This offseason, Ruben Amaro needs to do something he’s never done before: proceed with caution. Since taking over as Phillies GM following the 2008 World Series championship, Amaro has been known more for the bold, splashy moves than the under-the-radar ones. He’s jumped in and set the market, signing big-money free agents like Raul Ibanez and Jonathan Papelbon and trading for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Hunter Pence among others.
None of it has worked so far.
Even with a seemingly endless budget from ownership, Amaro has not gotten the Phillies over the plateau again. While the big-money, big-name players have produced some of the best summers ever remembered by Phillies fans, they have repeatedly come up short in October. While the blame for the postseason failures does not fall squarely on Amaro’s shoulders (Charlie Manuel can be more influential to the team, good or bad, in a short series), he is not without blame.
The 2012 disaster deserves equal blame among the two men—both for the construction of the roster (too top-heavy, not enough emphasis on specific aspects of the game—bullpen, bench, defense) and the game plan throughout the season (the asinine non-usage of Papelbon in tie games, the failure to adapt the lineup, the mismanagement of the bullpen). However, this is still a good team at its core. It does not need a big splash, something done with an eye both on immediately improving the team and selling tickets.
In other words, the Phillies do not need to break the bank to sign Josh Hamilton. Doing so might make them more formidable in 2013, but would set the franchise back several years. A good comparison is the Hunter Pence trade; the Phillies did not need Hunter Pence in 2011, and as it turned out they weren’t much better because he was in the lineup. However, the Phillies saw an opportunity to improve the team and re-energize the fan-base, and jumped on it. All it cost them were a few of their better prospects, who could now be offered in exchange for a player like Chase Headley without completely bankrupting the system.
Amaro needs to operate with restraint this offseason; he needs to look at the big, long-term picture (and not just in terms of staying under the luxury tax threshold, or as they love to say: “cost certainty”.)
The Phillies do need help. They need an outfielder or two, more veteran presence in the bullpen, and perhaps even another starting pitcher. They need to figure out what to do at third base, whether or not Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will ever be the players the Phillies built their team around, and to finally realize that they are not the team of 2008/2009, when they could out-slug everyone.
The Phillies need to stay away from the big-name players, the ones who are going to sign enormous contracts that can’t be moved if the player doesn’t live up to expectations. Hamilton, BJ Upton or Michael Bourn patrolling center-field would be a mistake. Amaro should concentrate his efforts on bringing in players like Shane Victorino or Angel Pagan, players whose lower production levels won’t be enough to justify the difference in potential contracts of the top three. They need to sign a couple of veteran relievers—Ryan Madson, Jonathan Broxton, Mike Adams come to mind—and perhaps add an innings-eating starter.
But what the Phillies do not need is Amaro to be Amaro. They do not need him to make a big splash, to shock the baseball world with a big signing or trade. They need him to take a page out of his predecessor’s book and stand pat. This Phillies team is good enough to win the World Series with a few minor tweaks. And if Amaro manages to control himself this offseason, the Phillies will be better off long-term.