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.

Breaking down the best and worst moves at MLB's winter meetings

Breaking down the best and worst moves at MLB's winter meetings

Five more thoughts as baseball's winter meetings wrap up:

1. What now for McCutchen?
The hottest name as the winter meetings began this week was Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates' perennial All-Star centerfielder who had a .404 on-base percentage from 2012-15 with four straight top-five MVP finishes before falling off a cliff in 2016.

McCutchen hit 40 points worse last season as his bat and legs slowed and his approach deteriorated at times, perhaps out of frustration. There's been some speculation he was playing hurt.

The Nationals were the team most connected to McCutchen, but after failing to work out an agreement with the Pirates and losing out to the Red Sox for Chris Sale, Washington ultimately ended up trading for White Sox CF Adam Eaton.

So, what now for Cutch? It seems unlikely at this point he'd return to the Pirates ... would be kind of awkward. He knows his days there are numbered given Pittsburgh's payroll situation, and he hasn't yet accrued 10-and-5 rights. 

But Pirates GM Neal Huntington told reporters Wednesday that the intent now is to keep McCutchen.

And McCutchen tweeted this, implying his lips are sealed after weeks of rumors.

If McCutchen does eventually end up elsewhere, I don't think it will be the Phillies. There are certainly things to like, and I do believe McCutchen will bounce back in 2017, but at this point in the Phillies' rebuild and at this point in McCutchen's career, he's not the player to alter the organizational course for. 

2. Shrewd Sale
The Sale trade played out exactly as it should have — the team with the leverage scanned the market, found a few potential deals and got maximum value for one of baseball's five best starting pitchers.

In many trades of superstars, you can look at the return package and quickly conclude which team got the better end. Those opinions aren't always proven true — prospects fail, veterans get hurt — but winners and losers are usually identifiable.

In the Sale trade, there was no clear winner or loser. 

Sale is an ace, a pitcher you'd likely rather have start Game 1 of a playoff series than David Price. He's the ideal complement to Price, though in my opinion Sale is more of 1A to Price's 1B. 

Price has exceptional stuff and command but no deception. He has a one-step delivery that doesn't throw a hitter off balance. Sale has maybe the most deceiving delivery of any major-league starter — it's all elbows and knees coming at you, especially if you're a lefty — to go along with elite stuff and usually above-average command. 

They're both lefties but they offer much different looks for a hitter.

The centerpiece of the White Sox return, Yoan Moncada, is considered by many the best prospect in baseball — a big, athletic infielder who's settled in at 3B. He's got all the tools and the type of fluidity in his game that has enticed scouts as long as scouts have existed. 

Michael Kopech is the prototypical young flamethrower, a 6-foot-3 righty who throws a triple-digit fastball with a plus breaking ball. You look at Kopech and see some Noah Syndergaard-like, Justin Verlander-like potential.

Sale should make the Red Sox about five wins better each of the next three seasons. In terms of World Series odds, the Red Sox may enter 2017 on an even plane with the Cubs. 

And two or three years from now, Moncada and Kopech could be two of the top young players in baseball. This trade made a lot more sense for the White Sox than acquiring Victor Robles and Lucas Giolito from the Nationals. Both are intriguing prospects, but the Moncada-Kopech duo has more talent and upside.

The conversations between the White Sox and Nationals regarding Sale ultimately led Chicago to acquire Giolito as part of the package for Eaton. 

The White Sox have done very well this offseason in acquiring three, maybe four top prospects. Moncada is a big-time building block, and the return for Eaton of Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning gives Chicago three right-handers with enormous upside.

3. No clue what the Marlins are thinking
For the better part of two weeks, the Marlins had been linked to Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, the two best closers on the market and probably the two best closers in baseball. 

Chapman agreed late Wednesday night to a five-year, $86 million contract with the Yankees, by far the largest ever for a closer.

ESPN's Jayson Stark reported Tuesday night that Marlins owner/money man Jeffrey Loria had given his front office the go-ahead to sign either closer. Right now, that leaves just Jansen.

The question is why? The Marlins are not an elite closer away from winning the NL East. Adding Jansen will not catapult this team ahead of the Nationals or likely the Mets. The Marlins might not even be an elite closer away from a wild-card spot. 

Miami is still trying to pick up the pieces after the death of Jose Fernandez. The tragic loss has left them with a middling rotation, which right now includes Wei-Yin Chen, Edinson Volquez, Adam Conley, Tom Koehler and Jeff Locke. 

That rotation isn't leading you to October, not unless Giancarlo Stanton actually plays a full season and the Fish avoid regression from guys like Marcell Ozuna, J.T. Realmuto and Martin Prado.

Great New York Post columnist Joel Sherman also questioned Miami's approach this week, opining that the Marlins would be better off buying two lesser free-agent relievers like Koji Uehara and Brad Ziegler at the one-year cost of either Chapman or Jansen. It would make sense since Miami already has three good relievers in A.J. Ramos, Kyle Barraclough and David Phelps.

4. Brian Cashman's had quite a few months
The Yankees will not enter 2017 as the AL East favorite, but GM Brian Cashman has positioned them so well for the future, better than pretty much anyone could have expected back in July.

