Phillies Rebuild Finally Transitioning from Lost Cause to Genuine Hope

December 24, 2015 by  
Filed under Fan News

Being blinded by the captivating sunset and completely overlooking the edge of the oncoming cliff leads to an obvious outcome. 

That is what happened to the Philadelphia Phillies over the last four seasons. Their front office, led by former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and his mission to make his faulty plan look like a genuinely wise one, found itself at a peak and believed it to be a plateau rather than the top of a steep drop. Winning 102 games in a season can do that, but it was the job of Amaro‘s construction team to project the future and see the fall coming.

He—and, in turn, the Phillies—did not. So rather than selling high and getting optimum returns on players who still had some value, the Phillies plummeted to the tune of 358 losses over the last four seasons. The reality of the situation smashed the organization in the face, as many of its former stars lost that value and aged rapidly, and Amaro‘s tenure came to a deserved end in September.

By that time, though, the Phillies had recognized the fault in their ways. Ace Cole Hamels had been traded, as had closer Jonathan Papelbon along with others. And this offseason, with new GM Matt Klentak running things, the Phillies, in a shift from the previous regime, actually sold early on a player, dealing back-end reliever Ken Giles to the Houston Astros.

Now, finally, the Phillies are fully rebuilding. No more foolishly patching holes. No more clinging to the dream that aging players will suddenly resurrect their careers. Now, there is again hope in Philadelphia.

The Phillies started this only a couple of seasons too late, as it is difficult to sell a plan that includes trading away stars months after the team wins 102 games in 2011. Still, after a .500 finish in 2012, the writing on the wall was clear and legible.

Taking so long to move veterans Hamels, Papelbon, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins was a bad look. It was equally as bad, if not worse, for the club to not rid itself of veterans like Carlos Ruiz or Cliff Lee when they still had value and the losses were already stacking.

Alas, the mistakes were made. What the Phillies have done since, including with Amaro still as an employee, has been impressive.

Sure, maybe they could have gotten a much bigger haul for Hamels had they dealt him sooner (the same could certainly be said for Utley). But what they did end up getting back for Hamels before last season’s nonwaiver trade deadline was a solid haul.

The team was wisely willing to pay down some of Hamels’ contract in return for a better package of prospects because in the end, they have the money. They needed the players.

Earlier this month, Klentak struck another big trade. He moved Giles to the Astros, a club with a win-now window. Giles had a 1.56 ERA over the last two seasons, but a team challenging to lose enough games to get the top overall pick in the 2017 draft has no need for such a bullpen weapon. So Klentak traded him for a load of pitching promise.

Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall pick in 2013, could eventually be the prize of the group. He had not lived up to expectations in the Astros organization, but he is only 24 years old and still possesses a live arm and plus stuff.

“We talked in the last two months about the importance of augmenting our pitching and maintaining balance in everything that we do,” Klentak told reporters. “And with these trades…we feel like we made our club better, both in the short and the long term. It improves our pitching up and down the system.”

The Phillies had the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft, and that selection, right-hander Aaron Nola, has already debuted for the big league club. They had the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft, will have the first pick next June and are the front-runners to have the top overall pick in the 2017 draft.

You see how the Phillies are stockpiling young talent to go with players like Nola, Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez. You see they are positioned to get impact players in the coming drafts. And finally, you should see that the team’s television contract is worth more than $2.5 billion, giving it the financial flexibility to push its payroll beyond $200 million soon enough.

And just in time for a free-agent class after the 2018 season that could potentially include Bryce Harper, Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Donaldson, Jason Heyward, David Price and Clayton Kershaw.

No longer are there cries about the Phillies’ failing rebuild. Amaro is gone, and the false hope he saddled the organization with for too long is gone, too.

