Philadelphia Phillies: Has Ruben Amaro Jr. Traded Away Too Much Pitching Depth?

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Philadelphia Phillies: Has Ruben Amaro Jr. Traded Away Too Much Pitching Depth?
Len Redkoles/Getty Images

"You can never have too much pitching."

Let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we?

The aforementioned old adage is well-known to be a favorite of Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

It rang true come playoff time in 2009, 2010 and especially 2011, when the Phillies rotation was headed by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Throw then-solid fifth starter Vance Worley into the mix and you've got a starting rotation that pitched to a 2.86 ERA in the regular season, best in the majors that year.

As Phillies fans and the baseball world have come to know, the rotation monster known colloquially as the Four Aces didn't matter come the NLDS against the eventual champions, the St. Louis Cardinals.

With a Phillies offense that could barely hold its own despite the team having the majors' best record at 102-60, the City of Brotherly Love saw what would be its baseball team's most recent postseason appearance come to an untimely close.

And let's not forget Ryan Howard tearing his Achilles tendon on the final play.

In the playoffs, the pitching was as much to blame as the offense. Although the offense provided minimal run support in those crucial games, there were a couple instances when the rotation was at fault.

Lee couldn't hold a 4-0 lead. Oswalt blew up and blamed a squirrel. And from the Cardinals' standpoint, the pitching was to be credited for its successes, as Chris Carpenter tossed a complete-game shutout on short rest in the decisive Game 5.

Fast-forward to present day. The Phillies are wrapping up the 2013 season, which will likely end with them placed fourth in the NL East and with their first losing record since 2002. This follows a 2012 season in which the team, coming off five consecutive NL East titles, finished the season at .500, going 81-81 and not even winning one of two Wild Card spots, let alone the division.

Even though the last two seasons have shown decline for the Phillies, the root of it comes from different aspects of the team.

In 2012, cornerstones Chase Utley and Howard missed more than half the season. The indestructible Halladay finally showed that he was human, landing on the disabled list for roughly two months due to a shoulder ailment. The offense was anemic, and it was most notable in Cliff Lee's win-loss record, which stood at a jaw-dropping 6-9 despite his good numbers overall. 

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
The Phillies let Cliff Lee down in 2012.

But in 2013, the dynamic was different.

Sure, the offense wasn't spectacular behind Utley and breakout All-Star Domonic Brown, but it held its own enough of the time. No, the problem was the unexpected: the starting rotation and bullpen. In short, the pitching.

"You can never have too much pitching."

This was most definitely true in 2013. In the first half of the season, Opening Day starter Hamels struggled to gain control of his pitches and his head. He will have a losing record at the end of the season in spite of a fantastic second half. Lee's record on the season is 14-8, with one of the many losses a 1-0 tough-luck defeat against Kris Medlen and the Atlanta Braves on September 27.

Baseball isn't always fair. Ask Lee after 2012, and ask the 8-14 Hamels of 2013, if they think that their records reflect their performance. Lee's 3.16 ERA and Hamels' 3.60 ERA show just how good they were in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Shave down the latter's ERA to after the All-Star Break and you have a 2.97 figure.

What's more are the injuries and maladies that afflicted the Phillies throughout 2013.

Due to the continued shoulder woes of Halladay, Kyle Kendrick's season-ending shutdown and rookie Jonathan Pettibone's shoulder inflammation, 10 pitchers started at least one game for the Phillies this year.

Add in the oft-injured bullpen headlined by offseason signee Mike Adams as well as suspended Antonio Bastardo, and you have a total of 25 pitchers on the season in addition to two position players pitching in relief. 

Twenty-five pitchers. That alone makes up a season's active roster.

"You can never have too much pitching."

No, I suppose you can't. That's been evidenced by the 27 players who have set foot on the mound this year in a Phillies uniform. But does pitching mean good pitching?

Since Amaro took over the reins as Phillies GM following the 2008 World Series win, he's made a plethora of trades in an effort to boost the major league team.

