Ruben Amaro is under the gun – and he knows it

Ruben Amaro is under the gun – and he knows it

September 30, 2013, 2:00 pm

Ruben Amaro Jr.'s Phillies have gone 154-170 the last two seasons. (USA Today Images)

On the morning after the worst Phillies season in over a decade ended, the sun came up and revealed the extent of the wreckage.

• The first losing season since 2002.

• Fewest wins since 2000.

• More MRIs than RBIs.

• A roster dotted with guys who don’t belong on a championship-caliber roster.

• A run differential of minus-139, the worst in the NL.

• A team ERA of 4.32, second-worst in the NL.

• A WHIP of 1.436, second-worst in the NL.

• A runs-per-game average of 3.77, 13th out of 15 in the NL.

• Just 610 runs scored, the team’s lowest output since 1988.

The morning after the Phillies solidified their ugly 73-89 record –- fourth place in the NL East -- with a 12-5 loss to the Braves in Atlanta, the team announced that pitching coach Rich Dubee would not return after nine seasons on that job (see story).

Dubee was the second casualty from the team’s poor season. World Series-winning manager Charlie Manuel was let go in August and replaced by Ryne Sandberg.

The exits of Manuel and Dubee have peeled back the heat shield and put general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. in the line of fire.

Amaro’s job this winter is to put together a team that can make a quick turnaround in 2014, get back to the playoffs after a two-year absence, and stop the decline in attendance (the team’s average gate was 37,190 in 2013, down from a major league-high 44,021 in 2012). If Amaro can’t pull this off, he could feel the same tap on the shoulder that Manuel and Dubee did. And he knows it.

“Of course,” he said. “I always feel under the gun. I put myself under the gun.

“I’m the GM of the club, so I fully expect to take heat. I’m the one who is making the decisions on player personnel. I’m accountable for the things that have happened. I have not had a very good year; our team did not have a very good year.

“We win as a team and lose as a team, but the fact of the matter is I should take a lot of heat. I need to be better, and our guys need to be better. We need to evaluate better, we need to make better decisions,” (see story).

And there are many decisions to be made. Amaro discussed what lies ahead this winter in a wide-ranging interview. Let’s take a look at the highlights:

The catching picture
Amaro wants to re-sign free agent Carlos Ruiz –- he called it a priority -- and both he and the catcher hinted that negotiations have started (see story). Amaro said the Phillies have no one in the system ready to step in and be a No. 1 catcher.

The Doc dilemma
Roy Halladay will turn 37 in May. He did not look good in six starts after shoulder surgery. He is not a $20 million pitcher anymore. Can he still be a reliable pitcher? The Phillies desperately need pitching depth after Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Is he worth re-signing?

“Honestly, I would love to bring Roy back,” Amaro said. “We do not believe that that was the Roy Halladay that we’re going to see in 2014. We have to continue to talk to our medical people. We’ll talk to Roy, obviously. And we’ll talk to our scouts. It’s a tough one and hopefully we’ll make a good decision with him. Roy’s going to have more of a decision with this than we are.

“As far as monetizing his contract, I have no idea where to go there yet. I have to talk to our guys about it. It's going to be something south of where he is now, clearly, but the question is how far south do you go without embarrassing the player? How far south do you go risking what he will be for us? We’ve talked about the shared risk and that is something that will have to happen.”

The need for a right-handed power bat
Amaro will look for this annual need in trades or perhaps in a free-agent signing. He doesn’t sound convinced that Darin Ruf is an everyday guy.

“In right field, we don’t know what we’ve got,” he said. “That’s a hole for us. Ruf is not a rightfielder. I think he can fill in for us. I think he can fill in in certain areas, but I can’t sit here and tell you that he’s an everyday player for us. He’s going to have to fight for a job in some way, shape or form. Can he add some depth to our bench, to our club overall? Can he play a little left, can he play a little right, can he play a little first and give [Ryan] Howard a blow? He can become valuable in that regard. But I don’t know he’s an everyday player yet. It’s hard to say that he’s an everyday player in the outfield. I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice, because we just need to be better in the outfield defensively.”

If the Phils land an outfield bat that plays center field or left field, Domonic Brown or Ben Revere could change positions. Revere could play left. Brown could play right.

Either way, the outfield is in flux.

“Our outfield defense ... not very good,” Amaro said. “It needs to be better. We have the type of pitching staff that is going to rely on us catching the baseball.”

The third base job
Sandberg said Cody Asche will come into camp as the lead contender. Amaro hopes power-hitting prospect Maikel Franco pushes Asche.

“I won't anoint Cody Asche as the third baseman but he is a viable option,” Amaro said. “I frankly hope there is a great competition in spring training between Maikel Franco and Cody. That can create a heck of a situation for us. They're both very, very good young players.”

Can't stand pat
The Phils have a very inflexible roster. Ryan Howard’s contract ($85 million over the next three season) is untradeable. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley have full no-trade protection. Even with a difficult-to-maneuver roster, Amaro knows he can’t stand pat.

“We have to be careful about that,” he said. “We have to try to be creative. Can we go into the season and hope that our health holds up? We could. Is that the right thing to do? It may not be. We have to get better in a lot of areas. We need pitching. We need depth in the rotation. We have to be better with our bullpen

“We'll look to try to improve in those areas whether it be via trade or free agency. We have to explore all areas.”

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