Grading Ruben Amaro Jr.'s 25 Biggest Offseason Moves as Phillies GM
No one is ever going to accuse a general manager of a Major League Baseball team of having an easy job, namely because when someone needs to shoulder the blame (or reap the benefits), it falls on the guy who is responsible for putting the team together.
As with any position with an ounce of power and responsibility, when things go well, you're a great general manager. When things go wrong, it's all your fault.
Ruben Amaro Jr. is a man who has experienced both ends of the spectrum as the GM of the Philadelphia Phillies. He took over following a World Series title in 2008 and missed the postseason in one of the team's most highly anticipated seasons in 2012.
Now, with an aging core and few prospects ready to step up as reinforcements, Amaro has his work cut out for him this offseason. With several holes to fill and limited resources, he'll need to be both smart and savvy.
Is he up to the task? One way to find out is to take a look back at his offseason history. Amaro has a long history of offseason moves with the Phillies and now, it's time to slap a grade on them.
Each move will be graded on the following attributes: Performance and contract.
That's it. Did Amaro get the perfect amount of bang for his buck? Let's take a look.
The Deal: Two years, $5.25 million
Some deals are just bound to fail, and this was one of them.
After failing to re-sign Chan Ho Park to fortify the bullpen, Ruben Amaro Jr. went out and signed Danys Baez to a deal that instantly seemed like it was for too much and too long. Two years for a reliever who hadn't pitched a sub-four ERA since 2005?
At that point, it seemed as though Baez was destined to fail, and he did. He struggled mightily with the Phillies, who had no choice but to designate him for assignment before his contract expired. In less than two seasons, his ERA was 5.81 for the Phils.
Jose Contreras (2010 & 2011)
The Deal: (2010) One year, $1.5 million
When you look over the careers of some high-profile general managers, some of their best transactions are of the low-risk, high-reward variety. When you have nothing to lose, good things tend to happen.
That's what made Jose Contreras so valuable for the Phillies during his first contract. After experimenting out of the bullpen as a member of the Colorado Rockies, the Phillies signed Contreras to be a reliever full-time in 2010.
It was a low-risk move that worked well. Contreras made 67 appearances and posted an ERA of 3.34. Not bad production for just $1.5 million, but that led Amaro to...
The Deal: (2011) Two years, $5.5 million
...sign Contreras to a multi-year contract in the following offseason—something that people questioned right off of the bat. Giving a raise in both years and dollars to a 39-year-old reliever never seems to end well.
And it didn't. While Contreras pitched well for the Phillies when he was on the mound, he was rarely on the mound. He made 34 total appearances over the length of his new contract.
The deal also included an option for the 2013 season, which the Phillies have declined.
The Deal: One year, minor league contract.
General managers make plenty of minor league signings that often go under the radar, but every now and then one jumps up above the others and stands out. For Ruben Amaro Jr., one of those guys is Kevin Frandsen.
After leading Triple-A in hits, Frandsen joined the Phillies last season and didn't disappoint. He hit .338 and stole the starting third base job away from the incumbent Placido Polanco.
The Phillies and Frandsen have already avoided arbitration for next season, giving the club a solid fallback plan in case they come up empty in their search for a third baseman this winter.
Another guy worth a mention on this slide is Erik Kratz, who joined the Phillies as a minor league free agent and will likely serve as the club's backup catcher in 2013.
The Deal: Two years, $2.6 million
If Ruben Amaro Jr. was a bit more hesitant in giving out "extra" guaranteed years on contracts, he'd be an exponentially better general manager, because while he's made some good decisions, the bad ones really seem to stick because the player always seems to stick around for an extra season.
Ross Gload is the perfect example. With Greg Dobbs having moved on, the Phillies needed Gload to step in and be their left-handed bat off of the bench. Perhaps feeling pressured to get a deal done, Amaro caved and gave him two years.
Gload's first season with the Phillies was excellent. His second season was horrendous, as he dealt with a fraying hip and could barely play by the end of the season.
Now, it looks like Amaro made the same mistake with Laynce Nix.
The Deal: Phillies trade Kyle Drabek, Travis D'arnaud and Michael Taylor to Toronto Blue Jays for Roy Halladay; sign Halladay to three-year, $60 million contract.
After nearly two decades without much starting pitching, Ruben Amaro Jr. went on a bit of a shopping spree in the latter half of the last decade. After acquiring Cliff Lee during the 2009 season, he turned around and acquired Roy Halladay in the offseason.
While Lee would ultimately be the victim of that trade, the Phillies got the pitcher that they really wanted from the beginning. It cost them three top prospects, but has been well worth it.
