Ruben Amaro Jr. is listening.
No matter how much GM-speak he rolls out, no matter how often he says that every decision he makes is tied to giving the Phillies the best chance to win, he hears those sounds.
Cole Hamels sat at his press conference on Wednesday, the announcement of his six-year, $144 million contract extension, and talked about the various factors (you know, besides all that jingle) that convinced him to stay in Philadelphia instead of taking his chances in free agency.
One of the things he referenced was unexpected.
Hamels talked about the response he received walking off the mound at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday, July 21. He had just made a yard sale of the eighth inning, giving up a game-tying home run to Melky Cabrera, then allowing three more baserunners before surrendering the ball after 7.2 innings, five earned runs and 10 hits.
You imagine that if, say, Joe Blanton had just done that, the fans would either boo or be nervously silent.
But Hamels was still as likely to leave Philadelphia as he was to stay in that moment, and the fans knew it. And they stood and cheered in appreciation for all he had given them in past seasons, and in this one.
"Words can't really describe the emotions that you get, and the way the fans were standing and cheering, that was ultimately the deciding point to be here," Hamels said.
You have to believe Ruben Amaro Jr. also saw those people standing and heard them cheering.
You wonder, though, whether he hears—and listens—to too much of that sort of thing.
Since he took the reins of the franchise in 2009, Ruben Amaro Jr.'s most prominent moves have read like this:
December 2009: Traded three minor leaguers to the Toronto Blue Jays for Roy Halladay; traded Lee to the Seattle Mariners for three minor leaguers, granting Halladay a three-year, $60 million contract extension in the process
April 2010: Signed Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125 million contract extension
December 2010: Signed Cliff Lee to a five-year, $120 million contract
July 2011: Traded four minor leaguers to the Houston Astros for Hunter Pence
November 2011: Signed Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract
December 2011: Signed Jimmy Rollins to a three-year, $33 million contract
July 2012: Signed Cole Hamels to a six-year, $144 million contract
Eight prominent moves, and you will notice that the only truly unpopular piece of any of it was the trade of Lee to Seattle. Which, you will also notice, Ruben Amaro Jr. promptly fixed by signing Lee as a free agent a year later.
The problem with all of this is not the money. Unless you own a piece of the Phillies (I'm guessing you don't) you have no reason to care how much money the team spends on any player.
Besides, do you think the Phillies are that worried about things like the luxury tax? Parking at the games is $15 now; soon enough it will be $20. Beer at the games is $7.75; soon enough it will be $9.50. Those issues tend to take care of themselves.
No, the problem is the unshakable feeling that Ruben Amaro Jr. is running the Phillies the way an impetuous rotisserie team owner manages his roster. Except it is not his whim that prompts the trades and the signings...it is stuff like the emotion pouring from the seats when Hamels leaves the mound for what looks like the last time.
The Hamels signing, while an expensive one, was probably the right decision for the franchise. After splashing cash at so many other players to sign them, retain them or extend them, and watching those players age and decline precipitously this season, letting a 28-year-old ace walk away was never going to fly.
This season, this trade deadline, though, is where we will find out whether he can do some unpopular things like trading the likes of Lee (again), Pence and Shane Victorino for the ultimate betterment of the franchise. We will see whether Ruben Amaro Jr. can avoid becoming another object lesson of the old baseball adage that says if you listen to the fans too much, pretty soon you'll be sitting with them.
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