Tag Archives: Ruben Amaro Jr.

Rebuilding the Colossal Wreck That is the Phillies

8 Jul

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

New Phillies Team President Andy MacPhail has the monumental task of making the Phils a contender again.

New Phillies Team President Andy MacPhail has the monumental task of making the Phils a contender again.

PHILADELPHIA—During the Phillies run to five straight playoff appearances, crowds packed Citizens Bank Park and wondered what newcomers might be in red and white pinstripes at the July 31st trade deadline.

All was right in South Philly as Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley led a potent offense and a young Cole Hamels was part of a group of aces that shut down hitters right and left and included Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.

Fast forward to the present and the 2015 All-Star Break.

Today, the Phillies once mighty empire is in ruins. They have the worst record in baseball, finding a seat at Citizens Bank Park isn’t hard and the fans that do come see the team don’t have a lot to cheer about. In fact, as football season draws closer and the losses continue to mount, expect to hear E-A-G-L-E-S chants.

The star players from the team won the World Series in 2008 are shadows of their former selves thanks to a combination of age and injuries. Howard is batting just .218 with 14 homers and 41 runs batted in, boy wonder Utley is batting just .179 with just four homeruns and 25 RBIs, and catcher Carlos Ruiz is hitting .225 with one homer and 15 RBIs.

Heck, on Monday night, former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, the former MVP that proclaimed the Phightins “The Team To Beat”, added insult to injury by helping his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, win the game by driving in two go-ahead runs.
Before that at-bat, Rollins was batting a paltry .208.
The Dodgers, contenders in the NL West, are probably in search of additional pieces to help them make a run at the post season.
Maybe they need to bring their shopping list to Philadelphia.

It’s time for the Phillies to start moving folks. Howard has only one year left on a large contract that probably sounded like a good idea at the time. Meanwhile, Hamels is 5-6 with a 3.02 ERA that includes several outings where run support was hard to come by.

And contenders like the Dodgers and the New York Yankees could use a closer like Jonathan Papelbon to get them over the postseason hump.
You see, the Phillies need prospects. They need good, young players to bolster a thin farm system. And you can’t get those prospects when you have a bunch of guys that are not only a part of the past, but have become a pretty ineffective part of the present.

The long-term rebuilding process of turning the Phillies back into a contender will come under the watch of new team president Andy MacPhail, a man who comes from a long line of Hall of Fame front office guys. MacPhail was the general of the Minnesota Twins during their 1987 and 1991 World Series championship teams season and most recently reviving a moribund Baltimore Orioles team.

The challenge for MacPhail will be to find a general manager that really knows talent because I get the feeling that Ruben Amaro Jr.’s contract will not renewed.

You’ll also need a good manager to turn a bunch of young players into a contender. With all due respect to Ryne Sandberg, who resigned as Phillies’ manager last month, a laid-back, milquetoast approach won’t get the job done.

From what I understand, Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a Philadelphia-area native, is in the final year of his contract. He has a World Series ring and the Angels have finished no worse than third during his 15-year tenure as a manager. If I’m MacPhail or the new GM, I am on the phone with Scioscia at the end of the season.

When he assumes command, MacPhail needs to definitively show Phillies fans some that there’s going to be light at the end of what has been become a dark and gloomy tunnel.

Or the only memories that the Phillies will have are those of an empty stadium.

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Spring Training 2015: Phils Begin the Painful Process of Rebuilding

20 Feb
Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn't get enough run support in 2014 and now wants out of Philadelphia.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn’t get enough run support in 2014 and now wants out of Philadelphia. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hoping to be at full strength after struggling last years. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hoping to be at full strength after struggling last year.
Photo by Webster Riddick.

 Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—With pitchers and catchers reporting to the Phillies spring training headquarters in Clearwater, Florida this week, fans would like to believe that there would be some hope onthe horizon.

