It’s no secret Ruben Amaro Jr. was not a very well liked man in the city of Philadelphia for much of his tenure as the General Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s also no secret he made some very questionable moves that forced the Phillies to make a complete overhaul and rebuild for the future. He took a team that was a perennial contender and turned it into an aging team with overpaid stars and no farm system to look forward to. He is now the first base coach of the Boston Red Sox and most fans have tried to forget his tenure as Phillies GM, but it may not have been as bad as it seemed.
The Phillies future looked very bleak at the end of the 2014 season. The team had only a handful of prospects that had a shot of making it to the big-leagues, an aging core of stars that were not capable of putting up the numbers they did during the team’s stretch of five-straight NL East titles, and very little cap flexibility to sign an impact free agent. The fans and the media were calling for Amaro to be fired, and he knew that if he wanted to salvage some sort of reputation, he needed to make changes and he needed to do them fast. With one year left on his contract, the Phillies decided to keep Ruben on board for the 2015 season and not let him go before the year started. And that turned out to be an underrated and smart decision by the Phillies.
The current state of the Phillies is a very positive one. The team is above .500 and overachieving on many levels, specifically with the entire pitching staff (starters and relievers). The farm system is loaded with talent at all positions on the baseball diamond, and people are saying the Phillies could be back in contention as early as 2017. Many people will look at President Andy MacPhail and General Manager Matt Klentak as the people responsible for this quick turnaround, and while those two have done a fabulous job in the short amount of time they have been in Philadelphia, the man who is most responsible is Amaro.
The current Phillies roster has more players that will be on the next contending team than in the last two seasons combined and they have come in a variety of ways. Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Tommy Joseph, Vince Velazquez, and Jerad Eickhoff have all showed promise and made the future look a lot brighter for the Phillies. Only one of those players (Velasquez) was not acquired by Amaro or during his tenure. Two of those players (Herrera and Joseph) are two prospects that Amaro gets little to no credit for.
Odubel Herrera was selected with the 8th overall selection in the 2014 MLB Rule 5 Draft by Ruben Amaro Jr. and the Phillies. Herrera showed some promise in his first professional season, but struggled as he had to adjust to major league pitching and his new position in center field. But this season, Herrera has blossomed into a budding star in the league. He has hit the ball extremely well, drawn tons of walks, become a better baserunner, and has solidified his defense and range in center field. Herrera appears to be the Phillies’ center fielder of the future and may end up being an all-star this year. Not many players that are selected in the Rule 5 draft ever become stars in the league, let alone make the roster of the team they were selected by. Herrera has the makings of a hidden gem, and the man who discovered this gem is Amaro.
One of the most heavily scrutinized moves made by Amaro during his tenure was the second Hunter Pence trade. Pence was acquired by the Phillies at the 2011 Trade Deadline and helped the Phillies earn the best record in the MLB. But the Phillies failed to advance past the divisional round, and the following season they were underachieving and became sellers at the trade deadline. The Phillies began unloading expiring contracts and Pence was a casualty of this. Pence was dealt to the San Francisco Giants for catching prospect Joseph. Joseph’s bat was the reason Phillies fans got excited, but several concussions and other injuries plagued Joseph for the majority of his time with the Phillies organization, and it looked like he would never make it to the big leagues. But Joseph got healthy, switched to first base, and began crushing the ball with Triple-A Lehigh Valley and earned a call-up to the Phillies this month. Joseph’s smooth swing has impressed many, especially his manager Pete Mackannin, and he’s making a name for himself, as well as making Amaro’s decision to acquire him look like the right one.
In one calendar year, the Phillies went from having a farm system that ranked in bottom of the league, to having arguably the best system in all of baseball. Players like J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, Andrew Knapp, Jorge Alfaro, Zach Eflin, and Roman Quinn have provided a very bright future for baseball in Philadelphia, and they all share one thing in common, they were acquired/drafted/signed by Amaro.
There is still going to be a negative aura surrounding Amaro by Phillies fans and the media, and that is largely due to the team declining throughout his tenure, and there is no denying that it did. Amaro took over a team that had just won a World Series and it was the farthest thing from it a few years later. But now, there may be another World Series title in the future thanks to the new budding core of stars the Phillies have, and although he will be long gone by that point, Amaro’s fingerprints will be on that roster, and maybe, just maybe, Phillies fans will forgive him and even thank him for what he did in his final year as GM in 2015