Amaro talks job security, manager change & more

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Amaro talks job security, manager change & more

A week after dismissing Charlie Manuel and installing Ryne Sandberg as interim manager, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. spoke to CSNPhilly.com about the change, his job performance, team chemistry and other topics.

Q. Do you hear people saying the Phillies fired the wrong guy?

A. I do not. I’m sure that there are people opining in different ways, but I don’t listen to the radio. I don’t think it does me or the organization any good to listen to that kind of stuff.

Q. It’s not just on the radio, it’s all over the place. What about the notion of it? Does it bother you?

A. That’s the beauty of our business. People are going to have their opinions about the job that we do. But I can’t get caught up in that kind of stuff because I believe in the people who work with me, I believe in the things we’ve done and I believe in the things we’re going to do to get this back on track.

Q. Does Charlie’s dismissal put the bull's-eye on you?

A. I’m sure it does. I’m in charge of the baseball operations department. I believe people can think what they want about why we made this decision, but this wasn’t a decision about laying blame on Charlie Manuel for the last two years of baseball. This is about where we think we’re going to be headed in the next several years and trying to make the right decisions to get back on track.

Q. Are you feeling heat from your bosses?

A. David Montgomery has been very supportive. David and the ownership group -- I know they’re disappointed, but they’re supportive. And until I don’t feel that support anymore, I’ll do anything I can do to get this turned around and our staff will do the same. We’ll do it. I believe we will.

I do have concerns about our club, but I have great confidence in the ability of my group to get things back on track.

Q. You have frequently mentioned that you’ve made mistakes in the bullpen. Evaluate your performance the last couple of seasons.

A. In some areas we’ve done OK. In others we have to improve. We’ve got to get better.

When we take chances in our bullpen, we have to make sure we fortify with better depth.

When we sign a guy like Mike Adams and he can’t perform and we lose the support of Antonio Bastardo because of a suspension, we have to do better by having guys that can step in and do it. And we have to ask the players to step up and do it.

We felt like we had depth with [Phillippe] Aumont and [Justin] De Fratus and [Jake] Diekman and some of the young guys. Aumont has struggled; didn’t take the step forward that we thought he would. Sometimes it’s on the player. Our job is to target guys we think can do a better job in that area.

Q. You’ve made a lot of moves, trades, signings, the last few years. Some worked, some didn’t. Any regrets?

A. I thought a lot of the things we did worked, to be frank with you. We didn’t put another ring on our finger in ‘09, ’10 or ’11, but we absolutely had a chance to. I believe we had championship-caliber clubs. We just didn’t get it done.

I try not to look back. I only look back in the sense we try to learn from things we did. My friends John Vukovich and Dallas Green always said you get very few chances to win a World Championship and when you have the opportunity to win a World Championship that’s what you should do, go for it. We came awfully close in ‘09. We arguably had the best team in baseball for two or three years. We just didn’t play well in the playoffs. I still believe the teams in ‘09, ’10 and ‘11 were better than the team in ’08, on paper. We just didn’t get it done because we didn’t play good baseball at the time.

Q. Did you see anything in the clubhouse, a lack of chemistry or togetherness, that led to manager change?

A. When the expectations are so high and you do not have success, I think it hits everybody across the board from fans to the front office to the players. There’s disappointment. I think that’s what you kind of saw. My job, and the job of the staff and the people in clubhouse and the players, is to get that mojo back. I think we started losing that over the last couple of years by virtue of the performance of the players and by virtue of the fact that our health started to deteriorate. Age was an issue, too. Age and health go hand in hand.

Q. Are there chemistry problems in the clubhouse?

A. I will tell you this: We have had some of the greatest chemistry teams in the history of our franchise over the last several years.

Q. This clubhouse?

A. I’m not sure if we have the same chemistry and I think part of it is because we’re not winning. When you win, there’s great chemistry.

A lot depends on what you mean by chemistry. You don’t have to love your neighbor to have success. There’s a fine line between getting the best people and the best talent, and, honestly, you never know how it’s going to work out.

A lot of our chemistry issues, unfortunately, were caused by the players that we lost health-wise. [Roy] Halladay was not with us for a lot of the season. It’s not a knock on him, he just wasn’t with us. Chase [Utley] missed a lot over the last couple of years. Those are two pretty good leaders in the clubhouse. When they’re not around and part of the fabric of the club, that strikes at your makeup.

Q. What did you think of Jonathan Papelbon’s comments about not coming here for this and saying changes were needed top to bottom?

