There was less than a half hour remaining unit Thursday’s trade deadline and Ruben Amaro Jr. remained attached to his phone. He continued to talk through scenarios with teams.
But 20 minutes later, he sat on the bench in the visiting dugout at Nationals Park and explained why, for the second straight year, he stood pat.
“Our goal all along was to try to improve the club,” Amaro said, “and there really wasn’t a deal to be made that would help us do that.”
The Phillies are in last place in the National League East, 12 1/2 games behind the first place Nationals. Only two teams in the NL (and four teams in baseball) have more losses.
Change is obviously necessary. Amaro recognizes that, but has said more than a couple times in the last month that he wasn’t going to make change for change’s sake.
But wasn’t he at least mildly disappointed he could not get to the finish line in a move that could improve a team in desperate need for improvement?
“Not disappointed, more surprised that there wasn’t more aggressive action from the other end,” Amaro said. “We have some pretty good baseball players here. … This is just a deadline, as I’ve talked about before. Our goal is to try to continue to work through that to see if there’s opportunities now and through the end of the year and on through April.”
Although 4 p.m. has come and gone, Amaro can continue to try to trade off some of his veterans parts for younger inventory.
Cliff Lee, who will make his third start since returning from the DL tonight, is a prime candidate to move in August if he is pitching at an elite level and looks healthy. Marlon Byrd, Jonathan Papelbon and A.J. Burnett could move on, too.
All four of those players have cumbersome contracts that will allow them to almost certainly pass through waivers unclaimed, which would allow them to be traded.
But the July 31 trade deadline has become somewhat of an unofficial holiday for baseball fans. They were treated to plenty of action, with David Price and Jon Lester among stars to change uniforms on Thursday.
Since it’s a significant date on the baseball calendar, Amaro was surrounded by more than a dozen media members and a handful of TV cameras. He spoke for nearly 20 minutes on his activity and the state of the team.
Q: Were some of your players’ contracts impediments to getting deals done?
Amaro: As I’ve said before money wasn’t going to be an impediment for us, it was trying to get the right baseball deal. we weren’t going to let money impede that. My feeling is if we had an opportunity to improve the club with the type of talent we wanted to get back, then we would have made a move.
Q: Jonathan Papelbon said he was encouraged after a recent talk with you, saying you guys aren’t rebuilding here. So that’s the plan, reloading?
Amaro: Rebuilding, reloading. I guess there are a lot of semantics involved. But our job is to try to get back to where we’re playing in important games again in September, and we’re getting to a point where we’re contenders again. We’re not playing like contenders now, we’re hopeful we’ll be playing at that level as the seasons wears on here, but up until now, we haven’t played like contenders. My job is to try to get us to that point. Whether it takes a year, three months, or two years, thats my job and i’ll continue to strive to get there.
Q: In your mind can contending happen next year?
Amaro: A lot of it depends on some of the things we can do, how healthy we can stay and… i don’t see a scenario right now where our roster is going to be the same roster in April that it is right now. It will change. It will need to change because we need to get better. But is it possible? Yes. Whether or not we can get there, we’ll see. Our job is to try to put us in a position where we’re contenders again, if we have to take a step back to move forward and get there, we’ll see how it goes.
Q: There have been reports that you were asking for too much. Your thoughts?
Amaro: Well, I would disagree with that. It wasn't a scenario where we were asking for players that were their top prospects. We were not looking for exorbitant paybacks, so to speak, we were looking for players that would help us, but I think we were very reasonable in the discussions that we had. Frankly, I don’t think the clubs were aggressive enough for the talent we have on our club.
Q: Do you feel like you’ll be in place to make those trades in offseason?
Amaro: Me personally? Yes.
Q: Have you received assurances from ownership?
Amaro: I haven’t had any discussions.
Q: What’s the most glaring thing missing from this team?
Amaro: Wins. We're not swinging the bat well enough consistently. … It’s really about people playing to their ability. But if we have to change the mix to be able to do that to improve, that's one of the things we were trying to do.
Q: Are changes needed in scouting force and player development?
Amaro: We evaluate everything all the time and we're all being evaluated. That's part of the process just like any other organization or company. We're evaluated. My personnel, the personnel that works in the baseball department will also be evaluated.
Q: What’s your opinion of the current state of your minor league system?
Amaro: I like our minor league system, just because I think we can always improve there. But we do have more talent than is being depicted publicly. Again, the people who are evaluating our talent, with all due respect, I don't know how accurate they are. But we do have some talented young players and we have some people who are going to help us and have given us some depth. But we have to get better there. Just like here at the major league level, we have to get better at the minor league level as well and try to find as much minor league talent and create as much depth as we can.
Q: You said other clubs may have overrated prospects, but do you think you may have overrated your own players, which made making a deal difficult?
Amaro: No I don't think it's a matter of overrated. I think it's a matter of - in this day and age, I think one of the most over coveted elements of baseball are prospects. I don't know how many prospects that have been dealt over the last several years have really come to bite people in the ass. I think what's happened is, I think teams are really kind of over valuing 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 ... I think (scouting director) Mike Ondo had a pretty good quote that said 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.
Q: Do you think opposing teams felt you were pressured to make moves, took advantage of that?
Amaro: Yeah I do think so. And as I've said and made it very, very clear that we didn't have any pressure to make deals. What our goal was to try and make our club better. So if there's a deal to help us get there, we would've done it. There really wasn't a deal we felt comfortable with or a deal that we were going to acquire talent that was compensatory to the talent.
Q: Doesn’t this team need to make significant changes before next year?
Amaro: I think we have to make changes. There's no question about it. Significance is relative I guess. But we need to get better.
Q: Expect to continue to work at this with teams next month?
Amaro: We’ll continue to have negotiations if those negotiations arise. If we get players through waivers and they're unclaimed, we don't have many encumbrances to move them. We'll continue to try and improve the club. That's an ongoing process. I know this is a very hyped up time of the year because people expect things to happen but that doesn't mean things can't happen later. We've had deals done afterwards. I don't know what the dates were but we've done deals that have helped us after the trade deadline and we'll try to do that as well.