WASHINGTON -- Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. blamed the rest of baseball, not himself, for his team’s inability to pull off a deal before Thursday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline.
“I’m not necessarily disappointed,” he said moments after the deadline. “I’m more surprised that there wasn’t more aggressive action from the other end. We have some pretty good baseball players here. Our goal all along was to try to improve the club and there really wasn’t a deal to be made that would help us do that.”
For weeks, the Phillies made a slew of players available. Need a closer? There was Jonathan Papelbon. A lefty reliever? Antonio Bastardo. A lefty starter? Cliff Lee. A right-handed starter? A.J. Burnett. A power hitter? Marlon Byrd.
They were all still with the Phillies on Thursday night, Lee on the mound against the Washington Nationals, Byrd in right field.
Amaro was adamant that player contracts were not a hindrance to making deals. He stated for the umpteenth time that the team would have eaten salary to get the talent it wanted in return.
That talent was never offered, according to Amaro.
“I just don’t think the players that we were being offered were players who were good enough to help us,” he said.
In national circles, Amaro has been criticized for placing high price tags on his players. Some critics believe his prices were too high for aging players who have been part of a team that is 14 games under .500.
“Well, I would disagree with that,” Amaro said. “In no scenario were we asking for players that were their top prospects. We were not looking for exorbitant paybacks, so to speak. We were looking for players that would help us, but I think we were very reasonable in the discussions that we had. Frankly, I don’t think the clubs were aggressive enough for the talent we have on our club.”
Amaro was pressed on the subject. Could he have been guilty overrating his own talent?
No, Amaro said.
If anything, he added, rival teams are guilty of overrating their prospects.
“In this day and age, I think one of the most over-coveted elements of baseball are prospects,” he said. “I don't know how many prospects that have been dealt over the last several years have really come back to bite people in the ass. I think teams are really kind of overvaluing in some regards.
“When you have players who are actually performing at the major-league level compared to players who are in the minor leagues -- prospects are another term for saying minor-league players. They're minor-league players. And until they're producing at the major-league level, that's what they are. Prospects are prospects.”
Clearly, Amaro believes he was lowballed. He believes that may have been a product of opposing teams viewing the Phillies, a big-market, $180-million-payroll team that is about to whiff on the playoffs for a third straight year, as being desperate.
Amaro conceded that the Phillies need to make changes and he said changes would be made before April, but desperation? No, he said.
“I made it very, very clear that we didn't have any pressure to make deals,” he said. “Our goal was to try and make our club better. If there was a deal to help us get there, we would've done it. There really wasn't a deal we felt comfortable with or a deal that we were going to acquire talent that was compensatory to the talent we offered.”
Amaro said he continued to talk to potential trade partners until 15 minutes before the deadline. The hottest chatter Thursday revolved around Byrd possibly going to the Yankees. The two teams had discussions, but nothing was consummated.
The Phils can still make deals in August. They’ve done them in the past, acquiring Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs and shipping out Joe Blanton. But August deals require a player first clearing waivers, so that makes things more tricky.
It’s likely the Phils will place Lee, Papelbon, Bastardo, Byrd, Burnett and others on waivers in the coming days -- some might already be there -- just to try to gain trade flexibility for the rest of the season. Given the big money that Lee, Papelbon and Byrd are owed, there is a good chance they would get through waivers so the Phillies could still have the opportunity to make some changes in the coming month.
“I think we have to make changes,” Amaro said. “There's no question about it. We need to get better.”