A Defense of Ruben Amaro, Jr.

albeit maybe a pretty back-handed one…

First of all, let us get two things straight before I embark on a potentially ill-fated defense of our embattled GM.  One, I think Ruben seems like a pretty good guy, and I have a lot of respect for him, personally.  Two, I think Ruben is – and always has been – a pretty terrible GM.  I think it is long past the time when we should be finding a replacement, and the fact that he is still guiding this ship is terrifying to me.  HOWEVER…

I think that the current accusations and frustrations with Ruben are totally off-base and inconsistent.  And, it is the second part that bothers me the most.  Because the same people that seem to question Sam Hinkie and Chip Kelly are ripping Ruben.  It seems to me that the most often-cited wishes of the Hinkie/Kelly regimes are exactly how Ruben has been operating for years.  Let me explain…

COMPLAINT:  Sam Hinkie and Chip Kelly Do Not Talk Enough to the Fans
Ruben is always available.  He has a weekly spot on Angelo’s morning show.  He is on with Gargano and even Missinelli (who has absolutely no qualms about ripping him up cross-examination style).  He gives written journalists pretty extensive access and candid remarks.  In fact, the most recent remarks about the “fans not getting it” is probably the exact reason why Hinkie and Kelly avoid the media.  Because sometimes you are forced to tell the truth (and, let’s be honest – anyone who thinks that Ruben is dumb for leaving Aaron Nola in the minors after 20 starts really doesn’t “get it,” so Ruben is right), and telling the truth sometimes is the worst thing you can do.

COMPLAINT:  Hinkie and Kelly Are Too Quick to Unload Home-Grown Stars
What do we keep hearing over and over about why people are sour on Hinkie and Kelly?  It always comes back to Michael Carter-Williams, DeSean Jackson, and LeSean McCoy.  Hinkie thought MCW’s upside was limited, and Kelly thought that Jackson and McCoy were overpaid and not “on board.”  If you think they’re crazy, then obviously you love the fact that RAJ decided to keep Howard, Utley, and Rollins around for so long, right?  I mean we have to keep our stars, right?

So, if you don’t like what Hinkie and Kelly are doing, then you are intellectually dishonest with yourself if you don’t, at least, respect the job Ruben is doing.

And, then there are the unfair complaints about Ruben himself.

COMPLAINT:  Why Hasn’t Ruben Traded Cole Hamels Yet?
Ruben is out there, looking for offers.  Now, this isn’t a Marlon Byrd situation at last year’s trade deadline, which was a total debacle.  This is an ELITE pitcher in his prime with an expensive, but not outlandish and controllable contract.  I am happy that Ruben is waiting to get the best return.  What he is risking is a potential injury, but that risk, in my opinion, WELL worth taking if the alternative is getting 60 cents on the dollar.  Remember the Cliff Lee trade?  That was probably Ruben’s second-biggest blunder (slightly behind the Ryan Howard contract extension and well ahead of the Hunter Pence trade and Jonathan Papelbon signing).  Ruben traded away an elite left-handed pitcher in his prime for a pile of nothing.  If that happens with Hamels, then this rebuilding won’t be a phase, it could be an era.  This whole rebuild is counting on maximizing the value of a guy like Hamels.  He has to hold out.

COMPLAINT:  Why Isn’t Ruben Bringing Up Guys Like Nola?
This is the most recent one – and, frankly, I don’t get it.  What the hell is the point in bringing up a guy who was pitching for LSU this time LAST YEAR.  He has 20 – yes, TWENTY – professional starts.  Why in the world should he be up in the majors for a team that’s going to lose 90+ games.  If the argument is that the team is going nowhere this year, then they should ABSOLUTELY NOT bring him up.  If you told me that they were a mid-rotation starter away from contending, then maybe you take the chance.  But, why chance stunting the growth (and add service time) to your most promising pitching prospect just because “the fans want to see him pitch.”  Buy an f’ing Reading ticket, then, people – come on!  If you are one of the people that want Nola up here now, then Ruben was talking about you when he said “you don’t get it.”  And, he was right.

COMPLAINT:  How Did Ruben Lead a Fall This Far This Fast?
This one is fair and relevant.  Amaro took the reins of a franchise that was in the incredible position of having great home-grown talent, a rabid fanbase that was selling out every night, and owners who were making money hand-over-fist and willing to spend it to stay at the top.  He had a core of position players that had already won and built a pitching staff that could rival any in the history of the game.  How did he screw this up so bad?  Now, again, I think a lot of it was his fault (giving Howard the HUGE extension 2.5 years before he had to…trading Cliff Lee for next to nothing…COMPLETELY ignoring any analytics – this is my biggest gripe, actually), but a lot of it was not his fault.  First of all, they had the best team in baseball – and the best team in franchise history – in 2011.  They could have – and maybe should have – won the World Series in any of 2009, 2010, or 2011.  They built a team around relatively young and durable starting pitchers like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, who got old very fast and missed a lot more time than their track records would have indicated.  In fact, look at the core of those teams and how unpredictable the falls were.  Who would have thought that Brad Lidge would go from perfect closer in 2008 to a 7.21 ERA in 2009 to out of baseball in 2012?  Who would have thought that Ryan Howard would go from 6 straight years of top-10 MVP finishes, averaging 44 HRs per season, including 58 in a single season.  To hitting a TOTAL of 48 HRs from 2012 through 2014?  Who would have known that, in order to keep former platoon OF, Jayson Werth, the Phillies would have had to top a $123 M contract offer from the Nationals?  Who have known that the #2 pitcher on the 2008 championship team (who was actually the ace before the Cole Hamels breakout postseason) would only win 4 more games for the Phils after that and be working on his budding country music career before his 33rd birthday?

Now, to be fair, Ruben did not exactly help the cause, but there were a lot of occurrences – out of his control – that led to this historic fall.  Again, I do not think that Ruben is a good GM – in fact, I think he is pretty bad and should not be the Phillies GM for one more day.  But, I also got bothered by what gets thrown at him.  If you hate Hinkie for never talking or Chip for jettisoning not only D-Jax and Shady, but the Trent Coles and Todd Herremans of the world, then you can’t also rip Ruben for keeping Chase Utley or Ryan Howard too long.  If you hate Ruben’s awful haul when he traded away Cliff Lee (which I do), then you can’t fault him for waiting out a better deal for Hamels.  And, if you are one of these people who think that the Phils should call up their AA starter after 20 professional starts just because you “want to see him pitch” then, as the eloquent Ruben Amaro, Jr., so aptly put it yesterday, “you just don’t get it.”

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