In 2009, he dealt four prospects, including two pitchers, to the Cleveland Indians for Lee, a deal that paid off for the Phillies. Amaro then proceeded to deal Lee to the Seattle Mariners for three prospects—two of them pitching prospects—whilst trading away another three prospects, bona fide pitching prospect Kyle Drabek and superstar catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud, to the Toronto Blue Jays for Halladay.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
J.A. Happ was an excellent pitcher for the Phillies in 2009.

In 2010, due to the void left by trading Lee, Amaro traded away 2009 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up J.A. Happ and two prospects to the Houston Astros for Oswalt. And in the offseason, Amaro notably re-signed Lee, bringing back the pitcher the fans so loved and vindicating himself for dealing Lee in the first place.

Or so it seemed.

2011 saw the Phillies trade away four prospects, including pitching prospect Jarred Cosart, for Astros right fielder Hunter Pence. And 2012 saw pinch-hitter Jim Thome, center fielder Shane Victorino, starting pitcher Joe Blanton and Pence traded for reliever Josh Lindblom and, otherwise, prospects.

Finally, the 2012 offseason saw Amaro trade Worley and pitching prospect Trevor May to the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Ben Revere, and deal another two pitchers, including Lindblom, for Texas Rangers third baseman Michael Young.

Have you noticed a trend here?

I've tried to emphasize the amount of pitching dealt by Amaro to make these trades, many of which had minimal impact and others that ultimately didn't result in any World Series runs, Lee in 2009 aside.

The list of Phillies pitchers and pitching prospects traded away in these deals is seemingly endless. Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp. Drabek. Happ. Cosart and Josh Zeid. Blanton. Worley and May. Lindblom and Lisalverto Bonilla. And in minor player swaps, Julio Rodriguez and Michael Schwimer.

It's also worth mentioning the pitching names the Phillies received in return over the years. Jack Taschner. Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez. Jeremy Horst. Kyle Simon. Seth Rosin. Lindblom, Ethan Martin and Ryan O'Sullivan. Frank Gailey. Rob Rasmussen and Nefi Ogando in August of this year. And that's it.

"You can never have too much pitching."

Funny how much shorter the second list is compared to the first, isn't it? Amaro has traded away 14 pitchers in major deals throughout his tenure compared to acquiring just 12. One, Lindblom, isn't even with the Phillies anymore. And Aumont could be on his way out soon as well.

The trades have worked out well for the Phillies in some instances and not so well in others.

Players like May, Rodriguez and Bonilla have yet to make the majors. Schwimer has yet to resurface in the bigs. Happ, Drabek, Carrasco and Knapp have dealt with injury, Knapp to the point that the Indians released him. Blanton was far from great as a Los Angeles Dodger. Worley struggled upon his trade and has been stashed in the minors for most of the year.

However, Happ—aside from being hit in the head by a comebacker earlier this year—has shown mild success after being traded from Houston to Toronto. Cosart has started off his career with a bang, and Zeid has made it to the majors as well. May has struggled in the minors this year but is still in the Twins' future plans. And Carrasco and Drabek, despite injuries, have rehabbed or are in the process of doing so.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Phillippe Aumont had plenty of promise even as a reliever, but it's been overshadowed by command issues.

Meanwhile, the Phillies' acquisitions have primarily fizzled.

Taschner was awful. Aumont and Ramirez have failed to establish themselves. Horst was good for a stretch but has since struggled or been injured. Martin is still a question mark. And Simon, Rosin, O'Sullivan, Gailey, Rasmussen and Ogando have yet to make the majors. Many of them never will.

While the trades the Phillies have made have their successes and failures, it's worth noting that their acquisitions in these deals have been far worse than the talent traded away.

"You can never have too much pitching."

In 2013, the starting rotation suffered. When John Lannan got hurt, there was a contingency plan in Jonathan Pettibone. When Halladay got hurt, Lannan returned and Martin burst onto the scene. When Pettibone got hurt and Martin had to be moved to the bullpen, Tyler Cloyd and Zach Miner stepped up. And both of them have struggled.

