The Achilles Heel to the Philadelphia Phillies

Phillies General Manager, Ruben Amaro Jr., needs to be fired, but this is much easier said than done. He has been part of the Phillies front office since 1998 and has held the GM position after the team won the World Series in 2008. 

A security guard at Citizens Bank Park who wishes to remain anonymous said Amaro will never be fired because he is part of the “inner circle,” a group of employees who chief owner Dave Montgomery refuses to let go. While it is unlikely Amaro will be fired, this does not keep fans from discussing the endless reasons why he should be fired.

The Phillies had 2.4 million fans pass through the turnstiles at Citizens Bank Park in the 2014 season, a significant drop from the 2013’s total of 3 million fans. The influx of money has been decreasing from year to year, yet Amaro seems to spend like it is 2009 all over again. As fans show up on game days just to witness loss after loss, their opinion of the team changes and eventually they lose interest. 

Anyone who actively follows the game must notice that Amaro believes pitching is the reason teams win or lose. Since Amaro has confidence in this theory, he uses all resources available to construct what he views as an elite pitching staff. 

If we retrace what seems to be some of Amaro’s most well-known pitching acquisitions, we would find relatively disappointing figures and a grim hope for the future of the team. Let us examine three of these examples:

1.) Chan Ho Park

 Prior to the 2009 season, Amaro promised fans a veteran reliever and with no time to spare, he found the then 36-year-old Chan Ho Park. Chan Ho Who, you say? Why, the veteran reliever Amaro promised 2009 fans of course! 

During his one season stint as a Philadelphia athlete, Park went 3-3 and posted a 4.43 ERA. By no means was he the worst pitcher off the bench that season. We were all eye-witnesses to Brad Lidge’s 2009 crumble when he went 0-8 with a 7.21 ERA, a pitiful performance compared to the previous season’s perfect 48-for-48 saves. 

With this said, can Amaro somehow justify paying $2.5 million for the mediocre Park? When the city’s beloved Jim Thome was re-signed, he was only paid $1 million for a one year contract. Thome, unlike Park, was signed as a mentor and first baseman. Park, who was flakey on the mound, deserved an equivalent to Thome’s salary or less, but certainly not more. 

The $2.5 million given to the South Korean native could easily have remained in our farm system, which now has little to no prospects on the horizon. This acquisition ignited the trend of signing pitchers who were 30+ for much more than their worth. How do you measure one’s worth? In baseball, it is simply looking at the statistics produced. Park’s irrelevance to the ball club is displayed in his .500 record and high ERA. 

2.) Jon Papelbon

The savior of Philadelphia baseball… or so we thought. The Philadelphia Phillies have a long standing history of powerful, unmatchable ninth inning arms. Under General Manager Ed Wade, fans would see Billy Wagner consistently hurl 103-mph fastballs. 

Then there was Brett Myers, a starting pitcher who was converted to a closer. Next was the hero of all heroes: Lights out Lidge. With his confidence shaken after the 2009 season, he lost his edge and former manager Charlie Manuel had to convert relief pitcher, Ryan Madson, to closer. While it was not the most sensible arrangement, eventually the plan did work. 

Although many have high hopes for rookie Luis Garcia, for now the Phillies’ closer remains as Jon Papelbon. He signed with the Philies at 30 years old; Papelbon’s statistics are quite impressive and his speed on the mound leaves most in awe, but his accuracy is not always the best. With all this said, he too is not worth the money stated in his contract. 

In an article posted by Sports Blog Nation, one of the most credible sports blogs in the country, Steven Goldman writes “Back in July, as rumors circulated that the Phillies were peddling their overpriced wares, Papelbon was asked if he was up for being traded to a contender… Even had the Phillies picked up some portion of the bill, spending that kind of dough on a closer is just not worth it below the level of perfection.”

This is by no means a disparagement to Papelbon’s ability. When the Phillies signed him, he was one of the most sought out commodities in the MLB. 

According to Bleacher Report, “Amaro did a poor job both evaluating the market of interest for Papelbon from other teams… The Phillies lost a first-round draft pick because they signed Papelbon a few days too early in front of the expiration of the then-CBA, and thus had to comply with the old compensation procedures.”

After leaving the Boston Red Sox for the Phillies, Papelbon signed for a total of $50 million over four years. His contract includes an option for 2016 which would ultimately make him $63 million over five years. If Amaro had held out for a few more days and scouted the league, the Phillies could have secured Papelbon for less and could have invested more into their farm system. 

Then there is always the underlying issue of Papelbon and the city of Philadelphia. This past September, Papelbon made a rude gesture towards the booing Phillies fans after he blew a 4-0 lead in the top of the ninth. 

Joe West, the game’s second base umpire said, “The whole thing started because the fans booed him and he made an obscene gesture. He had no business doing that. He’s got to be more professional than that. And that’s why he was ejected. Whatever happened out of that may have happened in anger out of being kicked out. But that’s irrelevant.” For his vulgar motion, the MLB suspended him for seven games. Unfortunately, we are now bound to the closer for what appears to be two more seasons.

3.) The Four Aces

The four best Phillies pitchers, known as “The Four Aces,” consisted of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt (sorry Kyle Kendrick, they could not think of a clever enough slogan for five pitchers). While “The Four Aces” provide Philadelphia with many reasons to cheer, financial resources were depleted due to their signings. 

In fact, an article published by the Business Insider reported Halladay as the fourth most overpaid player during the final season of his contract. Halladay and Oswalt were 33 years old when the Phillies signed them. Cliff Lee was 32-years-old. Hamels, a product of the Phillies farm system, was the youngest of the crew at 27-years-old. 

Age is a crucial matter when it comes to how much a pitcher should be paid. The best summary I have ever heard to describe an aging pitcher was by Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton. 

He said, “It’s amazing how fast you grow old in this game. At first you’re the rookie right-hander; next season you’re that promising right-hander; then suddenly you’re the old man.”

Halladay had the team booked for $60 million over three years with a $20 million option for 2014; Oswalt was guaranteed $23 million for two years; Lee cost the team $120 million for five years; and Hamels cost the Phillies $31.15 million from 2010-2012 alone. The Phillies continue to spend big money on pitching; during his past offseason, the Phillies signed 36 year old pitcher Aaron Haranag to a one year contract worth $5 million.

This brings me to my last point: Amaro came into an easy two year stretch. Pat Gillick built a formidable team from 2006 to 2010. Amaro simply ran an already manufactured roster.  

Once Amaro could no longer work with Gillick’s left overs, the team began to resemble decaying talent instead of promising rookies and professionals at their prime. 

This day will only end once the Phillies’s executives remove Amaro as General Manager and seek out a more financially aware replacement who will be able to replenish our farm system and roster …with prospects.