A. I think Papelbon’s comments come out of frustration that we just weren’t doing well.

Q. Is he a positive force in your opinion?

A. I’m not sure if he’s positive or negative. I like when he’s out there on the mound. That’s the most important thing for me. I’ve gotten good feedback on how he’s been with the young relievers, so there’s some things that he’s done well.

Q. Would a change of scenery for Papelbon benefit the club?

A. For me, Pap at the back end of our bullpen is crucial if we want to win games. I believe we’re going to be a contender next year. How good our club will be? Who knows? A lot depends on if we get guys on the field.

Q. How about Jimmy Rollins? Are his lapses in hustle getting more difficult to take?

A. Jimmy is another case of guys having expectations of winning. I think that for everybody, it’s only human nature to come to the ballpark with a little different mindset. When you don’t come to the park knowing you’re going to win every day and you’ve been living that for the last seven years, I think it takes its toll after a while, and I think that’s what has happened with Jimmy a little bit.

Q. We know Jimmy has a no-trade clause and he’s said he won’t waive it. But would a change of scenery be good for him?

A. You’d have to ask Jimmy. Jimmy is our shortstop. We signed him for a reason. We kept him on our club because of what he brings to the table. Just like I told every other player, what I said to the club when Ryne took over -- we have an expectation to win and when you step on the field, regardless of who’s your neighbor or who’s playing with you, we have an expectation to go out there and do what we can to win.

Q. What can you do as GM to turn things around?

A. We’ve got a lot of issues. We’ve got catching issues. Outfield issues still. We have to figure out how the outfield will be constituted. Could it be [Darin] Ruf, [Ben] Revere and [Domonic] Brown? It could be. Do we need to improve on it athletically and defensively? Absolutely. Do we need to improve and figure out what we’re going to do behind the plate? That’s crucial. And probably the most important thing is building a championship-caliber bullpen which it hasn’t been over the last couple of seasons.

Q. You talked about young relievers earlier. Do you question the development of these young pitchers?

A. It’s my job to question everything. These are things I have to continue to discuss with the people in our organization.

Everybody wants to lay blame. It’s not necessarily about laying blame.

Q. This is not laying blame. Are your pitchers coming here ready in your mind?

A. Well, they’re handling the minor leagues OK. The question is: Are they able to handle being in the big leagues?

The issue we have, and it’s an issue that makes it difficult for the young players in today’s world, particularly on a club like the Phillies, is that the expectation is that when a player hits the mound for the Phillies he’s going to be perfect. That’s not reality. We have to have some level of patience and we have to groom some guys. Some guys are mentally strong enough to handle it fast, some are not. They’re not robots. We’ll keep working at it.

Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte die in separate Dominican crashes

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Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte die in separate Dominican crashes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Yordano Ventura quit school as a teenager so he could begin working a construction job to help his family make ends meet, laboring day after day in the hot sun of the Dominican Republic.

It was a chance tryout with the Kansas City Royals that changed the trajectory of his life.

Yordano wowed scouts with an electrifying fastball, the best they had seen in years, and a confident demeanor that bordered on brash and arrogant. And both of those traits served him well as he rocketed to the major leagues, helped the Royals win a long-awaited World Series championship in 2015, and became one of the most popular players in a city that embraced baseball one again.

Ventura, whose nickname "Ace" fit so perfectly, died Sunday in a car crash on a stretch of highway near the town of San Adrian in his native Dominican Republic. He was 25.

"Our team and our organization is hurting deeply," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "It's certainly something that puts everything into strong perspective, and challenges us all to never grow tired or weary or cease to do what is right, and loving others. Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.

"We loved Yordano," Moore said. "We loved his heart, we loved who he was as a teammate, a friend. He was somebody that challenged us all and made us better and I'm going to miss him."

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo said Ventura died on a stretch of highway 40 miles northwest of Santo Domingo, the nation's capital. Mateo did not say whether Ventura was driving.

He's the second young star pitcher to die in past four months. Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was 24 when he was killed along with two other men in a boating accident near Miami Beach in late September.

Also Sunday, former major league infielder Andy Marte died in a separate car accident in the Dominican Republic. Metropolitan traffic authorities said he died about 95 miles north of the capital.

"I was traveling to the airport this morning and I got a phone call wanting to know if I'd heard about Yordano, and I thought they meant Marte," Moore said. "My first thought was, `Were they together?'

"Then shortly afterwards, I got a call from Major League Baseball confirming this tragedy."

The Dominican Republic has the second-highest traffic-related death rate in the world -- officials there believe alcohol, speed and a blatant disregard for traffic laws is to blame. Oscar Taveras, Jose Oliva, Rufino Linares and Jose Uribe are among players who have died in crashes in the country.

