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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Posnanski: Hey, Rube: Phillies pay dearly for Amaro’s misguided loyalty

Ruben’s Pholly.

The Howard contract was the one that should have snapped Amaro out of whatever loyalty spell he was under. The second he offered that catastrophe of a deal, baseball writers all over the country wrote in all capital letters: “ARE THE PHILLIES OUT OF THEIR MINDS?” There was no other question.

This was way back in 2010, and it was utterly inexplicable — a $125 million deal that would not even begin for two years for a declining slugger? I believe it is the most inexplicable bad contract ever handed out. Sure, you could argue for other terrible that were more expensive and harmful — this Pujols deal could end up setting the standard — and there have been many smaller deals that are hard to explain, like the Twins giving Ricky Nolasco a four-year, $50 million deal.

But combine the situation (Howard still had TWO YEARS left on his deal), the age (he turned 32 before the contract even began) and an honest assessment of the player (a power hitter who couldn’t run, was a liability at first base, couldn’t hit lefties and was unlikely to age well) and I think you are talking about the most inexcusably bad contract in baseball history.

Then again … it was a loyalty contract. Howard was such an integral part of the Phillies rise, such an unexpected joy when, in his first full year, he hit 58 homers and led the league with 383 total bases. The Phillies wanted to keep him as a Philadelphia sports hero. Noble cause. It blinded them to the obvious: Howard’s best days were behind him….

Amaro wanted to hold on. It’s a natural instinct. And it’s a destructive one. It never fails to amaze how obtuse Major League general managers can be about things seemingly as obvious as aging.  Now, the Phillies are terrible, they are old, they have not developed a useful young player for themselves in about a decade, and Baseball America has ranked their minor league system 22nd, 23rd and 27th the last three years.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: July 30, 2014 at 11:54 AM | 23 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: carlos ruiz, chase utley, cliff lee, joe posnanski, jonathan papelbon, large contracts, phillies, roy halladay, ruben amaro, ryan howard

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   1. f_cking sick and tired of being 57i66135 Posted: July 30, 2014 at 02:01 PM (#4760529)
the problem with the phillies organization under amaro is that they're mediocre at amateur scouting and player development, horrible at filling the back end of the roster, and incomprehensibly bad at contract negotiations.

they have some decent players who should/could draw interest from teams looking to contend, but every ####### contract they've signed includes some kind of inexplicable vesting option. papelbon, byrd, rollins, burnett, howard, lee. all of them. it's insane.

   2. GregD Posted: July 30, 2014 at 02:06 PM (#4760534)
other than that, though, the front office is great! I hear they make amazing mimeographs. And don't even get me started on their abilities in foosball
   3. zempf Posted: July 30, 2014 at 02:19 PM (#4760544)
Don't forget the no-trade clauses in addition to the vesting options. Even Marlon Byrd has a list of teams he can't be traded to without his consent.
   4. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: July 30, 2014 at 02:38 PM (#4760570)
I can't even imagine why we signed Marlon Byrd if not to trade him. I also was unaware until this month that Ryan Howard's so-called "team option" at the end of the deal gives him TEN MILLION if the team declines the option. Fascinating tidbits of news keep rolling in.
   5. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: July 30, 2014 at 04:38 PM (#4760762)
I don't think it's misplaced loyalty. I think that Amaro does not know that the typical player's performance declines in his 30s, because of any combination of loss of bat speed, foot speed, arm speed, eyesight, balance, the accumulation of small and large injuries, etc.. He is just ... unanalytical. (That's nicer than dumb, isn't it?)
   6. Textbook Editor Posted: July 30, 2014 at 04:59 PM (#4760788)
He is just ... unanalytical.

Yup. It's a shame it isn't 1972 anymore. He'd be a god if it was still 1972 or so.
   7. 6 - 4 - 3 Posted: July 30, 2014 at 05:44 PM (#4760837)
Seriously, how is Amaro still employed?
   8. Ray (CTL) Posted: July 30, 2014 at 05:47 PM (#4760839)
Seriously, how is Amaro still employed?

Because it's the rare modern day GM who doesn't know the difference between a PA and an AB.
   9. Joey B. is counting the days to Trea Turner Posted: July 30, 2014 at 05:48 PM (#4760842)
Less than 24 hours to go. Is he actually going to make any trades? From what I've been reading, it sounds like he's still making outrageous, off-the-wall demands for his guys that no GM would accept in a million years.

I'm going to laugh my behind off if this entire band of washed-up old geezers actually comes back intact again next year.
   10. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: July 30, 2014 at 05:57 PM (#4760851)
The second he offered that catastrophe of a deal, baseball writers all over the country wrote in all capital letters: “ARE THE PHILLIES OUT OF THEIR MINDS?” There was no other question.

As I recall that was the reaction in stat oriented circles, Amaro's deal had some support from the more traditional wing of the MSM (some support, some criticism)
   11. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: July 30, 2014 at 07:28 PM (#4760912)
Lots of talk show hosts here in Philly, a not terribly enlightened crew in general, say things like "No one wouldn't have made that offer to Howard at the time."
   12. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: July 30, 2014 at 08:30 PM (#4760958)
I guess that was back when we thought Howard was 5 years younger than he is. Damn phony Missouri passports.
   13. Stormy JE Posted: July 30, 2014 at 08:32 PM (#4760959)
9. Mark Teixeira, $180 million (2009-16)

– Well, there are only two years left.

