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On Ruben

Ruben Amaro Jr.’s promotion to General Manager was not the most popular news in the blogosphere, though it was expected by many for a long time.  Any time he had been interviewed, many of us—myself included—feared that he was too smug.  However, how he interacts with the media is not the primary function of a GM, and as I look over his moves over this 2008-09 offseason, I agree with nearly every one.  When evaluating Ruben Amaro, most people point to the fact that the team replaced Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez, but he has made many other moves.  In reality, while I personally would rather have Pat Burrell at 2/$16MM than Raul Ibanez at 3/$31.5MM, it is tough to know what happened in the negotiations with Pat Burrell.  We also are not privy to the same information about Burrell’s health as the Phillies are.  

Instead, I will evaluate the move another way.  The Phillies were a team that had about 88-win talent if they went with Jenkins in left field.  Signing Ibanez gives them about a 90-win team.  The odds of an 88-win team making the playoffs are distinctly lower than a 90-win team’s odds and that is worth about 10.5MM.  The decision to raise payroll was a good one, and while that may have been made by the ownership, the best place to spent the money was on left field.  The team has solid above replacement level talent at every other position on the diamond except for C and arguably at 3B, and they have solid prospects at both of those positions that are about a year away.  While the Ibanez signing may have been overpaying, the decision to add a LF was smart, and for all the claims that the team is now “too left-handed”, keep in mind that (a) the league is pretty damn right-handed and I feel pretty good with no lefty harder than John Lannan starting against us in the first couple weeks, and (b) the Phillies hit lefties BETTER than righties last year.  Some of that may be an exaggerated effect as I mentioned here, but it is still not the hugest concern given the situation.  All in all, the Ibanez move might not be the correct LF to sign, but it was right to raise payroll and LF was the best place to add it.  Adding a starting pitcher was another possibility, but the team has shown an ability to add a 2-3 win starting pitcher midseason every year for four years in a row, and adding a hitter allows them the flexibility to do so.  It is far more likely that a free agent pitcher will be available than a left fielder will be available.  (For more information on this unique element of matching in baseball, check out my article on another cite here)

I do not like defending the Ibanez move since I believe there were better fits for LF, and since I did not and do not agree with it based on the information available to me, but let’s look through the rest of his moves this offseason.

1) Traded Greg Golson for John Mayberry:

Can anybody argue with this?  Golson was more of a suspect than a prospect and Mayberry has clearly shown talent this Spring Training.

2) Traded Jason Jaramillo for Ronny Paulino:

Who would you rather have?

3) Didn't offer Burrell or Moyer arb:

We ranted and raved about how bad the move was, but Burrell would have gotten about $15-16MM in arbitration for one year, and given that he was barely able to find a 2-year deal for that money, it was clearly the right move not to offer him arbitration.  Moyer signed a 2-year, $13MM deal.  In arbitration, he would have gotten about $10MM.  Is his age 47 season worth $3MM?  I cannot even begin to value Jamie Moyer, but chances are that if his age 46 season is worth $10MM, his age 47 season could easily be worth $3MM.

4) Signed Moyer to two-year deal:

Again, evaluating Jamie Moyer is not really something statheads can do.  Nate Silver refused to publish a PECOTA for him for two months.  Check out this article by Eric Seidman for more on Moyer if you have a subscription to Baseball Prospectus.

6) Signed Chan Ho Park to one-year deal:

$2.5MM is worth about half a win.  If his Spring Training numbers are any indicator, he should cover that easily.

7) Signed Marcus Giles, Gary Majewski, Miguel Cairo, Pablo Ozuna to MiLB deals:

Good hedging that mostly did not end up working out.  There is little downside in these type of deals.

8) Signed Greg Dobbs to two-year deal:

If Feliz falters this year, they can promote Greg Dobbs to starter and this deal will pay him less in 2010 than he would have gotten in arbitration if he was a starter for most of 2009.