When the Yankees traded Andrew Miller to the Indians before the trade deadline, they picked up a top outfield power prospect in Clint Frazier and an intriguing young pitching prospect in Justus Sheffield. When they dealt Chapman to the Cubs, they picked up Gleyber Torres, one of the most well-thought-of shortstop prospects in baseball. (New York also added outfielder Billy McKinney, who could end up being a serviceable .280/.360/.430 type of player.)

And after it all, after transitioning the Yankees from an old, directionless team, Cashman ends up with all those prospects and Chapman.

In recent years there have been several opportunities for a team to re-sign a star player months after trading him for prospects. 

Some thought the Red Sox would do it with Jon Lester after trading him to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes. 

When the Phillies were considering trading Cole Hamels the first time, before he signed his $144 million extension, the possibility existed Ruben Amaro Jr. would trade him and then try to re-sign him that offseason. 

It almost happened with the Yankees and Carlos Beltran this offseason, before Beltran chose the Astros. 

There have been more examples, but this is the first time I can recall the team selling high on the player, getting the prospects and then also getting the player back. 

Great work by Cashman and the Yankees, who now have an infusion of young talent and still the best eight-ninth inning combination in the American League with Dellin Betances and Chapman.

5. Rockies must trade for pitching
The five-year, $70 million contract Ian Desmond agreed to with the Rockies this week was a stunner because they didn't seem to need more offense. They play in the game's best hitter's park and already have an annual MVP candidate in Nolan Arenado, an underrated stud in Charlie Blackmon, last year's batting champ in D.J. LeMahieu, emerging stars David Dahl and Trevor Story, and Carlos Gonzalez, who has 65 homers and 197 RBIs the last two seasons.

And yet the Rockies added Desmond to the second-largest contract in their franchise's history, behind only that futile six-figure deal for Mike Hampton.

They're also reportedly interested in last year's home run champ, Mark Trumbo. With or without Trumbo, the Rockies right now have the deepest lineup in the NL, one that should still thrive away from Coors Field.

But they've also backed themselves into a corner here of needing to trade one of these talented position players for a top-of-the-rotation arm. 

MLB Network's Jon Morosi reported Thursday that the Rockies and Blue Jays began discussing a potential trade involving Blackmon and 25-year-old right-hander Marcus Stroman. The Blue Jays, as of yet, do not seem inclined to make the deal. Stroman won't reach free agency until after the 2020 season, whereas Blackmon's contract expires after 2018. The difference in cost and years of control seems to be too much for the Jays.

Blackmon, who last year hit .324/.381/.552 with 35 doubles, five triples, 29 homers and 82 RBIs, is the most logical trade candidate for the Rockies because he's starting to get expensive. But the Jays' unwillingness to make that Stroman deal could mean that moving even a player as talented as Blackmon for equal value could prove difficult for the Rox.

Looking around the league, a team like the Indians could be a fit for Blackmon since they have an enviable group of starting pitchers in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar. Carrasco for Blackmon would seem even, but we shall see.

Phils lose LHP in Rule 5 draft, exit winter meetings balancing present with future

Phils lose LHP in Rule 5 draft, exit winter meetings balancing present with future

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The winter meetings ended Thursday morning with the Phillies sitting out the Rule 5 draft. The Phillies’ roster was at the 40-man limit and that prohibited the team from making a pick.

The Phils did lose one player in the draft as reliever Hoby Milner was selected by the Cleveland Indians. 

Milner, who turns 26 in January, is a left-hander who recently switched to a side-arm delivery. He had a 2.49 ERA in 49 games at Double A and Triple A in 2016.

Milner was eligible for the draft because he was not protected on the 40-man roster last month. The Indians selected him for $50,000. He must stay in the big leagues all season or be offered back to the Phillies for $25,000.

Andrew Pullin was a player the Phillies feared losing, but they hung on to the lefty-hitting outfielder. Pullin, 23, hit .322 with a .885 OPS between Single A and Double A in 2016. A late-season elbow injury prevented Pullin from playing in the Arizona Fall League and factored into the Phillies’ decision to leave him unprotected.

The Phillies selected one player, infielder Jorge Flores, in the minor-league phase of the draft. Flores had been in the Toronto system.

The Phils lost one player, 25-year-old pitcher Jairo Munoz, to Tampa Bay in the minor-league phase. Munoz pitched in the low minors in 2016.

With the winter meetings behind them, Phillies officials will head back to Citizens Bank Park to complete the construction of their 2017 roster. So far this winter, the Phils have re-signed starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson and added outfielder Howie Kendrick and relievers Joaquin Benoit, Pat Neshek and David Rollins.

Remaining on the Phillies’ to-do list is adding a backup infielder – Andres Blanco could return – and deciding whether to pursue a veteran hitter to play a corner outfield spot or give an opportunity to a young tandem such as Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr. 

General manager Matt Klentak spoke often during the week about that balance he is trying to strike between improving the 2017 club while keeping intact long-range goals.

“Successfully balancing the present and the future is the single greatest challenge that a baseball operations department faces,” Klentak said. “We’ve talked about it all offseason. The decisions that we are making right now about giving playing time to a young player that has cut his teeth in Triple A and needs that opportunity to take the next step as opposed to a shorter-term solution from the outside – that’s one of the main challenges that we’ve run into this offseason.”

Time will tell which way the Phillies go on this matter.