The Phillies are 154-170 the last two seasons. (USA Today Images)
Ruben Amaro Jr. hears the criticism.
He knows that Phillies fans aren't overly enthused about the 2014 season and the team's prospects of ending a two-year playoff drought.
He knows the offseason moves haven't inspired much hope.
He knows that expectations are not what they once were.
"I'm a human being and, yes, it [ticks] me off because I know our players are better than the perception," Amaro told Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday. "The team we fielded the last third of the season was not our club. That wasn't the expectation when we started the season last year."
The perception is that Ryan Howard, once a prodigious power hitter, now has injury issues and flaws that outweigh his strengths. The perception is that Jimmy Rollins' pop is gone, and that his defense has slipped a bit. The perception is that this team has an OK lineup, a mediocre bullpen and a rotation filled with question marks after the formidable top two of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
Why wouldn't those be the perceptions? The Phillies are 16 games under .500 the last two seasons and baseball -- in this town specifically -- is a show-me game. Amaro or Chase Utley saying they believe the Phillies can contend is one thing; actually doing it is another.
"If the club we believe is going to break camp is able to stay on the field, we're a contending team," Amaro said. "My job is for us to try to be a contending team every year. Our payroll should allow us to do that. We had a couple of crappy years because we couldn't get guys on the field and couldn't get the performances we're accustomed to.
"[Roy] Halladay not being healthy crushed us. It's not his fault. It's just part of the game. When it happens to guys you are counting on with huge contracts, you can't just buy your way out with mediocre players."
And you know what? Amaro hasn't tried to buy his way out. Commend him for that, if nothing else. He hasn't overspent on Nelson Cruz or on Ervin Santana, players who are decent but wanted $14 million or more annually when the offseason began.
Instead, Amaro has filled holes with low-cost role players who, if everything works out, will provide bang for the Phillies' buck. If Marlon Byrd and Roberto Hernandez don't work out, then at least the Phillies won't be hamstrung for the future.
"Ultimately, there's such a lack of real impact players, you have to try to hold on to them as long as you can. You lock 'em up so they don't get on the market, and you overpay them, and the market goes nuts," Amaro said. "Is Marlon Byrd a superstar? Absolutely not. Is he a decent role player for us? Yeah.
"I have to take a chance on Marlon Byrd because there's so many other things I've got to do. If I go get Carlos Beltran, then I can't take a chance on Roberto Hernandez. We've got a lot of holes to fill, and our job is to try to make the right decision 70 percent of the time, not the wrong decision 70 percent of the time."
Beltran signed with the Yankees and will make $15 million in each of the next three seasons. Byrd will make just $16 million total over the two years of his Phillies contract. For what it's worth, the two had nearly identical seasons in 2013.
Byrd hit .291; Beltran hit .296. Byrd's OBP was .336; Beltran's was .339. Byrd slugged .511; Beltran .491. Byrd had 24 homers and 88 RBIs; Beltran had 24 and 84. Byrd hit 35 doubles; Beltran hit 30.
So if you trust last year, Byrd sure looks like the wiser bet considering the cost difference.
This isn't a defense of the Phillies' offseason, but Amaro is correct in his assessment of this winter's market. There were very few players worth splurging on, and the ones that were worth it didn't fit the Phillies' needs. They didn't need another left-handed hitting outfielder (Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson). They didn't need a high-priced closer like Joe Nathan and weren't in position to offer megadeals to aging catcher Brian McCann or $240-million man Robinson Cano.
Amaro admitted to our Jim Salisbury in early December that "at some point [the Phillies] might have to" rebuild. He said they weren't there yet. But Amaro's mere concession that the Phillies may have to soon do that is why you haven't seen any splashy moves designed to make one last run in 2014.
By being flexible, the Phillies have put themselves in position to make noise during the season or next winter. They have just seven players under contract for 2015, and if they can somehow trade Jonathan Papelbon they'll have about $60-65 million to spend.
And that free-agent class actually has some impact talent -- Homer Bailey, James Shields, Justin Masterson, Max Scherzer, perhaps Brett Anderson and Jon Lester. Offensively, there's Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, J.J. Hardy, Billy Butler and Pablo Sandoval.
It's extremely difficult to spend your way out of mediocrity -- ask the 2013 Blue Jays or 2012 Marlins. And if Byrd fails at $16 million, it will be much, much easier to swallow than if B.J. Upton fails for $75 million.