It wasn't known whether Ventura had been drinking or speeding at the time of his accident.

Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, a fellow Dominican whom Ventura called his hero, posted pictures of Ventura and Marte on Twitter and said, "Guys, the only way we can pay tribute to you, is by reflecting on the adjustments we all have to make in this game called life."

Moore speaks frequently with Latin American players about dangers of returning home, including driving on the perilous roads.

"I'm more intentional about it to the point where it probably goes in one ear and out the other," Moore said, "but we're constantly discussing these things."

The Royals lowered flags at Kauffman Stadium to half-staff Sunday, and displayed Ventura's photograph on the large, crown-shaped scoreboard in centerfield of the empty ballpark. Fans were leaving flowers, hats and other mementos within hours of learning of his death.

Royals teammates learned the news in a text chain and took to Twitter to share their sorrow.

"I love you my brother. I'm in disbelief and don't know what to say," first baseman Eric Hosmer said.

Third baseman Mike Moustakas also expressed disbelief, tweeting: "I love you Ace. I don't know what to say other than I'm going to miss you a lot. RIP ACE."

Ventura will be buried Tuesday in the Dominican Republic. Moore, manager Ned Yost and other members of the Royals are planning to attend.

Before his start in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, Ventura paid tribute to Taveras, his close friend and countryman who had been killed days earlier in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Ventura wrote "RIP O.T (hash)18" on his hat and also wrote messages on his glove, cleats and the mound before shutting out San Francisco for seven innings in a win.

"If he was still here, I would for sure be talking to him, and Oscar would be very happy for me," Ventura said afterward. "Oscar was a very humble guy and very likable, and I'm going to miss him a lot."

Ventura signed a $23 million, five-year deal with the Royals shortly before he started on opening day in 2015. He then helped them bounce back from their loss to the Giants in Game 7 by returning to the World Series and beating the New York Mets in five games for their first crown since 1985.

The right-hander went 11-12 with a 4.45 ERA last season, and his fiery demeanor was never more evident than when he hit Orioles star Manny Machado with a fastball to trigger a brawl. Ventura was suspended nine games for the pitch, though it was cut to eight on appeal.

In a surreal coincidence, the 33-year-old Marte played his final game in the big leagues for Arizona on Aug. 6, 2014. Ventura started that game for Kansas City.

"Today is a very sad day for our entire game and particularly for the many loyal fans in the Dominican Republic, the home of both Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

Said players' union head Tony Clark: "It's never easy to lose a member of our fraternity, and there are no words to describe the feeling of losing two young men in the prime of their lives. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families, friends, teammates and fans throughout the United States and Latin America."

Moore said he spoke to Miami general manager Mike Hill early Sunday, in part because Moore admired the grace and heart in which the Marlins organization dealt with Fernandez's death.

It wasn't certain whether Fernandez was driving the boat when it crashed on Sept. 25. He had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.147, above Florida's legal limit of 0.08, according to autopsy reports released by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office.

"That was one of the first things that came to mind when I began to figure out how we were going to process this," Moore said. "Mike was able to provide some insight. Just give me some comfort, really."

Ventura wound up pitching his entire career for the Royals, going 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA.

Born June 3, 1991, in Samana, Dominican Republic, Ventura was a true rags-to-riches story. He quit school at 14 and was laboring on a construction crew to support his family when he heard about a tryout, which led to a spot in the Royals' academy located on his picturesque island home.

Still, the odds were long that Ventura would ever make it to the big leagues. Very few players from the Dominican academies reached the pinnacle of the sport.

But over time, Ventura was able to harness one of the most electric fastballs that scouts had seen in years, and his headstrong and confident nature was essential to his rapid rise. He made his debut to great fanfare in 2013, allowing just one run again Cleveland in a sign of things to come.

He eventually became a cornerstone of a youth movement that included young stars such as Hosmer and Moustakas, one that carried the Royals first to respectability, then to the top of the American League.

He was 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 2014, his first full season in the big leagues, and helped the Royals reach the World Series for the first time in nearly three decades. Then he helped to lead them back to the Fall Classic in 2015, this time completing the job on a crisp night in New York.

"He always had a zest for life, an innocence about the game, a freshness, a fearlessness," Moore said, his voice cracking. "He was a very compassionate human being, loved to compete, no doubt challenged us, but that made us better. Nobody could ever doubt how much he cared about his teammates, how much he cared about the fans, and how much he loved to compete and to pitch."

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.