The bullpen also dealt with its fair share of injuries and issues. Adams dealt with various bicep and shoulder problems. Horst and Michael Stutes were also hurt, and Chad Durbin was terrible and subsequently released. Bastardo was involved in Biogenesis and suspended for 50 games. Aumont likely lost favor within the organization after command problems and a hissy fit of sorts upon being demoted. 

The bullpen replacements were mediocre at best, save for a few like Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus and B.J. Rosenberg of late. The others, like Cesar Jimenez, Luis Garcia, J.C. Ramirez, Joe Savery, Raul Valdes, Miner and potentially Mauricio Robles, wouldn't even be major leaguers on other teams.

My point is this: The Phillies have a ton of pitching. That's not a bad thing.

But the quality of the pitching they have? Pathetic. Abominable. Abhorrent. Atrocious. 

What was once considered an unstoppable rotation behind the Four Aces and Blanton, then Worley, is a distant memory. Now, all that's left are deep scars in what was once a stockpiled organization in both the majors and minors.

The Phillies will have to see players like Cosart and Happ succeed elsewhere as a result of trades later rendered obsolete and unnecessary. It's still too early to rule out successes from Carrasco and Drabek, at least in some capacity. Zeid could be a decent bullpen option for the Astros, while May will likely make the majors and thrive in some role.

Other teams aren't having trouble sleeping at night from their side of trades with the Phillies.

Halladay netted the Blue Jays Drabek and d'Arnaud, the latter of whom later turned into R.A. Dickey. Lee gave Seattle Justin Smoak in a later trade. Revere gave the Twins much-needed pitching depth, even if it's still a work in progress. 

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Tyler Cloyd had a good 2012 season in the minors, but that hasn't translated into major league success.

But the big problem here is the Phillies' lack of pitching depth.

When you realize that the Phillies had to rely on a pitcher who can't top 90 miles per hour in Cloyd and a journeyman in Miner as consistent starting pitcher options, even for a short time, you know that the team is in trouble. And if the Phillies haven't realized it yet, they will.

Yes, you could argue that some of the Phillies' pitchers traded elsewhere haven't done well since their trades. But that point's irrelevant when you realize that they were good as Phillies, and nothing suggests that they would have necessarily flopped if not traded away.

Carrasco was the team's top prospect when traded and Knapp was a top 10 guy. Drabek was a No. 1 as well at the time of his trade. Happ had been good in a Phillies uniform, as was Worley. And Cosart and May were on the fast track to be key contributors for the Phillies, most likely now or in the near future.

Instead, the Phillies have to make some additional moves this offseason to patch up a leaky rotation and bullpen.

In brief, these guys were successful as Phillies and, in the case of prospects, likely would have been had they remained with the organization.

The thing with trades is that players and prospects are appealing but never guaranteed successes. Other teams learned that with Happ when he was an Astro and Worley with the Twins.

However, what the Phillies ignored is that they had two talented rotation arms. They would have had more with Cosart and May. But they don't, so now the Phillies have to be even more creative to fix a broken team and farm system.

I'm not saying the Phillies shouldn't have made the trades they did. At the time, the trades for Lee, Halladay, Oswalt, Pence and Revere were justified. In the case of the first four names, the Phillies were a piece away from being serious World Series contenders, and the Phillies did make the playoffs with each of them in tow. With Revere, the Phillies needed a center fielder, and they got a young, controllable, solid option.

Has Ruben Amaro Jr. traded away too much of the Phillies' pitching depth?

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But shouldn't the Phillies have considered not trading away pitching in most, if not all, of these deals without replenishing the team and farm system with equivalent talent?

It's not the trades that hurt. It's the fact that the Phillies have no Commissioner's Trophies to show for them, nor any imminent minor league top prospect call-ups.

"You can never have too much pitching."

Ruben Amaro Jr., I do not criticize you for making the trades you did. But I do hold you accountable for hypocritically sacrificing much-needed pitching depth in order to facilitate them without the end results paying necessary dividends. There have not been any more World Series titles, and there are not any reliable internal options for the rotation and bullpen.

And you are to blame for that.

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