2016 Philadelphia Phillies: To thank Amaro, or curse him?


Tony Curry

Tony Curry was the second player from the Bahamas to play major-league baseball, following infielder Andre Rodgers to the majors in 1960. (According to baseball-reference.com there have been six players from the Bahamas. Rodgers had the longest career, playing 11 seasons for the Giants, Cubs and Pirates from 1957-67. But the best-remembered might be Reds backup outfielder Ed Armbrister, who tried to sacrifice in the 10th inning of Game 3 of the 1975 World Series, hesitated and collided with Boston catcher Carlton Fisk as Fisk threw wildly into center field. No word on how they do it in cricket.) Curry had a short but interesting career, hitting .261 with six homers and 16 walks for a bad Phillies team. The 1960 Phillies were managed on Opening Day by Eddie Sawyer, who directed the Whiz Kids to the 1950 pennant. The Phillies lost 9-4 and Sawyer resigned, famously saying, “I’m 49 years old and I want to live to be 50.” Gene Mauch took over and the Phillies finished 59-95. Curry hit his first homers on the same day, on May 14 off the Reds’ Jay Hook (who went 8-19 for the ’62 Mets). The next year, Curry left spring training, according to his bio at sabr.org, and reached in the Bahamas said only, “I quit.” It turned out to be over money; according to a 2007 Philadelphia Daily News story by Bill Conlin, the Phillies sent Curry a contract for $500 less than the $6,000 league minimum. Wrote Conlin: “I think general manager John Quinn’s basic rationale went something like this: If it weren’t for the Phillies, this guy would be diving for quarters tossed from cruise ships in Nassau harbor.” Curry returned and Quinn, according to sabr.org, said it was “all a misunderstanding.” But Curry started 1961 7-for-36, was sent to the minors and never played for the Phillies again. Curry was traded to Cleveland during spring training of 1962 and though he hit .300 twice in the minors while an Indian, got 16 at-bats for them in 1966. They traded him for Jim Gentile in July of that year to the Astros, who traded him after the season to the Angels. He never played in the majors again. Curry died in 2006 at 68. Career numbers: .246 average, .295 on-base, .374 slugging, 6 homers, 40 RBIs, 16 doubles, 33 runs, 20 walks, 69 strikeouts, 0-2 stealing, 83 OPS+, -1.6 WAR.

On deck: Good, young shortstops are plentiful in 2016 and the Phillies have theirs in J. P. Crawford, who should save the franchise from a second full season of Freddy Galvis. Crawford was the team’s No. 1 draft pick in 2013, and it’s taken him just two-and-half seasons to approach the major-league team. It doesn’t hurt that the major-league team has major problems. It’s too soon to say where Crawford ranks among young shortstops, though it’s safe to say he probably doesn’t have Cory Seager’s power or Francisco Lindor’s speed, and none of the above is as good as Carlos Correa. But Crawford has a career .290 average, has hit double figures in homers and steals and might have a better eye than any of his compatriots — he has almost as many walks (160) as strikeouts (163) and a career .382 on-base percentage. The parent team, which ranked 29th in MLB last year at .303, can surely use some of that.

2015 stat: No Phillies pitcher won more than six games last year. Four managed to do so: Aaron Harang, who also led the team in losses with 15; Cole Hamels, who was traded after 20 starts; Aaron Nola, who was called up just before Hamels was traded and made only 13 starts; and reliever Ken Giles, who like Harang and Hamels, is now an ex-Phillie


What he said:
Pete Mackanin on his contract extension: “I only needed about 10 seconds. I said, ‘I’m good without reading it.’” What he meant: “If Brett Brown is still coaching the Sixers with his record (46-195), I’ve got all the job security in this town I need.”

Outlook: It turns out Ruben Amaro is adept at building a franchise. Too bad for Phillies fans he had to raze theirs first to so demonstrate.

Amaro was about the last to know the Phillies’ mini-dynasty was over, spending  big bags of cash in 2014 on veterans like A.J. Burnett and Marlon Byrd who were too old to even lift them let alone the team

There were GIs in Europe who received Dear John letters in World War II who got the message quicker than Amaro.

Amaro shouldn’t have needed an analytics department to tell him the obvious after consecutive 73-win seasons, which was good because the team didn’t have one. Then Amaro said this spring, “I’ve always believed in analytics,” which sounded curious given that he couldn’t analyze the team’s descent from 102 wins in 2011 to 81 in 2012 to 73 in 2013.

That shouldn’t have taken a math whiz to see which way the Phillies were trending.