Through his first three seasons as a Phillie, Halladay has won a Cy Young Award, tossed a perfect game and a postseason no-hitter and won 51 games. Talk about pitching "as advertised." This was one of Amaro's best moves, easily.
The Deal: Rule 5 selection from Los Angeles Angels.
It sure looks like the Phillies may have given up on David Herndon too soon.
Ruben Amaro Jr. plucked him out of the Los Angeles Angels system in the Rule 5 draft prior to the 2010 season, and while the Phillies kept him aboard throughout the season, Herndon was nothing to write home about. His 2011 season wasn't spectacular either.
Early in the 2012 season, Herndon seemed to have turned a page and the results were better, but he injured his elbow shortly thereafter and needed to have Tommy John surgery.
Still recovering, the Phillies recently designated Herndon for assignment in a bit of a roster crunch and lost him on waivers to the Toronto Blue Jays, who would in turn lose him to the New York Yankees.
You almost have to assume that Herndon's best days are ahead of him.
The Deal: Phillies trade Wilson Valdez to Cincinnati Reds for Jeremy Horst.
Was this a lucky break for the Phillies' general manager or a stroke of genius?
When the Phillies sent Wilson Valdez to the Cincinnati Reds, it was a curious decision. Depth had been an issue for the club in recent seasons and while Valdez was getting a raise, his salary would still be less than $1 million.
But the rhetoric was that Ruben Amaro Jr. and company felt as though Valdez was expendable and the Reds were interested, so a trade went down. In return, the Phillies got salary relief and a throw-in by the name of Jeremy Horst.
Well, as it turned out, the Phillies bullpen was a mess early in the season and Horst got his shot. He impressed all the right people, striking out 40 batters in 31.1 innings pitched and allowing just four earned runs.
The Deal: Three years, $31.5 million
Can't say that I'm speaking from experience, but there is probably no worse feeling for a general manager than absolutely needing to sign a free agent, but not having options available at your position of need.
That's what happened to the Phillies before the 2009 season. Pat Burrell was on the decline and the club had already decided to part ways with him. They needed to replace his production in left field, but the only real option was Raul Ibanez.
Ruben Amaro Jr. wound up signing him to a three-year, $31.5 million contract, which "experts" believed was for too long and too much, and in hindsight, they were right.
But not having options is not an excuse for a poor transaction. The first half of Ibanez's first season is the lone reason I didn't give this deal an "F."
Ibanez wound up being a solid left fielder, but he was nothing short of a butcher defensively and didn't do something so drastic offensively that the scales were tipped. This was just a below average deal made out of necessity.
Cliff Lee (Trade and Free Agent)
The Deal: Phillies trade Cliff Lee to Seattle Mariners for Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and JC Ramirez.
I wanted to get to as many of Ruben Amaro Jr.'s offseason transactions as possible, so both of the Cliff Lee deals are on this page. The first is the trade to the Seattle Mariners—a move that Amaro came under fire for, and rightfully so.
Was it about the prospects or were the Phillies being cheap?
After acquiring Roy Halladay, Amaro's claim was that the Phillies needed to restock the farm system, so he sent Lee to the Mariners for a trio of prospects—each of whom have failed to live up to their original, lofty expectations.
Meanwhile, Lee, on a very manageable one-year deal, reached the World Series for a second consecutive season—this time as a member of the Texas Rangers.
The Deal: Five years, $120 million
Following the 2010 season, Amaro made it perfectly clear how he really felt about Lee. The Phillies used the hooplah of a bidding war between the New York Yankees and Rangers to plan a stealth offer to bring Lee back—one that he accepted.
Bringing Lee back was both a smart business and public relations move for the Phillies. They marketed their "Four Aces" big time and Lee has been worth every penny they've given him to date, though the win total may not reflect that.
The Deal: Rule 5 selection from Washington Nationals.
There isn't much risk involved with a Rule 5 draft pick. If you see someone you like, you pick him up from another club. If you work out a deal with the former club or keep him on your roster for an entire season, he's yours to keep.
But why did the Phillies keep Michael Martinez?
Martinez was historically bad for the Phillies in 2012 and wasn't much better the previous year. While he is theoretically a depth player at a couple of different positions, Martinez shouldn't have been in the MLB for as long as he was.
The Phillies finally made the right decision and removed him from the 40-man roster.
John Mayberry Jr.
The Deal: Phillies trade Greg Golson to Texas Rangers for John Mayberry Jr.
John Mayberry Jr. may not have lit the world on fire as a member of the Phillies, but he has been a lot more productive than Greg Golson, who the Phillies swapped him with.
Without even hitting arbitration, Mayberry has hit 35 home runs and played quality defense for the Phillies over parts of four seasons.