But, the Phillies are a team facing more uncertainty now than they did at the end of last season’s 73-89 finish.
Don’t get too attached to the Phillies current 40-man roster because it’ll probably change by the July 31st trade deadline or when the season ends. Heck, it may not be the same when the Phillies open the season against the Boston Red Sox on April 6 at Citizens Bank Park.

During the offseason, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to move veterans like Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard.

But the offers weren’t there. So guys, along with second baseman Chase Utley and his un-waved no-trade clause, remain on the roster.
While most of those guys will be gone eventually, Hamels is already looking at moving companies. The team’s ace pitcher told USA Today: “I want to go to a place where I can win again. I know it’s not going to happen here.”

On the other hand, that’s not to say Amaro didn’t make any moves this off season. He managed to jettison the team’s all-time hits leader, shortstop Jimmy Rollins (Los Angeles Dodgers), rightfielder Marlon Byrd (Cincinnati) and starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick (Colorado Rockies).

The most notable addition of the Phillies offseason was former Los Angeles Dodgers Chad Billingsley, who hasn’t pitched in nearly two years because of elbow surgery. He missed all of last season and a good chunk of the 2013.

That one was a bit of a head scratcher. I guess that Amaro is hoping Billingsley will be healthy enough to be a functioning part of the rotation or better yet be good enough to be a tradable commodity. From 2006 to 2013, Billingsley has an 81-61 record with a 3.65 earned run average.

Health is also concern for lefthander Cliff Lee, who is scheduled to make $25 million this season. Lee ended the 2014 season on the disabled list with an injured left elbow, something that scared off potential trading partners. Amaro is hoping Lee can give teams the illusion that he’s still good enough to get some young prospects for him.

Speaking of possible pieces to trade, a big question is will Ryan Howard be healthy enough to be the slugger that struck fear in the hearts of pitchers from 2006 to 2011. If Howard has a hot start in the spring and summer, Amaro might find some willing trade partners, especially in the American League where he could help a team as a designated hitter.

But the team that does it is going to have to swallow the last two years—and $60 million—of Howard’s contract.

Rebuilding is obviously the Phillies ultimate goal. Amaro and manager Ryne Sandberg want to know if guys like Freddy Galvis, Ben Revere, David Buchanan, Cody Asche, Domonic Brown, Maikel Franco and Darin Ruf are ready and good enough to eventually become perennially contenders in the National League East.

The next few seasons will probably tell Phillies fans whether or not the light at the end of this rebuilding tunnel is attached to an oncoming train.

Howard’s Struggles Are Not From a Lack of Effort

14 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has struggled at the plate this season.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has struggled at the plate this season.
Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Last Sunday, Ryan Howard drove in the winning run with a walk-off single to cap a 7-6 come from behind victory over the New York Mets.

In a season where Howard has been struggling and getting booed by whoever shows up at Citizen’s Bank Park, it was refreshing to see No. 6 carry his team to victory the way he did during the Phillies remarkable five-year run of division titles that included a World Series championship.

The 2014 season has been the worst for Howard in a non-injury season. He is batting an anemic .219 with 18 home runs and 73 runs batted in (third in the National League). Even with Sunday’s game-winning hit, Howard is batting just .223 with runners in scoring position. He was benched for three games this by manager Ryne Sandberg.

On the Phillies last homestand, Howard had four game-winning hits while batting .266 with a pair of home runs.

There have been calls by fans and media folks for him to be traded. If it wasn’t for his hefty $25-million per year salary, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might have sent him packing.

The hard part of watching Howard go through his struggles at the plate is that it’s not for a lack of effort on his part. Leg and foot injuries, especially those to the knees and Achilles, take their toll on athletes and it takes them time to be back at 100 percent.

That was something that Howard said he was going through when I spoke to him about it back in June.

“Once you suffer a big injury, it does take a little bit of time for the normal aches and pains that you used to have before your injuries to become commonplace,” said Howard, who hasn’t played beyond 80 games since 2011. “Now as my body is starting to go through all that stuff, it’s re-learning how to work its way through.”

