Is Ruben Amaro, Jr. the worst GM in Phillies’ history?

August 27th, 2014 by Kyle Lutz | Filed under Baseball, MLB, Phillies, Sports.

Perhaps So.



Amaro took over for his predecessor, Pat Gillick, in 2009 following Gillick’s retirement from baseball after the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. Gillick was here for three years, from 2006-08, taking the team to the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons in 2007. The year before, in his first season here, the team came within just three games of a playoff spot; after winning 85 in the regular season (the Dodgers were the NL wild-card representative that year with 88 wins). And following the former accomplishment, Gillick took the team all the way; a feat that hadn’t been done by a GM in Philly in 28 years.

Gillick did a good job in his role, keeping the core group of talented players on the team and adding key bench players to make the team even better, especially in close games (e.g. Matt Stairs, Geoff Jenkins). Although Wade set the tone for the future Phillies’ success with his strong draft picks, Gillick kept those star draft picks around, but did more to compete. He did this, unlike Wade, by adding complementary players (see above), not overpaying for free-agent talent, and making the necessary trades to fill holes.

Amaro, Jr. was primed to be Gillick’s successor, and ultimately did so a month after the ’08 World Series concluded. Dissecting Amaro, Jr’s general-manager career, the secret is out; he’s not a good one, to say the least. Most fans have complained about his frequent impatience and constant flurry of trades of minor-league talent/highly-touted prospects.

(Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Backtracking a bit, prior to Gillick,  Ed Wade was the Phillies’ GM from 1998-2005. Wade’s teams during his entire tenure had a combined win total of 643, with a winning percentage of 0.496 and average win total/year of 80. Wade’s contributions and success often go unnoticed and/or unappreciated, since the team didn’t make the playoffs once during his eight-year tenure. On top of that, he signed veterans Mike Lieberthal and David Bell to lucrative contracts during the end of their careers. Lastly, he also included no-trade clauses in Bobby AbreuJim Thome and Pat Burrell‘s contracts.

But he was very successful in drafting and a strong contributor nonetheless. Yes, the team had high expectations during the middle of his tenure, due to the amount of high draft picks during that time. Wade’s drafts were excellent because he drafted future stars in: Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, (2008 World Series and NLCS MVP) Cole Hamels, and Pat Burrell (his very first pick as GM in ’98, and the number-one overall pick that year). He also selected reliever Ryan Madson, starting pitcher Brett Myers, outfielder Marlon Byrd, pitcher Gavin Floyd, outfielder Michael Bourn, and pitcher Vance Worley.

Amaro, compared to the previous two general managers, has been poor in drafts, retaining young talent, and making logical moves. While Wade wasn’t the most logical GM when it came to orchestrating solid trades, he was much better than Amaro’s been, although that’s not saying much. A lot of people also pointed out that Wade, as Astros’ GM, did more for the Phillies after he was GM than when he was here- e.g. trading Houston’s closer, at the time, Brad Lidge (who was perfect with Philadelphia in his first year there in 2008; going 41/41 in saves) and trading star starting pitcher Roy Oswalt to Philly for nobody notable (at the time).

Wade’s predecessor was former outfielder/first baseman Lee Thomas, who was hired by the team to succeed Woody Woodward in June of 1988.

As far as Amaro’s poor trades go, he traded ace Cliff Lee to Seattle for a cokehead (outfield Tyson Gillies), a below-average reliever (Phillippe Aumont), and a minor-league pitcher with a career minor-league ERA of 4.25 (in nine seasons) in J.C. Ramirez (who’s no longer with the club after signing with Cleveland this past off-season). So, to recap, the Phillies — and for no good reason — traded away a former Cy-Young-Award-winning (just two years prior) ace in Lee for nothing.

On top of that, after acquiring outfielder Hunter Pence almost exactly a year prior (in July of 2011), Amaro decided to ship Pence on the day of the 2012 trade deadline for Tommy JosephSeth Rosin and Nate Schierholtz. There was no good reason to ship Pence to San Francisco either. Prior to the trade, Pence was a solid hitter and a two-time All Star who hit .289 with Philadelphia in a year and a half there. Pence is a career .286 hitter in eight years in the big leagues. He was only making $10 million at the time of the trade too, so it wasn’t as if Amaro had to trade Pence in order to relieve a ton of financial burden brought on by the latter. 