Philadelphia baseball has a new wave of hope. The rebuild is underway, finally. And the promise is blinding in a way that nobody has to worry about falling off a cliff anytime soon.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Mark Appel’s Fresh Start with Phillies Could Help Former No. 1 Pick Thrive

December 12, 2015 by  
Filed under Fan News

The news was stunning, unexpected but completely understandable.

The Houston Astros completed their trade with the Philadelphia Phillies to acquire closer Ken Giles, a flamethrower with huge upside and under club control for the next five seasons. The trade happened Wednesday but was not made official until Saturday afternoon.

And when all the participants were announced, they were accompanied by a bombshell of sorts.

Mark Appel, the Astros’ No. 1 overall pick from the 2013 draft, was included as part of the impressive package going to the Phillies. Appel was once a top-20 prospect in all of baseball, depending on the publication, and was at one time viewed as a potential front-end starter and ace after a stellar career at Stanford.

However, professional baseball has not gone according to plan for Appel or the Astros. So to nab Giles and revamp its bullpen, Houston moved its former elite prospect, providing Appel a fresh start with a new organization.

“I think about the times that I’ve gone through. It hasn’t always been easy going through the minors, but I feel like I’ve learned so many lessons being in the Astros’ organization,” Appel told Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle. “I’m so thankful for the front office giving me the opportunity in drafting me.”

Larry Brown of LBSports tweeted: “Astros trading 2013 No. 1 pick Mark Appel for Ken Giles is clear admission they screwed up draft. Who went 2nd that year? NL ROY Kris Bryant.”

The Astros had a chance to draft Appel in 2012 when he came out of Stanford as a junior, but there were issues regarding his bonus expectations as the No. 1 draft prospect. So in a surprise move, the Astros went for signability rather than the guy who was major league ready, and it ended up being an excellent decision.

They took shortstop Carlos Correa with the No. 1 overall pick. Appel fell to No. 8 and ended up back at Stanford for his senior year before the Astros, again holding the top pick, took him first overall in 2013.

Correa is the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, and Appel, who grew up in and around Houston, is now with the Phillies in part because he has not lived up to expectations in the minors.

In 253 innings, topping out at Triple-A Fresno, Appel had a 5.12 ERA and battled control issues, with 3.5 walks per game in 2015 to go with a modest 2.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Because of those numbers and trends, Appel went from can’t-miss prospect to potentially never making his mark in a major league rotation, with his 25th birthday looming in July.

Appel has not lived up to his expectations as a No. 1 pick, according to JJ Cooper of Baseball America.

“This is absolutely true.” tweeted Ortiz in response.

“Some of the, not really bitterness, but some of the sadness is knowing that my Major League debut most likely won’t be in Houston in front of my friends and family in my hometown,” Appel told Brian McTaggart of “Definitely my friends and family will still be there when that time comes, but it will be in a different city.”

The Phillies and Appel are hoping the different city is the one of brotherly love. Philadelphia’s original package, as reported, was strong and included young major league arms Vincent Velasquez and Brett Oberholtzer as well as outfield prospect Derek Fisher, who is No. 7 in Houston’s MLB Pipeline prospect rankings.

Saturday’s announcement included the pitchers, but not Fisher. Instead the Phillies landed Appel, who is now the organization’s No. 2 prospect, along with Velasquez, Oberholtzer and right-handers Harold Arauz and Thomas Eshelman. Those arms should go a long way in eventually re-establishing the Phillies’ staff as one of the better ones in the National League, even if not every prospect hits.

The haul is seen as a win for Philadelphia, which might not have much need for an elite closer, even one under team control, during its massive rebuild.

According to Jim Bowden of ESPN, “Phillies-Hou trade much different: Phils get Mark Appel with Velasquez, Eshelman & Arauz in Giles deal; like it much better for #Phillies now.”

Appel could end up being the steal of this deal. While he is getting up in age for a prospect, he still pitched at nearly four years below the Triple-A weighted average age in 2015. That keeps him as a promising prospect.

