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Phillies' Waiting Game Backfires

Ruben Amaro blamed rival GMs for his team's lack of activity on Trade Deadline Day.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

As Cliff Lee cursed his way off the mound at Nationals Park on Thursday, his left elbow re-injured and his 2014 season done, the low point of this current iteration of the Philadelphia Phillies reached its low point.

That is unless Chase Utley contracts that pesky Ebola virus that is going around.

Nevertheless, Thursday's Trade Deadline Day ended worse than it began, and that didn't seem possible as the clock struck 4pm ET, with the Phils having made no moves to change a roster that entered the night 47-61 and in dead last in the National League East.

The Phillies gambled that many of their veteran players, Lee included, would clear waivers in August, allowing the team to deal them then. Heck, I said the same thing, and even argued that the Phils should wait until the winter to trade Lee, seeing as how teams would need to get a longer look at him before moving any desirable commodities to acquire him.

But that strategy knowingly carried with it some risks. Namely, that Lee, and other veteran players, could hurt themselves before the team had a chance to trade them.

That worst-case scenario landed smack dab in Ruben's face and started to wiggle in Washington, DC, as Lee re-aggravated the flexor tendon elbow in his left arm. It's hard to imagine a scenario in which he won't require surgery, which means much of his 2015 season is in doubt.

After the game, Lee talked about his injury.

"Obviously I’m worried about it," said Lee, who acknowledged the possibility of surgery. "It came back and that’s not good. I don’t think it’s a larger problem. I think it’s just the original thing. It was never fully gone. I think it’s the same thing. I think it was almost gone and came back."

It's interesting that Lee said the injury "was never fully gone." Did he keep that from the team? Did the Phillies know that the pain in his elbow was never "fully gone?" Or did they believe the veteran pitcher when he angrily said over and over to anyone who asked him about his elbow that it was fine?

After the deadline passed on Thursday, Amaro sounded like a frustrated man, one who wanted to deal but saw the baseball world conspire against him with their reluctance to act.

"I’m more surprised that there wasn’t more aggressive action from the other end," Amaro said before Thursday night's 10-4 win over the Nats. "We have some pretty good baseball players here. Our goal all along was to try to improve the club and there really wasn’t a deal to be made that would help us do that."

Amaro blamed unwillingness on the part of rival GMs to offer anything reasonable for his "pretty good baseball players," and answered critics throughout baseball, both executives and members of the national media, who believe the asking prices from Amaro were too high.

"I’m more surprised that there wasn’t more aggressive action from the other end. We have some pretty good baseball players here. Our goal all along was to try to improve the club and there really wasn’t a deal to be made that would help us do that."

It's an interesting claim, given how active so many other general managers actually were during a very busy Trade Deadline. Ironically, Amaro said too many teams are hording prospects.

"In this day and age, I think one of the most over-coveted elements of baseball are prospects," he said. "I don't know how many prospects that have been dealt over the last several years have really come back to bite people in the ass. I think teams are really kind of overvaluing in some regards.

"When you have players who are actually performing at the major-league level compared to players who are in the minor leagues -- prospects are another term for saying minor-league players. They're minor-league players. And until they're producing at the major-league level, that's what they are. Prospects are prospects."

Of course, there are reasons teams weren't offering much for the Phils' veteran players. Either they weren't as good as some of the other players moved at the deadline, or had contracts that were too onerous for other teams to take on.

A person who is selling their house looks at the housing market in their area, sees the pricing of comparable homes, and tries to set a price that is competitive within that market. However, some homeowners ask too much for their home, feeling it is worth a certain amount of money. They ignore the market and insist they won't take anything less than what they think it's worth.

Those are the homes that stay on the market for six months, a year, two years, before the homeowner realizes the one important truth about selling; it doesn't matter what you feel your commodity is worth. It only matters what someone else is willing to pay for it.

Ultimately, Amaro felt his pieces were priced correctly and that offers from around baseball were insufficient. And maybe he was right. He also figured there would be opportunities to move some of these players in August, after they cleared waivers. That seemed like a wise course of action too.

That is until Lee's elbow blew up again.

We'll never know what Amaro was offered over the last couple weeks, and what he turned down. We'll never know what he asked for, unless there is some brave whistleblower from inside the organization that is about to spill a bunch of secrets.

And to be fair, the Phillies, and Amaro, have suffered from a staggering amount of bad luck over the last two years. No one expected Roy Halladay to decline as quickly as he did. No one expected Ryan Howard's decline to be this steep (although a decline was expected). And no one expected Lee, who had never had arm trouble before, to all of a sudden develop a chronic elbow injury that would force him to miss most of the 2014 season and possibly much of 2015.

But it is the risk one runs when they sign veteran pitchers to long contracts, paying them big money in their mid-30s. It is the reason that, for years, the Phils never gave a pitcher a contract longer than three years. It is the reason the Red Sox decided not to offer Jon Lester a contract longer than four years. And it is why you probably won't see the Phillies offer another pitcher a deal like the one they gave to Lee ever again.

Amaro waited too long to decide it was time to rebuild, thinking that the window to contend was still open this season. Most of the world seemed to understand that way too many things were going to have to break precisely right for this team to contend this season. But Amaro did not, and as a result, decided not to trade Cliff Lee this past off-season. He decided not to trade Chase Utley ahead of last year's deadline. And he decided not to accept lesser offers this season for his other veteran players.

He decided to give a vesting third-year option to Marlon Byrd, with a limited four-team no-trade clause, that made a player that should have garnered huge interest on the trade market virtually untradeable. He decided to give A.J. Burnett a vesting option for next season that scared off potential suitors. And his contracts to Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Howard continue to cripple the team.

Amaro has admitted that changes have to be made. But it's fair to wonder if he's the man to make them. It's fair to wonder if other general managers respect him enough to deal fairly with him. And it's fair to wonder if too much of the league sees him as a desperate GM who has no leverage.

Certainly, Amaro has done a lot of things right during his time as GM. He's also been the victim of some very bad luck. And much of what is happening is the result of going all-in for another World Series championship for so many years. Amaro should be lauded for his past efforts, misguided as some of them may have been, in trying bring another parade to Philadelphia.

But it all came with a price, one which is being paid now. Some bad trades, bad free agent contracts, bad extensions, an inability to properly gauge the market and a perceived over-valuation of his team's abilities have brought us to this place.

It is the low point, everybody. And it's fair to wonder if Ruben Amaro is respected enough around the league to effectively oversee the long slog back.