Joseph, who’s a catcher for the Gulf Coast League Phillies, is still developing and a minor-league player now for five seasons. He was drafted in the second round of the 2009 MLB amateur draft by San Francisco. This season, with double-A Reading and the GCL Phillies, he hit a combined .276, with five home runs and 20 RBIs in 27 games/98. Joseph could potentially be a star, mostly due to his strong defensive game (he’s got a career minor-league fielding percentage of .992%), but only time will tell. The problem is, he can’t stay healthy.

Joseph had season-ending wrist surgery on August 5th, after injuring his left wrist in a play at the plate on May 9th. As mentioned, due to said injury, he only played in 27 games this year. Last year, he fought through injuries as well, suffering a concussion that limited him to only playing 36 games all year. The past two years combined, he has just 241 plate appearances. He’s yet to make his major-league debut because of his injuries and continuous development in the minors as well.

For now, he needs to fully develop his game more before expecting a call to the majors in the near future, as well as getting completely healthy. Joseph could also end up, down the line, succeeding Carlos Ruiz as the Phillies’ starting catcher. 

Gillies was released by the Phillies on June 22nd after the minor-league outfielder hit just .216 this season in 167 at-bats with A+ Clearwater and AAA Lehigh Valley. His on-base-percentage was just .269.

Secondly, going back to Amaro’s Lee deal, reliever Phillippe Aumont was a part of the deal as well. Aumont was the 11th-overall pick by Seattle in 2007. This season, with AAA Lehigh Valley, he has a 3.29 ERA in 34 games/54.2 innings pitched. Despite a decent ERA this season in the minors, Aumont’s struggled thus far in both the minors and majors. He has a career minor-league ERA of 4.08 in 417 innings pitched and an inflated major-league ERA of 6.13 in 45 games.

So far, Amaro’s 0-2 in the Lee-Seattle deal. The third and final piece in that trade from four-years ago was relief pitcher J.C. Ramirez. Ramirez is now a Cleveland Indian, after testing the free-agency market this past off-season. This was due to Ramirez not willing to join Philadelphia’s AAA-team, Lehigh Valley. He struggled mightily last season, with a 7.50 ERA in 24 innings. He has a combined 3.29 ERA this season in 32 games with Cleveland’s two minor-league teams; AA Akron and AAA Columbus.

Although Amaro traded for stud ace Roy Halladay — who went on to throw two no-hitters, a perfect game, a post-season no-hitter (only the second one ever) and win 21 games — in 2010, as well as trade for Cleveland’s Lee in 2009, the bad outweighs the good.

Woody Woodward had a very short tenure as Phillies’ GM, being hired in October of ’87 and fired the following June. He was better, and well known later on, as the Seattle Mariners’ GM from 1988-1999, in which the team made the playoffs twice (1995 and 1997), and during which he drafted former star Alex Rodriguez. Perhaps if they had retained Woodward, instead of firing him and hiring Lee Thomas, the team would have been successful — minus the magical ’93 season — for a long stretch, like Woodward’s Seattle teams were in the ’90s. After Woodward retired in ’99, another former Phillies’ GM in Pat Gillick replaced him.

Instead, Thomas replaced Woodward in Philly and was strong early on in his role, then tailed; as the team did as well. During the late ’80s and early ’90s, he acquired pitcher Curt Schilling, lead-off man Lenny Dykstra and closer Mitch Williams. All three, among others, went on to play a vital role in the team’s successful, pennant-winning ’93 season; despite Williams’ lack of success in the World Series that year. Thomas won executive of the year honors in baseball after the season concluded. After the ’93 season, Thomas’ Phillies had four straight losing seasons from 1994-97, which led to his firing after the ’97 season concluded.

(Former Phillies’ GM Lee Thomas, now with the Baltimore Orioles)

Former team president (1982-1997) Bill Giles was GM for three years, from 1984-87; during which he presided over the team as well. He started with the Phillies as the VP of business operations in 1969, then hee worked his way up in the organization, with stops as executive vice president and president, before becoming the chairman in 1997. Giles’ general-manager moves were short and far between. Of note, he drafted future Twins’ and Yankees’ second-baseman Chuck Knoblauch in the 1986 draft’s 18th round; although he didn’t sign with the team. He also released former ace (and future Hall-of-Famer) Steve Carlton midway through the 1986 season, after Carlton went just 4-8 with a 6.18 ERA in 16 starts. 