Beyond that, Appel’s stuff continues to rate as elite. His fastball can still touch 98 mph, his slider is still a wipeout pitch and he still flashes the mastery of both. In fact, last season he went through a stretch where he was as impressive as he’s ever been as a pro. There were bumps near the end of his time with the Fresno Grizzlies, though he finished with three consecutive quality starts.

If Appel can turn the corner in a new setting with a new organization, he still profiles as the kind of arm that can help lead a rotation, if not carry it. The Phillies believe that. Now Appel just has to prove them right and become Houston’s regrettable trade.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Cliff Lee’s Career-Threatening Injury Is a Sounding Alarm to Trade Cole Hamels

March 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Fan News

Cliff Lee has sent Ruben Amaro Jr. his much-needed wake-up call.

Now it is up to Amaro to actually wake up.

Lee is the Philadelphia Phillies former ace and currently a 36-year-old left-hander whose balky elbow has him face to face with the end of his successful career. Amaro is the Phillies’ general manager and currently the man who still has not traded his one strong bargaining chip and current left-handed ace, Cole Hamels.

But Amaro should not be that guy for much longer. He should move Hamels in the near future if not immediately. And if he keeps Hamels longer than that, then he should cease to be the team’s GM. Either way, Amaro should not be that guy for much longer.

Don’t hold any precious breaths waiting for that to happen, though. Lee’s career-threatening elbow injury is not going to push Amaro into trading Hamels, and apparently, neither is any other injuries to pitchers on other clubs.

“Nope,” Amaro told’s Jayson Stark when asked if his asking price on Hamels has softened after Lee’s injury. “Why would it change? No reason to change it.

“I don’t know what our ‘stance’ on Cole is. Others have ‘stances,’ I guess, for us. I guess other people must think we have a ‘stance.’ Our ‘stance’ is that we’re open-minded. And that hasn’t changed one bit.”

But open-minded in Amaro’s world seems to differ from common folk.

Here is the Cole Hamels Situation, or “stance,” as we have come to know it since last July at the non-waiver trade deadline: Amaro has refused and will continue to refuse any trade offer for his ace that does not completely knock him off his designer loafers.

The inherent injury risk of hanging onto Hamels does not even register into Amaro’s thinking.

“There’s no lesson learned from Lee’s situation because it’s a totally different situation. One guy is hurt. The other guy is completely healthy,” Amaro dissected to Stark.

“All pitchers can get hurt. All players can get hurt. It can happen any time,” Amaro later added. “That has nothing to do with the way we go about our business, [by] planning for a player to get hurt. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Understandable. You do not “plan” for a player’s injury without any pre-existing knowledge that he is prone to having one, which is Hamels’ situation. Still, trading your most valuable asset at his highest value in order to fully kick-start your team’s rebuild is not the same as planning for injury.

It is just wise, especially when we have now learned over the last eight and a half months that Amaro’s dream package is not dropping onto his doorstep. And if it does between now and next July 31, it likely means that the pieces he covets have significantly lost value to their current organizations, which also does not bode well for the Phillies.

The teams the Phillies have flirted with—the Red Sox, the Rangers, the Yankees, the Padres—have aggressive but analytical front offices. If they are unwilling to part with key prospects at this point, especially when they lack a true ace (Red Sox) or have just lost one for the season (Rangers), their minds are unlikely to change. This becomes particularly true next offseason when you consider the crop of available starting pitchers might be the deepest in the history of free agency.

And if Amaro hangs onto Hamels beyond this coming July, his value drops dramatically with three years instead of four on his contract, another year of age and mileage on his arm and plenty of other options on the market that do not cost high-end prospects.

“Again, if there were deals that we felt were appropriate for us to move forward, then we would,” Amaro told Todd Zolecki of last month before Lee was hurt and before the Rangers lost Yu Darvish to Tommy John surgery. “So far some of the deals that we’ve discussed with some of our players have not yielded what we’ve wanted to do. And in some cases, we feel like we’re better off staying with the players that we have for a variety of different reasons. We’ll move forward accordingly.”

