Slight problem: How would Ruben Amaro buy?

Slight problem: How would Ruben Amaro buy?

July 15, 2013, 1:00 pm
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Now what?

Ruben Amaro still has a decision to make. It’s the same decision he’s faced for much of the season, the one that’s hounded him without end these last few weeks: buy or sell?

The Phillies charged into the All-Star break after winning five of their last six series. They are .500 for the first time in a while, and they’re 6 ½ games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East.

As Amaro has said several times, “no one is running away” with the division or the wild card. The Phillies are 24-14 against the NL East, the best record of any team in the division. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re true playoff contenders, but it does mean they’ve played well enough lately to make Amaro give long and careful consideration to whether the Phillies should acquire or unload talent at the deadline.

On Sunday, Amaro told the media the Phillies are “looking for two areas pretty specifically” – bullpen and center field. That last item was added to their shopping list when centerfielder Ben Revere broke his foot. Revere will have surgery Tuesday and is expected to miss six to eight weeks (see story).

That’s obviously bad news for the Phillies, and it makes Amaro’s task tougher. Since May 1, Revere posted a .347 batting average, sixth-best in baseball. He had 15 multi-hit outings in his last 28 starts, hitting .378 over that span. After a slow start (he hit just .200 in April) Revere raised his season average to .305.

It’s a big blow to a team that’s still trying to make a playoff push. Now Amaro is looking to replace him with an unknown player for an unknown period.

Therein lies the root of the true problem facing Amaro. Even though the conundrum is regularly stripped of any nuance and distilled to its essence -- buy or sell -- it isn’t nearly that simple. Actually, strike that. Selling would be pretty simple. Jonathan Papelbon. Cliff Lee. Chase Utley. Michael Young. Carlos Ruiz. Jimmy Rollins. If Amaro wanted to unload any or all of those guys, he could. It would just be a matter of setting the proper price and getting a decent return.

But Amaro said he wants to buy, and buying isn’t nearly as easy. Specifically: How would they buy? What currency would they use to make the transactions? Those are much more difficult questions.

Amaro has some young players he could move -- Jesse Biddle, Tommy Joseph, Jonathan Pettibone, Cody Asche, Darin Ruf, Maikel Franco, et al -- but then he would need other young players in a year or two to fill out the Major League roster.  The core of the club is in its 30s and will have to be replaced sooner than later. Can an organization in that position afford to unload prospects today at the expense of tomorrow?

“Probably not,” Amaro admitted. He continued: “There are some young players we might be able to move. We can’t afford to move all of them.”

If Amaro wants to get the current crew some help, he presumably wouldn’t want to part with many of the regulars. After the way they’ve played, the Phillies think they have a shot to be in the playoff mix. That isn’t an unreasonable position given their recent performance. Perhaps Michael Young would be expendable for a bullpen arm because they could always move Kevin Frandsen into the starting lineup at third, but then Charlie Manuel would lose a valuable bench option and consistent pinch-hitter. You can see the trouble with all this.

“We’re looking to add,” Amaro said. “It’s hard to add and subtract at the same time. You can do it, but we’d probably be more in the add mode more than anything else.”

But, again, how will he do it?

“How do I do it? I don’t know. We’ll find out,” Amaro said. “I’m the GM. I’m supposed to be able to do this stuff I guess.”

He got a little bit of a chuckle from the reporters gathered around him when he said it, but that didn’t stop people from pressing Amaro on the matter. Just as someone was about to re-re-ask the question about how he plans to add when he has stated he’s reluctant to part with certain prospects and/or current major leaguers, Amaro politely cut his inquisitor off and repeated himself.

“I don’t know,” he said once again.

That’s the situation. The problem is obvious. The solution isn’t.