But fans aren’t going to buy that. When they see Howard strike-out with the bases loaded, they will point to his $25 million per year salary and say that’s not what he should be doing whether he’s hurt or not. They are going to show their displeasure through booing or calling for the team to run him out of town on sports talk radio or social media.

That’s a burden Howard has carried during his time here in Philly. It’s the monster created from 2005 to 2011 when it was his home runs and runs batted in that led the Phillies to a remarkable run that included a World Series championship.

Howard doesn’t have the luxury being the gritty, blue collar player who is gamely trying to fight through his injuries after missing most of the last two years coming into this season. The fact that he leads his team in runs batted in and is third in RBIs in the National League is of no consequence to Phillies fans.

What I find fascinating is that during those periods when fan favorite Chase Utley was fighting through his injuries and not performing at his best, he didn’t get the same kind of acrimony that Howard has gotten during his struggles.

But as much I like and respect Utley, he is able to play the blue-collar superstar role because the real burden of moving and shaking the Phillies offense over the years was on Howard who was the main reason for the Phillies success when they were on top of the division standings.

Howard’s recent complaints about fans booing him were not so much about the fans themselves, but it was more about the frustration within himself of not being able to help his team the way he once did.

I think Howard has more aches and pains that are affecting his performance than he is telling anyone including his team. If he points to it, he will be seen as a $25 million a year whiner. So Howard will do what he always does—soldier through it with his best effort while hearing the boos along the way.

 

 

 

 

Phillies Notebook: Utley Trade Rumors Not True

28 May

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

 

With the Phillies struggling, there is speculation that the Phillies could trade second baseman Chase Utley by the July 31trade deadline.

With the Phillies struggling, there is speculation that the Phillies could trade second baseman Chase Utley by the July 31trade deadline.

PHILADELPHIA–Despite rumors to the contrary, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told the Philadelphia media before Tuesday’s game, the team has no interest in trading second baseman Chase Utley.

“First off, no one wants to trade Chase Utley and no.2 I don’t think Chase Utley wants to go anywhere and he has the power to decide what he wants to do,” Amaro said. “The point is kind of moot. The same with Jimmy. The same story.”

The website, Rant Sports, recently reported the Yankees were interested in Utley in exchange for some top-rated prospects and a mid-level veteran.

Amaro said those rumors happen all the time because the Phillies (22-26) are not in first place. Utley is currently batting .337 with four home runs and 25 RBI. His contract runs to the end of 2015.

Sandberg open to Platooning Howard and Ruf

In Monday’s win over the Colorado Rockies, Ryan Howard had a breakout performance with five runs batted in and three hits after batting just .088 in his last 10 games coming into the game and hadn’t hit a home run since May 8.

As much as Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg would like to keep Howard in the lineup just to keep his groove going, he rested Howard Tuesday and replaced him at first base with Darin Ruf in order to give him some time with a lefthanded pitcher on the mound for the Rockies.

“I’ve been looking for a day to give (Howard) a break. He’s played a number of games in a row and he had a real good approach against a right-handed pitcher (Monday) and I was happy with that,” Sandberg said. “I want to give Darin a chance against a left-hander with four right-handed pitchers in a row after that.

“After a big game like that, sometimes it’s a good time to give a guy break, make it a positive and let (Howard) build on that against the right-handed pitching that’s coming up after tonight’s game.”

Sandberg said if Ruf, who bats right, can be productive at hitting left-handers on a consistent basis, he will be open to platooning Howard and Ruf against right and left-handed pitchers.

“If it happens to work, it’s an opportunity to have a lineup like that that produces, it becomes an an opportunity and a possibility going forward just to get some consistency in the offense against right and left-handed pitching,” Sandberg said.

“If it’s effective and if it works, maybe it’s a positive for two players. It’s a positive for the team, but that’s yet to be seen. (Tuesday) is an opportunity to take a look at that.”
Sandberg may have to at some point. Ruf homered in tonight’s game.