From Bill Baer at nbcsports.com:  “Amaro once argued that players don’t get worse as they age. He didn’t know that walks aren’t counted as official at-bats. And before that, he said he didn’t care about walks; rather, he cared about production, as if walks aren’t productive. He once compared Kyle Kendrick to Matt Garza based on their win totals. The Phillies were one of the last teams without a dedicated analytics department. They hired Scott Freedman as a consultant after the 2013 season, but didn’t institute an actual department until later. The organization unveiled an internal database towards the end of the past regular season, after Amaro was relieved of his duties.”

You can hardly blame Phillies fans if this isn’t the GM they wanted to trade Cole Hamels last summer to reboot the franchise. And yet Amaro did better at rebuilding the franchise than he did at maintaining it after its 2008 World Series title. From the end of the 2014 season till he was fired in September 2015, Amaro traded Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Byrd, Antonio Bastardo, Jonathan Papelbon, Ben Revere and Hamels, took Odubel Herrera from the Rangers in the Rule 5 draft and claimed Dalier Hinojosa, who might be this year’s closer, from the Red Sox on waivers.

Amaro moved as if he had a deadline, and he did. On September 10 new man in charge Andy MacPhail fired him, but not before Amaro had stocked the farm system and secured a future it once seemed he was intent on destroying.

New GM Matt Klentak took over in October and when introduced, he took an extraordinary step and saluted his predecessor. Said Klentak: “I want to acknowledge what Ruben did during his entire time here, but specifically this summer. It was a very difficult season under some very challenging circumstances, I can imagine. But I think that he did a marvelous job of helping reshape the future of this organization.”

It almost made you wonder why the Phillies were replacing him, at least until you were reminded of Ryan Howard and the $129 million Amaro had the Phillies pay him since 2010 for -0.6 WAR. If that’s not the worst contract ever, Marvin Miller was a shill for management.

Sometimes it seems the Phillies of the last few years don’t need an analytics department as much as an analysis department, and not for player development but psychoanalysis.

The Phillies had four 90-win seasons followed by four non-winnings seasons and they won’t win many more than 70 games this season, if that. But there’s a sense of stability with MacPhail and Klentak in charge and the promise of the trades Amaro made.

Last year’s Phillies had 106 games started by some combination of Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, David Buchanan, Sean O’Sullivan, Chad Billingsley, Severino Gonzalez, Alec Asher, Dustin McGowan, Kevin Correia and Phillippe Aumont. Only McGowan, as a reliever, is on an Opening Day roster in 2016, and that of the Marlins, who are in dire need of them.

The 10 pitchers combined for a 6.19 ERA and threw 99 home runs in 551 innings or better than one every 5.2 innings, which was more than they pitched on average. Who can blame Ryne Sandberg for walking out on his job midway through the season rather than walking out to the mound to remove a AAA pitcher yet again? How many National League hitters earned raises at arbitration with stats inflated by Phillies pitchers?

The 2015 Phillies had more major-league closers in Papelbon and Giles than they had major-league starters.

That won’t be the case in 2016. With Nola, Amaro trade acquisition Jerad Eickhoff (2.65 ERA in 8 starts) and Klentak trade acquisition Vincent Velasquez (58 strikeouts in 55.2 innings for the Astros), the Phillies have the start of a winning rotation. Jake Thompson had a 1.80 ERA in 7 starts in AA after Amaro dealt for him and might join them this year.

The Phillies won’t win as many games in 2016 as their young talent might suggest. Mackanin declined to name a closer, which was a creative way of saying the team doesn’t have one. The bullpen is the kind of recycled effort last year’s rotation was.

And the outfield is the worst in major league baseball. It wasn’t very good before Aaron Altherr hurt his wrist but his .489 slugging percentage in a quarter of a season last year will be missed, so much so that Cedric Hunter, who had four major-league at-bats in 2011, will start on Opening Day. The Phillies starting corner outfielders on Monday are Hunter and Peter Bourjos, who probably couldn’t do so on merit for two-thirds of AAA teams.

The Phillies have the No. 1 pick in June and MLB’s sixth-ranked farm system, according to ESPN.com’s Keith Law, which includes 2015 .300-hitting outfielders Nick Williams (another Amaro trade acquisition) and.Roman Quinn.

The ranking is a tribute to Amaro and a slap at him. He traded for most of the prospects but couldn’t draft enough of them to sustain the franchise.

Team Song: Lee Morgan: Yes I Can, No You Can’t

 

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