In a very weird, talent-poor, and overpriced market, Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr., has either by necessity or design, stayed on the fringes of the market where he had been a major player in the previous four offseasons of his tenure. And this is a very good thing.
The 2012 season saw the Philadelphia Phillies go from juggernaut to bloated, dessicated corpse virtually overnight. The team's win total declined by a whopping 21 games, from 102 to 81. The legendarily durable Roy Halladay showed signs not a graceful decline, but of an abrupt loss of effectiveness. Stalwart center fielder Shane Victorino is gone, and new guy Hunter Pence departed as well.
The prevailing wisdom was that Phillies General Manager would look to replace Victorino and Pence with one or more of the viable free agent options on the market -- Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher, B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan, Cody Ross, or Torii Hunter. It's now the day after Christmas, and all but Bourn have signed, and none in Philadelphia.
So what happened?
A market rich in mediocrity went bonkers. Upton went to Atlanta for five years, $75 million. Hamilton signed with the Angels for five years, $125 million. Pagan stayed in San Francisco, inking a four year, $40 million with the Giants*. Hunter, Ross, and Swisher, all gone.
And so far, Amaro has addressed the outfield via trade, sending Vance Worley and Trevor May to the Twins for the speedy but light-hitting Ben Revere. It's looking more and more likely that Revere's defensive prowess is going to be deployed as a hedge against the defensively limited Domonic Brown, Laynce Nix, and possibly Darin Ruf, who along with John Mayberry may form a double corner outfield platoon corps.
As for third base, another area of need, Amaro finally pulled the trigger on the long-rumored footsie-fest with the Rangers and Michael Young, agreeing to pick up just $6 million of the Ranger legend's $16 million deal in exchange for homer-prone reliever Josh Lindblom and fringy prospect Lisalverto Bonilla.
Amaro has replaced Worley's spot in the rotation by signing the Author of All Lies, John Lannan, to a one year, $2.5 million contract.
Rather than dump on Amaro for not doing enough, he should be praised for his restraint. The Phillies are tied into some contracts that range from terrible (Ryan Howard) to badly overpriced (Jonathan Papelbon) to risky luxuries (Cliff Lee). Compounding the long-term budget problems by signing a pretty good free agent to "go for it" in 2013 at the expense of 2014 and beyond would have been a disservice to the organization and the fans. Baseball will go on after 2013. Further, signing Upton, Bourn, or Hamilton would have forfeited the team's first round draft pick, 16th overall, the Phillies highest pick since the 2001 June draft. In previous seasons, when the Phillies signed big ticket free agents, they were only giving up picks in the high 20s/low 30s. Prospects are risky bets, but a 16th overall selection is much, much different from a 32nd overall pick.
That, and Amaro's biggest offseason move was not an offseason signing per se. Hint: Check the photo at the top of this article.
Now that I've written this, the Phillies will make a big, unwise offer to Michael Bourn, and this will all be moot. But in the meantime, nice work so far, Mr. Amaro.
* I actually think this is a really good deal, and I wonder how much the Phillies would have had to beat San Francisco by to pry Pagan away. It could very well have been a substantial amount (an extra year, another $5 million or so) but I hope the Phillies did their homework.