Ruben Amaro Jr. still has his notes.
Someday, maybe if he ever writes a book, he might divulge them. For now, though, he doesn’t mind sharing that as the general manager of the Phillies three years ago, he had serious discussions with the Los Angeles Dodgers “about some players we’d love to have acquired” and 11th-hour talks with the Houston Astros before finally trading Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers in the biggest, boldest move of a painful rebuild.
Looking back, Amaro doesn’t wish he’d made a different deal. But he does have regrets from seven seasons as the Phillies GM. And he’d be lying if he told you he doesn’t think they will come flooding back Friday night, when he returns to Citizens Bank Park.
“I probably wouldn’t be a coach for the New York Mets right now if I had started the rebuild maybe a little bit earlier,” Amaro said by phone Thursday. “I think sometimes you get a little attached to the players, because they had so much success, and there’s a loyalty that’s created. But those are things that you learn.”
Amaro, 53, was fired in September 2015, with the Phillies headed for 99 losses and their worst finish in 54 years. He’s been back here since then. Last year, he returned as the Boston Red Sox first-base coach, the role he has now with the Mets. He still lives in Bucks County.
But this visit will be different. The Phillies are 22-15 and will be no worse than a half-game out of first place when they open their three-game series against the Mets. And the players at the center of their resurgence — righthander Aaron Nola, leftfielder Rhys Hoskins, centerfielder Odubel Herrera, and even leadoff-hitting second baseman Cesar Hernandez — were procured during Amaro’s tenure.
His successor, Matt Klentak, brought analytics to an organization that was lagging. He also added veteran free agents Carlos Santana, Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, and Pat Neshek in the offseason. But 19 players on the 25-man active roster and 32 players on the 40-man roster were in the organization when Amaro was ushered out.
“None of those deals and none of those acquisitions were done alone, but I do feel a real sense of pride in it, particularly if they end up getting to the place where they want to go, and that’s being a contending team sometime pretty soon, if not this year,” Amaro said. “And I keep tabs on a lot of the guys.”
In particular, Amaro has been impressed by Nola. When the Phillies drafted Nola in the first round in 2014 out of Louisiana State, “we viewed his ceiling as probably a [No.] 3 or 4” starter, Amaro said. Instead, he has become a top-of-the-rotation stud.
Amaro also noted that Hoskins has developed into a more well-rounded player than the Phillies projected when they drafted him in the fifth round in 2014 based strictly on his offensive potential. Amaro highlighted Herrera’s development from a Rule 5 pick in 2014 to an all-star and Hernandez’s rise as an everyday player.
“When Pat Gillick and I talked about this, we were talking probably about 2017 or 2018 where we would start really making a move based on the level of players that we had and the level of talent that we acquired or were attempting to acquire,” Amaro said. “It looks like we were not that far off as far as the timing.”
But there must be something bittersweet about not being allowed to see it through. Amaro isn’t seeking any pity. In time, though, Phillies fans might realize his tenure was more successful than it seemed at the end.
“Ownership and the front office at the time wanted to go in a different direction and change things up. I totally understand. I don’t have any bitterness toward it,” Amaro said. “The only disappointment I really had was that I felt that I would’ve done a good job of doing the entire transition. I wish I would’ve had the opportunity to come full circle with it.”
Instead, Amaro will have to settle for watching it unfold, just like the Phillies fans.