There’s seems to be a belief on the Phillies (22-26) that if they can just somehow put every aspect of their game together on a consistent basis, especially the offense, they can contend for a division title.

“It’s hot, it’s cold, but at some point we can get scalding hot,” Howard said after Monday’s game. “For as hot and cold as we’ve been all year, we’re still not out of it. That’s the bright side of things. If we can get on a good streak, we’ll be right there.”

Franco Not Ready for Prime Time Just Yet

Maikel Franco needs more time at Triple-A Lehigh Valley to get ready for MLB competition according to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

Maikel Franco needs more time at Triple-A Lehigh Valley to get ready for MLB competition according to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

Even with starting third baseman Cody Asche on the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring strain, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said rising prospect Maikel Franco, who missed a couple of games with a respiratory illness, is not ready to come up from the Triple-A Lehigh High Valley Iron Pigs to the big league ball club just yet.

“He’s just not playing good enough baseball yet, he’s not really ready to be a big leaguer yet. And he’s not feeling all that well,” Amaro said. “He played like he was sick yesterday. There’s no reason to bring Franco unless he’s ready to be a big leaguer as far as I’m concerned.”

So far this season, Franco is batting .231 with a .358 slugging percentage and a .311 on-base percentage with the Iron Pigs. In the month of May, the 21-year-old Franco is batting .291 with three homers and 12 runs batted in. He also has .384 on-base percentage and a .465 slugging percentage.

“Offensively, he’s made some adjustments, he’s made some improvements better than in the earlier part of the season, but he’s not really going on all cylinders now. We’re still contemplating it,” Amaro said. “If he was ready to be in the big leagues, he would be up.”

Phillies Players Blame Themselves for Manuel’s Dismissal, Ready to Work with Sandberg

17 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg wants the team to know the last 41 games of the season are important.

Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg wants the team to know the last 41 games of the season are important.

PHILADELPHIA—With the Phillies 15 games below .500 and their awful performance after the All-Star break, you should now have all the evidence you need to understand that team’s run of success in recent years has to come to an end.

The Phillies fired Charlie Manuel Friday after compiling four wins in 23 games after the All-Star Break and replaced him with Ryne Sandberg, who is in a 42-game tryout as the Phils interim manager.

But Manuel’s dismissal wasn’t necessarily about his abilities as a manager. It was emblematic of an aging team that is in decline and is about as good as they’re going to get this season, which explains the Phillies current 53-68 record.

From 2007 to 2011, the Phillies won five straight division titles, a World Series title and two National League pennants. Like it does with every good team, age and injuries over the last two seasons have finally caught up with them.

At the end of the day, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is going to have to do an overhaul of a team that needs to move forward rather than hanging on to players who are nothing more than aging shells of their former selves.

If you’re going to bring in a new manager, I think you’re also going to have to bring in new, younger players who are going to buy into the new manager’s philosophy and at some point you have to start growing your younger talent.

That means you have to say good-bye to popular fan-favorites. I thought it was a mistake for Amaro to sign second baseman baseman Chase Utley to a two-year contract extension.  Don’t get it twisted, Utley has been a warrior of a player for the Phillies and a key contributor during the team’s playoff run.

But with his degenerative knees and his age, Utley’s days as a regular second baseman are numbered. I personally think they should have traded him for some prospects or some younger player.

As much as I admire and respect shortstop Jimmy Rollins, I think it’s time for him to move forward as well. After this season, he will have one year left on his contract. After next year or maybe even before that, it’s thank you for your service and the good things that you’ve done for the team.

While he is still one of the best defensive shortstops in the National League and maybe in baseball, at the plate he hasn’t hit above .280 since winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2007.

Rollins hasn’t been the most disciplined hitter, which is surprising for a veteran ball player of his stature. He doesn’t work the count and often swings at bad pitches.

