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Cole Hamels, Ruben Amaro and intellectual dishonesty

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If you're going to criticize the Phils' GM, at least do it with some intellectual honesty.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

*NOTE: THIS PIECE HAS BEEN UPDATED AT THE BOTTOM*

Look, I get it. Many, if not most of you, don't like Ruben Amaro. You don't think he's done a good job, you see the Phillies have gotten progressively worse during his tenure as general manager, and you see a team that has lost seven in a row and now sits at 19-33, all with a payroll of nearly $147 million.

The team was about a year and a half too late to acknowledge that it was time to forget about the glory years and start to build for the future. And many of the moves that have been made during his tenure have not worked out.

Yes, this is all true, and if you wanted to argue that Amaro should be fired given the current state of the team, I understand. It's a perfectly valid opinion.

You'd be joined by a new piece by Yahoo's Jeff Passan, who blasts Amaro for the job he's done as general manager while at the same time previews the Cole Hamels trade market.

The last two trade deadlines ended with the Phillies not pulling off a single deal. Amaro held tight on free agents-to-be on 73-win teams. That’s not intractable. That’s irresponsible, an abdication of duty, which calls for him not just to field the best team possible today but position the team for tomorrow.

OK fine. Then I assume the next part of this argument is going to be about how Amaro should have traded Cole Hamels already and gotten on with this whole rebuilding thing because that would make sense.

The offers are going to start coming in soon, and they should be strong (emphasis mine). Hamels, 31, is throwing harder than ever, his changeup still one of the five best in the game, the three years and $73.5 million on top of the $15.4 million remaining this season a reasonable sum for a legitimate ace. If the Phillies don’t want to eat money, they don’t have to. If they do – and considering their TV deal is worth $5 billion in rights fees and equity, they’ve got every bit the ability to spend down acquisitions like the Dodgers have – the market will flourish.

So wait, I'm confused. It appears as though the market for Hamels is still robust, and perhaps even more so given the injury concerns of Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir and the starting pitching situations in Boston, Los Angeles, and other places.

In one breath, Passan rips Amaro for holding onto veterans for too long, and then in the other, mentions a "strong" trade market for Hamels, who he has been criticized by many for not trading yet.

These two ideas don't go together. It's an intellectually dishonest argument, plain and simple.

Look, Amaro has done a lot of things wrong, but one thing he's done right is play the Hamels market perfectly, as Passan himself noted.

And yet with one bold trade, one great maneuver, Ruben Amaro Jr. can silence the naysayers who time and again have argued he should have traded Hamels. Keeping him has worked out quite nicely.

I've gone cross-eyed.

It now appears as if the Phillies are willing to eat more of Hamels' salary in order to get a better prospect return back. That is absolutely the right move for a team that is flush with Comcast cash money.

This may not mean that teams like the Red Sox are suddenly going to come running, because money wasn't really the issue for them in the first place. But for a team that is less likely to take on a bigger contract, like Kansas City, San Diego, or Baltimore, lowering the price tag monetarily could bring back the kind of prospects Amaro covets.

Either way, Amaro remains in a good bargaining position. Which runs counter to the theory that he's "held onto his veterans for too long."

Look, you can argue that Ruben Amaro should not be in charge of this rebuild. He's a lame duck general manager and the chances are better than not he will not continue on in his job after this season. If Pat Gillick is going to stick around and has a major say in what happens with any Hamels deal, then perhaps it's OK.

But the general manager has gotten a lot of things wrong. He waited too long to trade Cliff Lee. The contract to Ryan Howard was unnecessary. The second Lee trade was a disaster, and both Hunter Pence deals were unnecessary and didn't pan out.

But no one can argue that Amaro shouldn't have continued to try and keep the window open for 2012. The team won 102 games the season before and was returning the best rotation in the Majors. No one could have foreseen the Roy Halladay implosion.

Where Amaro fell short was not acquiring a proper replacement for Howard (Ty Wigginton) and preparing for the possibility of continued injury problems for Chase Utley. He should have traded Lee in the middle of that season or in the off-season before 2013. He probably should have traded Utley before he became a 10-5 guy.

If you want Amaro fired for past mistakes, that's fair. But since the organization decided to go in a new direction and officially begin the rebuild, it's hard to find fault in much that Amaro has done, other than put his foot in his mouth and tick off what's left of a dwindling fanbase.

So if you want to knock Amaro around, be my guest, he's done a lot to justify it.

Just maintain some intellectual honesty while you're doing it.

***

Just as a coda to this piece, Jeff Passan of Yahoo tweeted me back in an effort to clarify the point of his original piece, which was quoted and linked above. It's definitely worth a read.

In the end, Jeff and I disagree on the fundamental value of Hamels and Amaro's handling of the situation. I believe Hamels is worth a top prospect and the Phils should not deal him just to say they did, while Jeff believes Amaro's stance on Hamels over the winter was unreasonable and intractable. And, to be fair, he has sources which indicate that was the case, and I do not.

Whether Amaro has lucked into his situation with Hamels or is reaping the benefits of an intelligent calculation, here we are, with a healthy Hamels, injuries to other potential available arms, and lots of teams in need.  I guess we'll just see what we'll see.