He may not be an everyday player, but he isn't a bad option to have on the bench either. Solid deal for the Phils.
The Deal: Two years, $13 million
Anyone who has ever woken up in the morning with a stiff neck or sore muscles knows that getting older isn't fun. That's a crude way of explaining why most teams find it dangerous to guarantee a contract to older pitchers.
But that Ruben Amaro Jr.? He laughs in the face of danger. At least, that's what it seemed like he was doing when he offered a 46-year-old Jamie Moyer a multi-year contract.
Sure, Moyer is a "different" kind of pitcher. He has never thrown hard and he relies on movement and change in speed to confuse hitters. But if you're telling me that the Phillies felt as though they had to give Moyer a multi-year deal, well, I'm just not following.
He wound up winning 21 games, but that's a deceiving number. He got plenty of run support while posting an ERA of 4.89 over that span of time. He also suffered an injury during the 2010 season that would lead to a Tommy John surgery.
The Deal: Two years, $2.5 million
If every general manager has his vice, Ruben Amaro Jr.'s is a strange willingness to give out extra guaranteed years on contracts. Laynce Nix is just another example.
The Phillies signed Nix to a two-year deal last winter—the first Major League contract of his career—and things didn't go as planned. Nix suffered a serious calf strain and never fully recovered from it during the season. He didn't hit for nearly as much power as anticipated either.
But this deal was guaranteed to fail from the start. It just isn't necessary to guarantee multi-year contracts to replacement level players and now, the Phillies will find themselves debating whether or not to bite the bullet and move on or keep Nix around for 2013.
The Deal: Four years, $50 million (plus vesting option).
I'm struggling to grade Jonathan Papelbon's deal this early in the contract for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I think we all know that he is never going to live up to that $50 million salary. It's just impossible for a reliever.
Then you have to figure out just how valuable a "save" is to a ball club. I tend to find myself giving Papelbon a lot of credit, because the Phillies bullpen would have been in shambles without him last season.
So for now, I'll give this deal a "C"—right in the middle of the road. I have a feeling that it will end up being worse than that, however.
Chan Ho Park
The Deal: One year, $2.5 million
Early in the 2009 season, Chan Ho Park was a train wreck and on pace for an easy "F," but baseball is a funny game and Park straightened himself out pretty quickly.
The Phillies had signed Park prior to the season along with a promise that he would be given the opportunity to compete for the fifth starter's role in spring training—a job that many expected him to lose. But he beat out incumbents like JA Happ and Kyle Kendrick and started the season in the rotation.
It didn't go well. Through his first seven starts, Park was shelled to the tune of a 7.29 ERA. Charlie Manuel had seen enough and sent him to the bullpen, where something magical happened—Park turned into one of the club's best relievers.
He made 38 appearances and allowed just 14 earned runs, striking out 52 in the process.
To be fair, Park saved Ruben Amaro Jr. this time. I'll give him an "A."
The Deal: One year, $800,000 (minor league contract).
Every once in a while, a deal comes along that can be classified as a "no-brainer" for a club. Signing Juan Pierre to a minor league contract was a no-brainer for Ruben Amaro Jr. and company.
On a non-guaranteed deal, the worst that could happen would be Pierre bottoming out in spring training and the Phillies cutting ties with him before the regular season. No harm, no foul. At most, however, he could step in and be a valuable asset to the club for cheap, and he was.
With John Mayberry Jr. failing to win the starting left field job, Pierre stepped up to take the role. He hit .307 and swiped 37 bases for less than $1 million.
The Deal: Three years, $18 million
The Phillies broke the mold a bit when they signed Placido Polanco to a three-year deal to be their new third baseman because he didn't hit like most third baseman across the league—a powerful bat normally inserted into the middle of a lineup.
In Polanco, the Phillies were more interested in his caliber of defense and ability to make contact at the plate. With few other options, Ruben Amaro Jr. didn't have much of a choice here. He needed to get a deal done.
In the first year of the new deal, Polanco made Amaro look like a genius. He played a Gold Glove-caliber third base and hit .298. That was the beginning of the end, however, as injuries and inconsistent performances plagued the rest of Polanco's contract.
The Deal: One year, $1.15 million
In about a month's time, Chad Qualls went from "one of the biggest bargains of the winter" to "get this guy off of the roster."
With uncertainty surrounding the health of Jose Contreras, the Phillies wanted an insurance plan in case their right-handed setup man couldn't go, and as it turns out, it was a good idea. The Phillies signed Qualls off of the bargain bin and he was eventually forced into the setup role.
