Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. recently spent half an hour talking to Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic. The presumptive goal of Amaro Jr.'s participation in the interview was to placate Phillies fans.
Unfortunately, nothing Amaro Jr. said much advanced his cause. If anything, Amaro Jr. came off as a man stuck in the vast gulf between desperation and deep denial.
Addressing the recent signing of Carlos Ruiz to a three-year, $26 million deal, Amaro Jr. said, "Did we have to step up and do an extra year to bring him here? Yes. Did I want to do a third year on him? No. Do I want the player? Yes."
Credit Amaro Jr. for admitting that even he recognized the difficulty inherent in guaranteeing Ruiz a third year when he will be 37 years old. But debit him for not holding the line on two years.
Having Ruiz at catcher in 2014, as opposed to a cheaper or younger alternative, will not put the Phillies in the playoffs by itself.
As to the aging nature of the roster, Amaro Jr. had this exchange:
Q: Isn't it kind of a pipe dream to think that these older players can continue to play better?
A: Well, we analyze this stuff as you can imagine as well. It's not necessarily that they need to play better but we need to just keep them on the field because if they're on the field and they're playing, they'll play effectively.
Missanelli followed up by saying that it is similarly unrealistic to think that the old core players (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and others) can stay healthy. Amaro Jr.'s answer? "We have people to basically step in and be able to help."
Then Amaro Jr. named Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis as the people who could help.
In other words, the plan for 2014 is the exact same plan as 2013, which was to hope the aging, expensive players could stay on the field long enough to limp into contention.
That plan worked to the tune of 73 wins in 2013.
Asked whether he ever considered a rebuilding phase, Amaro Jr. was truthful. And the truth hurts:
A: Well I don't know that in this marketplace that we can look the fanbase in the eye and say 'okay, we are going to completely blow up this team' based on where we are as far as our commitments and what we think is our talent base and expect to just turn things around...I don't think that's fair to the fanbase, I don't think that's fair to the people who have been so loyal to us.
This was a soft-peddle way of saying that the Phillies, having committed over $140 million to 10 players in 2014, cannot afford the thousands of repetitively empty blue seats at Citizens Bank Park that a rebuild would bring.
Amaro Jr. underscored the extent to which he is chained to players like Utley and Rollins by speaking of them in terms normally reserved for all-stars in their primes and up-and-coming studs, rather than the declining players they are.
Amaro referring to Utley as "the backbone of our club, he's a guy that I believe that will...propel this club and help us continue to make the transition" should produce shivers in the spines of Phillies fans. In 2011-12, Utley played little more than one season's worth of games.
On the basis of a bounce-back 2013, Utley is now "the backbone of our club"? Oh boy.
As for Rollins, Amaro Jr. said this:
A: Jimmy's our shortstop. I fully expect him to be there Opening Day and to play out the rest of his career with us. Again, Jimmy and Chase in my mind are lifers here with the Phillies and hopefully we can bring another championship to the city with those guys in the middle.
Well, there you have it. Utley and Rollins will be in the middle of the Phillies infield until they do not want to play baseball any more.
Reviews of Amaro Jr.'s performance were, um, not encouraging:
Once upon a time, the great writer David Foster Wallace once referred to applause at a lopsided tennis match as being "so small and sad and tattered-sounding that it’d almost be better if people didn’t clap at all."
Ruben Amaro Jr. should read some David Foster Wallace the next time he considers going on the air to address the ruins his Phillies have become.
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