Ruben Amaro thinks you’ve got it all wrong. Maybe you look at the Phillies and see a team that’s struggled to be average this year. Amaro sees something else.
Earlier in the week, the general manager talked to CSNPhilly.com Phillies Insider Jim Salisbury (see story). It was an interesting interview for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which was Amaro’s evaluation of what’s transpired so far.
“It’s a good sign that we’ve gotten less-than-typical production from some of our major players and we are still where we are,” Amaro said.
If less-than-typical production on a team that’s been below .500 for much of the season is a good sign, then rejoice: there are good signs everywhere.
Ben Revere is hitting .254/.296/.284. And by Amaro’s admission, Revere -- a guy the club thought was an “above average defender” when they traded for him in the offseason -- “has had some issues with routes” in center field.
The new right fielder hasn’t been any better. Delmon Young is hitting .225/.280/.417 with six home runs and 15 RBIs. Even Amaro said he wasn’t sure how patient the Phils can be with him.
Ryan Howard is hitting .252/.297/.431. Howard -- who is still stuck on seven home runs -- hasn’t hit a ball out of any park in two weeks, and it’s been even longer since he looked like the reliable middle-of-the-order masher the Phillies so desperately need.
Some other good signs: Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Roy Halladay are all still hurt. Mike Adams and the rest of the eighth inning pitchers have been unspectacular. And the shortstop, while still excellent defensively, isn’t exactly killing it at the plate (Jimmy Rollins: .262/.328/.385 with four home runs and 21 RBIs and 25 runs scored).
Despite all those good signs, the Phillies have lost five games in a row. They are 31-35. Last year at this time, they were also 31-35. They were not a good team last season. They are not a good team this season, either. The Phillies have a .303 team on-base percentage, which portends disaster for any postseason aspirations they might have. Over the last 12 years, only one of 53 National League playoff teams has made the postseason with an OBP under .320.
Given all that, along with the ever-advancing age of the principal players, you’d think that the Phillies might entertain the idea of hitting the reset button on this bunch and starting over. Nope.
“People think we’re going to blow up this team,” Amaro said. “We’re never going to be in the position of blowing up. There’s no blowing up. There might come a time when we make changes to improve for the future, but we don’t have a reason to blow it up. Boston didn’t blow it up last year. They retooled. That’s the challenge we have whether it’s July 31 or November 1.”
Reset. Blow it up. Retool. Whatever. Regardless of which language choice you prefer, something clearly has to change. Amaro is the guy who must do the changing. His choices won’t just determine the course of the club. They will also determine his legacy to a certain degree.
Amaro has made some splashy moves as the team’s general manager. He landed Hunter Pence, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee (twice) and Halladay, among other maneuvers. But the team has been on the decline for the last two seasons. Last year, we heard a lot of excuses about injuries and how a healthy version of the core crew had one more postseason push left. This year, we’re told it’s a good thing they’re only a few games below .500 considering how subpar many of those same players have been.
It will be interesting to see what Amaro says a year from now, because a year from now the Phillies will have to look different one way or the other. Either Amaro -- who insists he won’t “blow it up” -- will change his mind and sell off a bunch of key components or he will try to fix the leaks by plugging various holes with duct-tape solutions, MacGyver-style.
Start over with young players or take one more shot with this group by adding some help via various trades. It’s the familiar buy or sell conundrum, and the deadline is rapidly approaching.
The Phillies have decisions to make. Lots of them. They won’t be easy, but they will tell us a lot about the future -- and about Amaro’s on-the-job ability.