9) Signed Cole Hamels to three-year deal:

This was one of several deals that took advantage of the fact that a number of players in that pile on the mound at Citizen’s Bank Park on October 29, 2008, wanted to keep playing with those same guys in the pile with them.  Hamels signed far below market value.  The deal was worth $20.5MM, but many estimated that if he had gone to arbitration for each of those three years would be worth $30-40MM combined.  That is huge savings, and is buys them a free year of Raul Ibanez, even if that deal was a mistake.  This is the kind of deal that gives them the money to add 2-4 wins to their team later on, and that is a big deal.

10) Signed Ryan Madson to three-year deal:

No bullpen puts up two straight seasons like the Phillies did last year, and every indication is that the homeruns per flyball that the bullpen surrendered last year simply is unlikely to be repeated.  However, Ryan Madson was a year away from free agency and his agent was Scott Boras.  Outside of Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson is the best pitcher in the bullpen and this was a fair market deal for him.  Adding a solid right-handed set up man for 2010 and 2011 is a smart move, given how the team is positioned to win in 2010 and 2011.

11) Signed Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, and Chad Durbin to one-year deals:

There is nothing wrong with avoiding arbitration.

12) Signed Jayson Werth to a two-year deal:

I would have actually liked to see a three-year deal, seeing as this team is positioned to win in 2009-2011 (with Howard, Rollins, Victorino, Lidge, and now Madson all scheduled to be free agents), but Werth is the necessary right-handed hitter that mashes lefties and would be in too good of a bargaining position if they let him through.

13) Signed Ryan Howard to three-year deal:

This was worth $54MM, which is safely at or below his market value.  Unfortunately, the team lost in arbitration in 2008, which left them unable to pay Howard significantly below his free agent market value for 2009-2011, but given what was done, Howard at a reasonably rate for his abilities and no more hassle to go to arbitration with him every year is a good deal.

14) Released Adam Eaton:

Do I need to explain the logic behind this one?

15) Optioned Kyle Kendrick and Lou Marson; Reassigned Donald to Minor League camp:

Kyle Kendrick clearly did not have it.  His 2007 was based entirely on an unsustainably different .873 OPS against with bases empty and .637 OPS against with men on.  That is not a normal skill that holds up, and it’s good that he can work on a changeup in AAA.  Lou Marson and Jason Donald are young players and bringing them up in 2009 and having them reach free agency after 2014 is probably not as valuable as bringing them both up in 2010 to starting positions and reaching free agency after 2015.  In other words, Marson and Donald in the starting lineup in 2015 is worth more than them on the bench in 2009.

16) Traded Ronny Paulino for Jack Taschner:

Paulino was better than Jaramillo, but he did not turn up to be better than the current backup catcher in Coste.  Taschner has a better K/BB ratio against left-handed hitters than every reliever on the team other than Lidge and Madson; in fact, even more than Romero and Eyre.

17) Released Marcus Giles:

Worth a shot, but it didn’t work.

18) Optioned Mayberry, reassigned Carrasco to Minor League camp:

Better to let them get playing time.

19) Released Geoff Jenkins:

The money was a sunk cost, and the team felt Stairs had a better shot at staying useful than Jenkins.  That is a scouting decision, and it is tough to know.  I will always root for Matt Stairs in this situation anyway.

20) Picked Chan Ho Park as 5th starter:

Clearly, this is a decision I agreed with given my article from the other day.

In addition to these moves, the medical staff under Amaro’s watched has successfully managed Utley’s return, Feliz’s return, and taken good care of Hamels so that he did not hurt himself when his elbow became sore, and even ordered a second MRI for him to make sure he was okay.

All in all, the Ibanez/Burrell move was questionable, but each of these 20 other moves was either neutral or good in my book.  I doubt I will agree with every other move he makes, but this has been a fine off-season and the most prominent move is not always the one to judge him on.  Color me impressed.