Amaro Pulled Off The Impossible This Winter

Ruben Amaro Jr. was seemingly groomed for years to be the general manager of the Phillies. His chance came when mega-exec Pat Gillick retired at the end of the Phillies World Series run. Some fans were a little concerned about "junior" taking over, but he's quickly proven himself to be ready.

Ruben Amaro Jr. was faced with a daunting task. In many ways, it's easier to take over a struggling team than one that is coming off their first World Series win in 28 years. After all, if the Phillies don't repeat their World Series win, Amaro could be seen as having come up short. But with the off-season that he's put together, it will be difficult to point fingers at Amaro, no matter what happens with the 2009 Phillies.

Not only were the Phillies coming off of a World Series win, but they had ten players eligible for arbitration and were facing the potential loss of outfielder Pat Burrell and starter Jamie Moyer.

Amaro took the calculated risk of not offering arbitration to either Burrell or Moyer. While he took some heat for those decisions, it turned out pretty well. Amaro signed outfielder Raul Ibanez to replace Burrell and was able to work out a two-year deal with left-hander Moyer to keep him in the fold.

Ruben Amaro welcomes Raul Ibanez to the Phillies after the outfielder signed a three-year, $31.5 million deal with the club.
(Photo: Tom Mihalek/AP)
Prior to his arbitration decisions, Amaro locked up left-hander Scott Eyre on a one-year deal and traded speedy, young outfielder Greg Golson to Texas for the more power oriented John Mayberry Jr. From there, he went on to sign Chan Ho Park, who will battle for the fifth spot in the rotation or potentially take over Tom Gordon's role in the bullpen. And Amaro also pulled off a deal with Pittsburgh, sending minor league catcher Jason Jaramillo to the Pirates for veteran catcher Ronny Paulino. And, oh yeah, Amaro and the Phillies also found time to sign manager Charlie Manuel to an extension.

Then, it was off to work on his list of arbitration eligible players.

In the span of six days in January, Amaro knocked Greg Dobbs, Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Chad Durbin, Ryan Madson and Jayson Werth off of his to-do list. Dobbs, Hamels, Werth and Madson all received multi-year deals, while the rest settled for one-year contracts.

While his inaugural body of work was already impressive, there was one more piece of the puzzle needing to be dealt with and it seemed like it just wasn't going to fit easily into the work of art that Amaro had set out to create; Ryan Howard.

With Howard and the Phillies relationship already a little tarnished, Amaro set out not just to get a one-year deal done with his slugger, but to mend some fences. Amaro had accomplished much the same thing with Hamels and remained quietly hopeful that the same would be accomplished with Howard. Publicly, Amaro said all the right things, but acknowledged that a long-term deal with his runner-up MVP might be difficult to make happen. Then, Howard issued a seeming peace initiative, calling the potential of a long-term deal with the Phillies "beautiful".

One week later, it was reality.

Some may wonder why Howard was signed to a long-term deal, pointing out that all the three year deal does is get rid of his arbitration years. The good news is that the Phillies have Howard at a fixed price for those three years and might have had to spend much more if they went year-by-year and arbitration hearing by arbitration hearing with Howard. The potential downside is that no matter what Ryan Howard does - or doesn't do - on the field, he's guaranteed $54 million dollars.

Amaro now doesn't have to worry about reworking the main portion of the puzzle every winter now. Sure, Scott Eyre, Brett Myers, Chan Ho Park and Matt Stairs are all eligible for free agency following the 2009 season. And Amaro will have to ponder whether or not to pick up options on Pedro Feliz and Geoff Jenkins once the season ends, but the potential losses are all manageable.

As things stand now, Myers would be the biggest of the potential losses and his spot in the rotation can be taken by having one of the blossoming young prospects like Carlos Carrasco or J.A. Happ step up. And, there are a host of other young pitchers coming through the system to cover any other potential losses to the rotation. There is the potential for Jason Donald to replace Feliz, so that spot could be relatively easy to fill.

Amaro's off-season has also done a big favor for the club's ownership. No longer can fans call the Phillies owners cheap. The payroll will now stand at over $130 million, giving them an increase of over $30 million from just one year ago. To save you from the math, we'll let you know that the Phillies payroll increase is the largest in baseball and it comes at a time when teams are doing all they can to save money. Heck, even the Yankees payroll, unbelievably, could drop slightly from where it was at the end of last season thanks to taking big money contracts for Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Carl Pavano, Mike Mussina and Ivan Rodgiguez off the books.

While the spending spree has been unprecedented, Amaro turned out to be thrifty. It was projected that the Phillies arbitration eligible players would push the budget up by at least $19 million. Amaro brought it in at $18.8 million.

While many realize that Amaro has done more than could have been expected during this off-season, there are still the pessimists out there who see the Phillies repeating the mistakes of the past. Will Howard's contract turn out to be the albatross that either Pat Burrell's or Adam Eaton's deals became? Will Hamels, who appears well past his injury filled youth, fall back into disrepair and be collecting his paycheck from the disabled list? Anything can happen. Those are the risks that Amaro and every other GM takes when they sign players to new deals. For Amaro, the risks all appear to be well calculated at least for the times in which they had to be taken.

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