Teix has racked up 15.6 fWAR and 17.8 bWAR over the past 5 2/3 seasons, which screams "meh," not "ugh." (I suspect Yankee fans aren't exactly thrilled that he'll almost certainly remain in the Bronx through 2016 but doubt he'll be a world-class stinker.)
   14. Squash Posted: July 30, 2014 at 09:28 PM (#4760997)
The Phillies' true sin re: Howard was keeping him in the minors so long when he was clearly ready for at the very least a very long look. If this contact started stay two years earlier at least it wouldn't be quite so terrible. They've been championship-level stupid with how they've handled his career in general.
   15. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: July 30, 2014 at 09:36 PM (#4761001)
It was pretty awkward though, that the big signing the Phillies made to announce they were ready to not suck anymore in the new stadium was Jim Thome, and then as soon as he was on the team they theoretically should have traded him to bring up a rookie.
   16. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: July 30, 2014 at 10:07 PM (#4761019)
The great myth of Ryan Howard losing two years to Jim Thome is wrong. He exploded in the minors in 2004. 2005 was the first year he was a top 100 prospect. He spent enough time in the majors to be ROY in 2005.
   17. DJS, the Digital Dandy Posted: July 30, 2014 at 10:18 PM (#4761025)
I'm still laughing at the revelation that Amaro doesn't actually know what a plate appearance is.
   18. Bhaakon Posted: July 30, 2014 at 10:20 PM (#4761028)

Lots of talk show hosts here in Philly, a not terribly enlightened crew in general, say things like "No one wouldn't have made that offer to Howard at the time."

Some team probably would have given him that contract if he were a free agent at the time. But of course he was not a free agent, and the vast majority of teams probably would have declined even if they had the money to spend and a hole at 1B/DH.
   19. puck Posted: July 30, 2014 at 10:21 PM (#4761030)
Spending his age 21 half-year (draft year)in rookie ball, age 22 in A, age 23 in A+ does seem like slow advancement for a college player.
   20. f_cking sick and tired of being 57i66135 Posted: July 30, 2014 at 11:12 PM (#4761063)
ATLANTA — The phone lines in the Phillies' front office buzzed, but rarely with inquiries about Ryan Howard.

"I remember one specific conversation with one general manager," former Phillies general manager Ed Wade said in a telephone interview Monday. "We were talking about their best young player, who would have fit a position of need for us. [The general manager] said, 'He's hit a lot of home runs in double A, but remember Sam Horn.' That was the comment I got back. He couldn't wait to get off the phone with me."

...Multiple sources said the Pittsburgh Pirates, Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners expressed some interest in Howard, but none ever really stepped up with a serious offer.

Mark Redman, anyone?

If serious names were discussed, it typically meant that the Phillies had started those conversations. Wade would not say who made the Sam Horn comment, but multiple sources confirmed that the Phillies had explored a trade with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Rocco Baldelli at one point. Carl Crawford also had been discussed. A potential trade even expanded to include Brett Myers and Danys Baez.

The Phillies also had kicked the tires on Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira.

But the Phillies never came close.

...There were Howard's productive minor-league numbers, but the unknown in how they might translate against big-league pitchers. If a team had stepped up and offered someone like Barry Zito (the Oakland Athletics dangled Zito for Utley, Madson and Floyd) for Howard and prospects, maybe Howard would be in Oakland now.

   21. Ray (CTL) Posted: July 31, 2014 at 12:15 AM (#4761074)
The great myth of Ryan Howard losing two years to Jim Thome is wrong. He exploded in the minors in 2004. 2005 was the first year he was a top 100 prospect. He spent enough time in the majors to be ROY in 2005.

This seems to be true, yes. I'm no prospects expert so correct me if I'm wrong, but he was doing ok in A (A-, A, A+) ball at ages 21-23 in 2001-2003. But he was a bit old for those leagues. When he made the jump to AA-AAA in 2004 at age 24 he exploded, but even there he was sort of old for AA; at that point, at the end of 2004, he was probably ready for the majors, but you couldn't get _that_ excited about him because he was old for AA-AAA.

And actually Baseball Prospectus at the end of 2004 -- and this was the first time they wrote him up in their annual -- even proposed sending him back to the minors for 2005 for half a year of seasoning:

You can read the stat lines as well as we can—Howard has big league power and then some. The problem is that he has nowhere to play: While Howard worked with Milt Thompson on his corner outfield skills in Arizona, he's going to wind up at first base, and Jim Thome isn't about to go anywhere. He could stand a half a season at Scranton to improve his pitch selection – his walk rate is not that high for someone who gets pitched around so much – but he's close to as good as he's going to get, and if he languishes in the International League for two more years, it isn't going to do wonders for his trade value. We usually criticize organizations for moving good prospects prematurely, but if the Phillies find themselves in a pennant race and get an attractive offer for Howard, it would behoove them to bite.

Howard's PECOTA comparables list is interesting. The list is headlined by some unflattering names, Sam Horn, Daryle Ward and Franklin Stubbs to name a few. But just a bit further down are encouraging comparisons like Carlos Delgado and Derrek Lee, players who improved their walk rates and became very dangerous hitters. It's a potent mixture of about one shot boom and two shots bust.

It does seem to me that the idea that he was a late callup - i.e. that he should have been called up a year or two sooner -- is not supported by his minor league performance.
   22. Nasty Nate Posted: July 31, 2014 at 12:54 AM (#4761086)
But in hindsight (and separate from the Thome aspect), wasn't him being old for his league several times a result of unduly slow promotion rather than justification for it?
   23. Ray (CTL) Posted: July 31, 2014 at 01:04 AM (#4761088)
#22 I'm not sure that's relevant to the issue of when he should have been called up to the majors and what kind of a prospect he was. If a minor leaguer tears up a league but is old for the league, he's not actually much of a prospect. This is a big reason why the media thinks that minor leaguers they dub "can't miss prospects" who miss means that major league performance can't be as reliably projected from minor league performance. (That, and not understanding how to adjust for league/park.) And the big jump is from A to AA, anyway.

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