Ruben Amaro should know better. The general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies knows you have to have thick skin to play in Philly or run a team in Philly. Few fan bases are going to let you have it with as much enmity as Philadelphians. But there's absolutely no excuse for laying into your fans like Amaro did, when he told CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury on Monday:
"They don't understand the game. They don't understand the process. There's a process. And then they bitch and complain because we don't have a plan. There's a plan in place and we're sticking with the plan. We can't do what's best for the fan. We have to do what's best for the organization so the fan can reap the benefit of it later on. That's the truth."
Amaro was responding to a question about pitchers Aaron Nola, last year's No. 1 pick, and Zach Eflin, another top pitching prospect. I guess Phillies fans have been moaning about those two not getting called up yet while the Phillies churn through starters like Jerome Williams and Severino Gonzalez. I can understand the impatience with Nola; he's a polished college pitcher who probably isn't going to get a lot better than he is now. He has a 1.87 ERA in nine starts at Double-A with seven walks and 43 strikeouts in 57.2 innings. He absolutely could hold his own right now in a major league rotation. Eflin, on the other hand, is clearly not ready for the majors. While he has a 2.28 ERA at Double-A, he has just 23 strikeouts in 51.1 innings. A former supplemental first-round pick of the Padres, Eflin came over from the Dodgers in the Jimmy Rollins trade, and while he relies on a sinker to get ground balls, that lack of strikeouts is a big concern.
Amaro could have simply explained all this. Instead, he chose a less intelligent route and jumped on the fans. At least he didn't tell them to get a job and earn a living.
Columnist Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote:
Deep down, maybe Amaro believes that he's entitled to more latitude than he's gotten from the Phillies' fan base, that the team's three division titles and 2009 World Series appearance over the first three seasons of his tenure as general manager should have earned him a kinder, gentler, longer grace period. And he'd be right if the Phillies' subsequent collapse weren't so predictable and preventable, if he and the team's ownership group and decision-makers hadn't held on too tightly to that brief period of greatness, if the Phillies hadn't wasted the 2013 and 2014 seasons in a laughable attempt to reload instead of beginning their rebuilding then.
I generally agree with that. I'd also include the strange Hunter Pence trade in 2012. Pence was still team-controlled through 2013, so even though the Phillies weren't really in full rebuild mode yet, Amaro traded Pence to the Giants for Nate Schierholtz, Tommy Joseph and Seth Rosin -- three clunkers. Maybe that trade was ordered by ownership with Pence heading to arbitration in 2013; either way, Amaro made a terrible deal.
But the main reason the Phillies got to this point isn't just the ill-advised Ryan Howard contract and going too long with the veterans. Remember, the 2011 team won 102 games. Nobody is going to blow up a 102-win team. But Roy Halladay, second in the Cy Young voting in 2011 and entering his age-35 season, basically died that offseason. He scuffled through a 4.49 ERA in 2012 and then 6.82 ERA in 2013 before retiring. Then Cliff Lee died out, making just 14 starts last season and none all of 2015. Look, it's obviously risky building around mid-30s pitching, but if Halladay and Lee hadn't ended up in the graveyard, the past couple of seasons might have been a little different.
The bigger reason, however, is the Phillies' drafting and player development system has been weak for a long time, going back to before Amaro replaced Pat Gillick as GM. The players drafted eight, nine, 10 years ago are the ones who should be in their primes now. Check out this list of first-round draft picks:
2004: Greg Golson
2005: No picks
2006: Kyle Drabek
2006: Adrian Cardenas
2007: Joe Savery
2007: Travis d'Arnaud
2008: Anthony Hewitt
2008: Zach Collier
Of course, as the assistant GM all those years, Amaro would have been involved somewhat in the drafting of those players. Drabek and d'Arnaud went to Toronto in the Halladay trade, but the others didn't pan out and other rounds produced little value. At least the past two drafts have produced better prospects in Nola and shortstop J.P. Crawford, whom Keith Law just ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the minors.
Is that enough for Phillies ownership to extend Amaro's leash a little longer? Apparently so, even if you can't defend a roster that includes Jeff Francoeur and Grady Sizemore soaking up playing time. Still, Amaro's comments were foolish and irresponsible and the Phillies have been behind the curve in advanced analytics. There are many reasons to fire Amaro beyond running his mouth.