For about a month, Qualls looked like one of the best relievers in the league, but quickly spiraled out of control shortly thereafter. He bottomed out quickly and the Phillies were forced to designate him for assignment.
The Deal: Three years, $33 million (plus vesting option).
It's probably not a good idea to judge a three-year deal (that will likely wind up being a four-year deal) just a year in, but Ruben Amaro Jr. got plenty of bang for his buck when he signed Jimmy Rollins to his new deal last winter.
Shortstop is a premium position and Rollins is one of the best defenders in the game. As long as he stays healthy, there is a good chance that he can live up to his $11 million AAV with relative ease.
But what Rollins also provides is offensive upside from a position that offensively weak across the game. He has above average speed and 20-home run power—a unique combination that makes him a dynamic player.
He may not be suited to hit atop an order, but Rollins is one of the best all-around shortstops in the game and Amaro did a good job of getting him re-signed.
The Deal: One year, $1.35 million
There comes a time when you have to say enough is enough, and the Phillies got to that point with JC Romero a little late.
Romero was a big part of the bullpen that helped the Phillies win the World Series in 2008 and was already under a contract that makes people scratch their heads. Three years for a left-handed specialist? That's a lot of risk for clubs.
But you would think that the Phillies were ready to move on following a contract that included everything from injuries to a 50-game suspension. However, the Phillies and Romero agreed to one final deal.
The 2011 season didn't go as planned for Romero. He made just 24 appearances before Antonio Bastardo made him redundant and the Phillies cut him.
The Deal: Two years, $2.75 million
Signing a backup catcher normally isn't a groundbreaking decision, and in some ways, Brian Schneider was the right guy at the right time for the Phillies, but again, you have to wonder why he was offered a multi-year contract.
Schneider wound up being a good defensive backstop who knew how to handle a veteran pitching staff thanks to years of experience, but his offense dropped to almost nothing. It's his defense an experience stopping me from giving this deal an "F."
When this contract had expired, the Phillies signed Schneider to a one-year, $800,000. Not a bad deal for a backup catcher, but Schneider found himself on the disabled list and really opened the door for Erik Kratz.
The Deal: One year, $1.25 million
In hindsight, bringing Jim Thome back didn't work out for the Phillies, but it was an out of the box, creative attempt to solve the club's need for some left-handed pop off of the bench and, for a little over $1 million, a move that I'm sure most clubs would have made.
Thome's primary role for the Phillies was pinch-hitter and he struggled mightily doing that. He also couldn't stay healthy enough to play first base—another experiment for the Phils.
And while he couldn't work things out in the National League, Thome practically carried the Phillies as their designated hitter in Interleague Play. You have to wonder what his numbers would have looked like if the Houston Astros moved to the AL last year and the Phillies squared off with the AL more often.
It was worth a shot. It just didn't work.
The Deal: One year, minor league contract.
Raul Valdes is probably more "lightning in a bottle" than a quality signing, but you can't discredit a guy for being lucky and Ruben Amaro Jr. made a solid move in getting the reliever to Philadelphia.
After opening the year in Triple-A, Valdes joined the Phillies as part of a small bullpen shakeup early in the season as Amaro and manager Charlie Manuel tried to light a fire under their bullpen.
Valdes was one of the guys that stuck. In 27 appearances he struck 35 batters and allowed just 10 earned runs.
That's great production out of a journeyman on a minor league deal. It's a shame he had to have knee surgery.
The Deal: One year, minor league contract.
A good general manager is able to build depth for his club, and while Ruben Amaro Jr. has shown glimpses of being able to do so, some of his moves stand out above the rest.
For example, getting Wilson Valdez on a minor league contract following the 2009 season turned out to be a huge benefit for the Phillies. With both Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins missing time in 2010, Valdez stepped in to play an impeccable defense in the middle infield.
His bat was never his strong suit, but Valdez showed that having a quality defender on your bench just in case was something that a contending club couldn't live without.
The Deal: Phillies acquire Ty Wigginton from Colorado Rockies.
Sometimes general managers make a solid move that just doesn't work out. In this case, it was a low-risk trade with the Colorado Rockies for Ty Wigginton.
Wigginton came to the Phillies billed as a solid "utility player" who could play several positions and hit left-handed pitching well. With Ryan Howard on the shelf an a carousel at third base, Wigginton spent most of the first half of the season playing the corner infield positions.
Playing him everyday was taking an obvious toll on the impact that the Phillies actually wanted him to have—as a bench player.
When Howard returned and Wigginton's playing time decreased, his numbers went into a tailspin and he did nothing to improve upon his stock with a horrid showing defensively.
It was worth the time and effort, but this one just didn't work out.