But what forward is there to move toward without a trade for Hamels? The team has no other pieces worth salivating over, and it is clearly not in a position to win anytime soon, with or without Hamels. Hamels understands this and has stopped barely short of asking for a trade to a contender during this spring training.

So instead of waiting for the eye-popping prospect package, which is just not available these days like it was when the Rangers traded Mark Teixeira in 2007, the Phillies ought to seek their best available offer as soon as possible and be done with this cloud of constant speculation.

At one point this offseason, we all saw Lee, if healthy and effective, as a trade piece at some point before August. That option has been erased.

Now, Lee is a simply a reminder of one of the possible risks of hanging onto Hamels too dearly. His injury is not the reason Hamels should be traded but more of a notice of what could happen in a worst-case world.

The reason for a Hamels trade has long been upon us considering the Phillies have lost 259 games in the last three seasons. And until now, Amaro has engaged in the kind of hardball no other MLB executive is willing to play, and it is costing his franchise valuable time in its attempt to regain relevancy.

Lee’s elbow is Amaro’s alarm sounding. The Phillies now have to hope his snooze button is broken.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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These Teams Give Cole Hamels a Chance to Win Now

February 18, 2015 by  
Filed under Fan News

Cole Hamels has spoken.

And while he is demanding nothing, he made it unequivocally clear that he wants to win, that winning cannot and will not happen in Philadelphia and that he would like to be traded to a team with a chance to do that.

Speaking to the media for the first time since last season, Hamels told all of this to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Really, who can blame him for feeling this way?

“I just want to win,” Hamels said. “That’s all. That’s all any competitor wants.

“And I know it’s not going to happen here.

“This isn’t what I expected. It’s not what the Phillies expected, either.

“But it’s reality.”

Hamels was careful to praise the only organization he has ever known, the Phillies, and the city where they play. But he also understands that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. so botched the franchise’s rebuild—not Hamels’ words, by the way—that the Phillies absolutely will not win in 2015, and that it could be difficult for the team to win for the duration of his six-year, $144 million contract signed in 2012.

Including this summer, there are four guaranteed years remaining on the deal at $96 million, which includes a $6 million buyout. There is also a club option for $20 million that would take the contract to five years and $110 million.

About a month ago, once it became fairly clear Hamels would be traded only if a suitor became desperate and caved to Amaro’s demands, the GM made his thoughts about Opening Day clear to Jake Kaplan of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“I think Cole Hamels is going to be in our uniform, frankly,” Amaro said. “I don’t really foresee him being moved.”

However, now that Hamels has made it clear he wants to win and that it won’t happen in Philadelphia, maybe the Phillies will be more willing to appease their ace. The question now is what team will pay the high asking price.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Ruben Amaro Jr. Must Pay for What the Phillies Have Become

February 5, 2015 by  
Filed under Fan News

The losses are on Ruben Amaro Jr.’s hands.

The ones in the past, the ones for 2015 and ones that could come beyond this upcoming season, whether he is in office or not, are all on Amaro. This offseason provided a clear shot to be progressive by making his team younger with an eye toward the future.

Instead, the Philadelphia Phillies general manager is hanging onto the past as he completes the team’s transformation from championship contender to a case study in how to decimate a franchise. This is why Amaro must pay for his transgressions with his job.

For the sake of the Phillies franchise, the sooner he does, the better.

That tweet came at the July 31 trade deadline, but it’s not just last summer’s flubbed deadline that should write Amaro’s GM obituary. It is his entire six-year tenure, with the latest debacle coming this offseason when he was unwilling—not unable—to trade ace Cole Hamels.

It certainly was not for a lack of interest in the left-hander with four years and $96 million remaining on his contract. The problem was Amaro, who other executives described as asking for unreasonable packages in return for Hamels. It was the same problem tagged on Amaro at the last trade deadline.

