice, but the Phillies won’t find a team like the Dodgers to take their bad contracts off their hands like the Sox did. Ruben also said this little head-scratcher: “I think it’s more a matter of getting them on the field and healthy than it is age.” Um, could it be that they are not healthy and on the field because of their age??
Rosenthal also asked Amaro about whether he thinks Ryan Howard’s contract was a mistake. Obviously, he is not going to say “yes”. Amaro goes on to say that no one could have predicted Howard would have ruptured his achilles tendon, which is true. However, and this goes for what Howard said yesterday in his press conference about being injured the past few years, his decline is not just about his injuries. It has been about his approach at the plate. Ever since his incredible MVP year in 2006, except for one season, his OPS has gone down every year, even before he got hurt. He always struck out a lot, but he also used to walk a lot too, believe it or not. That, combined with less power, makes for the lower OPS. Anyone who has watched the Phillies knows for the past few years Howard has really looked lost at the plate, especially against left-handers. It’s gotten so bad, Ryne Sandberg has not ruled out platooning him, for which I applaud him. I hope it is not necessary, but it has to be on the table. You know Charlie never would have said that. My point here is that you just can’t blame his troubles on injury. I hope I’m wrong and he has a great year, but it’s a big if.
And then we get good ol’ Papelbon. While I don’t agree with the sabermetrics folks on everything, I am totally on board with the theory that you should rarely pay a lot of money for a closer. If you read this blog, you know I am not a Papelbon fan. He had a horrible second half combined with an even worse attitude last year. And he has a huge contract for a closer. Rosenthal asked about this contract and Ruben said: “…there were a set of closers out there that year. We negotiated with several of them. We signed the best one…. But I don’t have any regrets. We wanted the player. We paid for him.” This was troubling contract from the beginning because it is quite a long deal for a pitcher that relies on velocity. It’s a four year deal, with an option for a fifth (which probably will not vest, however). It’s also expensive, too, at about $12.5 million a year. Papelbon had a reputation for not being the best guy in a clubhouse, and he has lived down to that. No other closer that year received a four-year deal. Papelbon was the best option available, but the contract was just too long and for too much money, and now he is untradable. Yes, hindsight is 20/20, but the contract was more of the mistake than the signing (although Joe Nathan has turned out to be the better cloer available from that year. Again, hindsight, Nathan was older). Craig Kimbrel is an example of a closer who should have a big contract. He’s really, really good, and only 25. That’s what good talent evaluation will get for you. The Phillies drafted three guys ahead of Kimbrel that year. Two traded away (Anthony Gose might be a good player in the future), and the other one is foundering in the minors. Kimbrel has a career WHIP of .902, with an unbelievable .654 in 2012. Are you kidding me?
Rosenthal actually asks him about the value of closers, and I think it’s worth quoting Ruben in full here:
I guess there are different theories about that, whether you can develop closers, whether you can just get lucky with them. I happen to believe, and my staff and advisors believe, in having as good a closer as you possibly can to close games and win championships. I don’t know of too many teams in the past 25 to 30 years that haven’t had a great closer or a very good quality closer to win a World Series. Pap has made the last pitch of the season. He knows what it’s like. And that’s an important element when you’re trying to be a contender every year.
It’s true many good teams have good bullpens and closers, but you don’t need to overpay for them. Of all the closers last year, Papelbon had the lowest save percentage. While you can’t blame all blown saves on the closer, and luck/random events do occur, that’s pretty bad, especially taking his contract into account. Another relief pitcher making a third of Papelbon’s salary could have had a better percentage. And while his other numbers were good from last year (ERA, WHIP), that’s taking his full season into account. Looking at his second-half numbers tells the real story.
Then we get to the whole “It’s my job to put a contender on the field every year” idea of Amaro’s:
The expectations get high. You create a fan base that expects greatness, and they should. The ownership group has been supportive of an extraordinarily high payroll to try to keep the ball rolling and put us in contention. It’s up to me and the people who work with me to try to make the right decisions to be a contender every year. I’m given the opportunity to do a lot of things. A friend of mine used to say, “More money, more problems.” But that’s how it works.
First of all, I didn’t know Biggie Smalls was his friend. Secondly, I agree with a local sportswriter who took issues with this idea who basically said that it’s his job to have a long-term strategy and that means sometimes you have to break a team down in order for it to be good for a long period of time instead of using temporary fixes to maybe reach .500. I understand why Ruben feels that way, but it’s not good for the long-term success for a team. Look at St. Louis and how they can let free agents walk because they have young guys ready to take their places. I think most educated fans would understand a rebuilding effort as long as it is not a sustained effort like in Pittsburgh until last year, etc.
But it’s spring training, so that means we’re still in it, right?