Prior to Giles, one of the best Phillies’ GMs was in place in the “pope”; Paul Owens. Owens ran the team for 13 years from 1972-1984; a run that included a World Series championship, two NL pennants and six division titles (one of which came during the first half of the 1981 season). He took one of the worst teams in league history, in ’72 (they only won 59 games, despite Steve Carlton winning Cy-Young-Award honors), to contention, and for several years at that. They won division titles under him in 1976-78, 1980-81, and 1983; the 1980 season culminating with a World Series title over Kansas City.

Of note, Owens acquired Pete Rose, pitcher John Denny, closer Tug McGraw, outfielder Garry Maddox, Joe Morgan, Bob Boone, Von Hayes, George Bell, Juan Samuel, Tony Perez, Manny Trillo, Al Oliver, Al Holland, Bake McBride, and Del Unser. He also drafted future All-Stars in Darren Daulton, Vince Coleman, Julio Franco, Mark Davis and Willie Hernandez, as well as Hall-of-Famer (and current Phillies’ manager) Ryne Sandberg. Owens remained a part of the Phillies’ organization, despite leaving his general manager’s role following the 1984 season, as a senior adviser and scout, until his death in December of 2003.

paulowensOwens’ predecessor, John Quinn, traded pitcher Rick Wise for future Hall-of-Famer Steve Carlton in February of ’72. Quinn was the team’s GM from 1959-72, taking the team from cellar dwellers under his predecessor, Roy Hamey, to contenders in the National League. Although Quinn never took the team to the playoffs during his 13-year tenure, the team won 80 or more games six years in a row, from 1962-67. This included the 1964 season, in which the team impressively won 92 games and finished only a game back (as did Cincinnati) of division-winner St. Louis in the National League (the latter of which went on to win the ’64 World Series in seven over the Yankees).

During the ’64 season, starting pitcher Jim Bunning, who was acquired the previous off-season in 1963, threw a perfect game on Father’s Day, during the first game of a doubleheader vs. the Mets.

Prior to Quinn, three GMs existed for the team, spanning 14 years (1944-58), in Herb Pennock, Robert Carpenter, Jr. and Roy Hamey. Before Pennock took over as team GM in 1944, GM duties were handled primarily by the team’s owner. 


History aside, back to the debate, I believe Amaro, Jr. is the worst GM in team history. Due to modern technology and more money at his disposal, Amaro, Jr. has the advantages now that Phillies’ GMs in the 1940s-60s, of note, didn’t have. E.G. If Amaro wants to look up how a player on another team fared in the minor leagues, there are not only more scouts now than there were in the past, but he can go on the internet and look up — year by year, inning by inning — how the player fared, if he’s planning on acquiring him. This also applies to collegiate baseball players as well, in terms of which player a team should draft.

Carpenter, Jr. took the team to the 1950 World Series, before eventually losing/being swept by the Yankees, and all of the team’s previous GMs up until — let’s say — the late ’70s-early ’80s had barely anything to work with and use for leverage, successfully, in terms of scouting and (nothing, in terms of) statistical information online.

At least with more modern Phillies’ GMs in Ed Wade, Lee Thomas and Pat Gillick, some of them drafted excellently (Wade) and some of them put together the small pieces necessary in winning a championship (Thomas and Gillick), despite Amaro, Jr.’s success on the field. Yes, Amaro’s Phillies won the NL pennant in 2009 in his first year, and division titles from 2009-2011, but most — if not all — of those teams under Amaro were Gillick’s; players he acquired and/or drafted originally.

While Amaro’s acquired good-great players — in Roy Halladay, Hunter Pence, Raul Ibanez, Pedro Martinez, and Placido Polanco — he’s, in the process, completely destroyed the team’s future and minor-league systems. He’s done so by trading solid prospects and young players with talent for old, aging veterans with little left in the tank. Either that, or he’s re-signed aging veterans to lucrative contracts — like Ryan Howard — despite a decline.

And for those reasons listed, I believe Amaro’s the worst general manager in the Phillies’ 131-year history. It’s hard to argue against it, if you’re a Phillies’ fan.

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