This comes at a time when younger, more analytical GMs lean toward trading away a player too soon rather than too late. Amaro clearly does not subscribe to this thinking.

And now that the rush of phone calls had calmed and teams have gone elsewhere for pitching needs, Hamels is destined to be a Phillie on Opening Day despite an aggressive push to take him away.

“Not aggressive enough, obviously, because we haven’t done anything,” Amaro told Jake Kaplan of The Philadelphia Inquirer a couple weeks ago. 

“If I was going to handicap it, I would probably say that he’d be in our pinstripes on opening day and pitching against Boston.”

With that, the Phillies are looking quite similar to the teams that lost 89 games each of the last two seasons, even with the trades of Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd. As the rest of the National League East improves, Amaro keeps locking the cellar door behind him.

The Phillies still have Hamels, their one trade chip that could change the franchise’s future fortunes. They still have Cliff Lee, who is 36, hurting and went from a 7.3 WAR ( in 2013 to 0.8 last year. They still have Ryan Howard, a man Amaro publicly said the team would be better off without. They still have Jonathan Papelbon, a personality not so conducive to living quietly in a losing clubhouse.

Between those four, Amaro has committed $85.5 million for this season. Throw in Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Miguel Gonzalez, and Amaro has committed $107.7 million to seven players. Only Gonzalez, a 28-year-old minor league reliever, is younger than 30. All of those deals were signed under Amaro’s reign.

No wonder Sporting News dubbed him the worst GM in baseball last year.

For now, Amaro has the backing of his bosses. When Pat Gillick was hired as the team’s GM in 2005, the franchise did so with the underlying idea that Gillick would be something of a mentor to Amaro, then the assistant GM. That thought was reaffirmed during Gillick’s tenure when Amaro became the public face of the front office as Gillick worked away from the spotlight.

Because of the history there, it came as no shock when Gillick “absolutely” backed Amaro after he was brought back into the mix as the team’s interim president in September.

“Right now there’s no thought whatsoever of replacing [Amaro Jr.],” Gillick said via The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Gelb.

It is understandable that Gillick made these comments. He did not want to come in and damn his current GM and one-time mentee as his first order of business. But Gillick must see that Amaro buried the franchise to the point that it will take a complete rebuild, not a retool, to come out from under the soil.

For a fair chunk of the overall debacle, things looked great. The Phillies were a contender for Amaro’s first three years at the controls, and he also deserves some credit for the 2008 World Series and the 2007 NL East title as he was the assistant GM when those clubs were being constructed.

When he took over, Amaro lived in the moment. He ignored the future to build historically good teams and sign expensive players. The goal was to win as many World Series titles as he could in the window allotted.

The problem is he won zero and handed out what can be argued as the worst contract in baseball history (for now, while Albert Pujols is still productive) when he signed Howard to a five-year, $125 million extension, a deal that didn’t even start until he turned 32. Amaro also agreed to several other questionable deals with aging players.

The real payment for those fun times has been due for the last two seasons, and the bill collectors will keep calling in 2015.

Amaro took over a franchise with money and World Series expectations when he landed his current job after the 2008 championship season. He chased the dream by spending recklessly, ignoring warning signs and the club’s future. The intentions were somewhat understandable with the exception of Howard’s deal, which was panned immediately and led to Amaro trying to cover it up with more bad deals (i.e. Cliff Lee).

The problem is that in trying to sustain a winner, Amaro was setting dynamite to a franchise that had drafted well and spent wisely under its previous GMs. The fuse was set years ago, and the bombs have been going off for three seasons now, with Amaro trying to hide the disaster by pouring cups of water on an inferno.

Amaro cannot stop what he set in motion. And because he refused to blow it up himself when he should have, the Phillies have to make him part of the wreckage when failing to move Hamels is the final stick of dynamite to blow.

Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent he previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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