ATLANTA -- Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. hopes the trade of John Mayberry Jr. to the Toronto Blue Jays for a minor-league third baseman on Sunday night will be the first of many changes the Phillies make in the coming months.
“We’re looking to make some changes,” Amaro said before Monday afternoon’s game. “Not that it’s a huge change, but we’re going to have to start churning the roster in a way that it’s going to have to be improved. We felt like this was the right thing to do for [Mayberry] and us.”
Even with a payroll of more than $175 million, the third-highest in the game, the Phillies are about to miss the playoffs for a third straight season. Even after their first winning month this season (14-13 in August), they entered Monday buried in last place in the NL East with a 62-74 record.
Amaro was asked if he believed the team needed “significant” changes.
"I do,” he said. “I think we need it. What we have on our roster right now isn't working. How much we do depends on what makes sense for us. We're still assessing what we have, but I think it behooves us to look to make changes because we need to be better.”
Amaro will consider performance and chemistry as he tries to make changes.
“There are a lot of — how a player will fit short-term and long-term, what the guys bring to the table on and off the field, intangibles,” he said. “It's all those things, and we'll look to improve in all those areas."
All this begs the question: Will Amaro be the guy to make those changes? He admittedly entered this season under the gun and the team has not improved. His job status is a daily issue with fans, many of whom want the changes to start with him. Amaro has another year on his contract and current indications are that he will have that year to get the Phillies moving in the right direction. Before taking a medical leave last week, team president David Montgomery indicated that Amaro’s job was not in jeopardy. Pat Gillick is the interim president. It’s difficult to imagine him coming in and firing the man he groomed to become GM. It’s more likely that Gillick would work with Amaro to try to turn the team’s fortunes around. Things can change in a hurry in this game — especially if ownership loses patience — but that’s the lay of the land on Sept. 1, 2014.
Amaro was asked if the changes he’d like to make could extend beyond playing personnel. Manager Ryne Sandberg's authority has been challenged by players recently, raising questions of whether he’s the right man to lead the club. Sandberg has two years left on his contract. Losing teams often make changes to the coaching staff, but this one underwent major changes last year. It’s possible the club will consider changes to its scouting operation after the season.
“I'm not going to get into specifics,” Amaro said when asked if the changes could extend beyond the playing field. “We have to be better."
Changing the mix of players won’t be easy. That much was clear at the July trade deadline when the Phils were unable to deal anyone. The Phillies are loaded with aging, high-priced players who have no-trade hindrances and big-money contract options that make them unattractive to other clubs.
Tops on the list is Ryan Howard, who is owed $60 million over the next two seasons. It’s no secret the Phillies would like to move him in the offseason and would be willing to eat salary to do it. Moving Howard would open a spot for Maikel Franco, a slugging corner infielder who is expected to join the team from Triple A on Tuesday. Jonathan Papelbon, owed $13 million in 2015 with a $13 vesting million option for 2016, is another player the team has been unsuccessful in moving, even though it’s willing to swallow some of his salary.
“We have a lot of ideas where we want to go, but to crystallize those we'll have to see how things go, particularly when we have a chance to see some of the guys called up here,” Amaro said. “We have a lot of decisions to make. I think it's a good thing. Change is going to be good in certain ways. Consistency is important, too. I think we have a lot to assess, but we have a pretty good idea where we want to go. We just have to start thinking about the execution of those things."
On paper, the Phillies do not appear to have gotten much of a return for Mayberry. Gustavo Pierre, 22, hit .281 with eight homers, 43 RBIs and a .669 OPS at Single A and Double A this season. He struck out 112 times and walked just 13 times.
“We’ve actually seen a lot of him this year, and our player development people and our scouts have seen a lot of improvement in him,” Amaro said. “He’s got the defensive tool and the power tool. He strikes out a lot and he doesn’t walk a lot. But he’s improved over the last couple years. We’ll see what we get out of him.”