A couple weeks ago, the team placed the 34-year-old Rollins on waivers since he has a no-trade clause in his contract, but there were no takers.  Unless he has a huge resurgence next year, I don’t see the team signing him to an extension. Eventually, they’re going to have to look to their farm system to find a replacement.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are going to have see if 36-year-old Roy Halladay, whose contract is up at the end of this year, has anything left following his shoulder surgery.  He is currently on a rehab assignment with Phillies minor league affiliate in Clearwater, Fla.

In his first start, Halladay allowed three runs and struck out four. The velocity on his fastball was somewhere between 85 and 87-miles per hour. That’s not good enough for him to come back to the major league level.

The bottom-line now is that the Phillies are officially in rebuilding mode and for them to get better they will inevitably have to say adios to guys who helped build and shape the Phillies last run of success.

Just as Rollins, Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels became the foundation of 2007 to 2011, especially after the team unloaded guys like Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu, a new crop of kids will come in and hopefully achieve what those guys did.

Sore Knee Lands Ryan Howard on 15-Day Disabled List

7 Jul

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Ryan Howard was placed on the 15-Day disabled list on Saturday and will have an MRI on Sunday or Monday.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Ryan Howard was placed on the 15-Day disabled list on Saturday and will have an MRI on Sunday or Monday. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a sore left knee that has been bothering him throughout the season.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Howard was experiencing discomfort in the knee at the end of Friday night’s game. He left the game in the eighth inning and was replaced by Laynce Nix.

“(Saturday) morning, he tried to take ground balls and tried to hit,” Amaro said. “But it wasn’t going very well for him and he wasn’t going to be able to perform. We had said before that if his knee got so delibilitated that he couldn’t perform, we go ahead and shut him down.”

Amaro said Howard would be getting an MRI on Sunday or Monday. That will probably determine whether or not he needs surgery on the knee and how long he will be out of the Phillies lineup.

“Even with the MRI as much discomfort he has today and the days leading up to today it had become less and less comfortable for him,” Amaro said.

In his last 10 games, Howard has been hitting just .147 (5-for-34) with one homerun, two runs batted in and 14 strikeouts.  Throughout the season, Howard’s left knee was swollen so bad that it resembled a grapefruit hanging off his leg.

Oddly enough, Howard has managed to play well with the pain in his knee. In one game 10-game stretch last month,  Howard was hitting over .400.  But the knee really bothered him on the Phillies last road trip and he went through a stretch where he went hitless in 15 straight at-bats.

“He’s really managed it okay and Charlie’s been trying to get him days off and working through it, but it got to the point to where we feel like it’s time for him to get off of it and make sure we take care of it.”

The Phillies will bring up Darin Ruf from the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs squad. Amaro said Ruf will be getting some time playing first base throughout Howard’s absence.

“This is a big blow to us because (Howard) is our best power hitter, but we’ll see how it goes over the next couple of weeks,” Amaro said.

In 82 games with the Iron Pigs, Ruf is batting .266 with 46 runs batted and seven home runs. In 12 games with the Phillies back in September 2012, Ruf batted .333 with 10 runs batted and three home runs. Ruf came into the Phillies lineup on Saturday as a late-inning replacement for Laynce Nix.

 

Cliff Lee Wins Eighth Straight as Phils Hold Off Braves

6 Jul
Ryan Howard, who has been struggling, had a solo-homer in Friday's win over the Braves.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Ryan Howard, who has been struggling, had a solo-homer in Friday’s win over the Braves. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report/Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—With the All-Star Break on the horizon at the end of this homestand, both Charlie Manuel and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. want to know how really good 2013 Phillies during these next 10 games.

With this first-place Atlanta Braves in town for a three-game weekend series, the Phillies will have a golden opportunity to show how good they really are while also making up some ground in the National League East.

The Phillies got off to a good start on their road to redemption with a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves on a hot, humid night at Citizen’s Bank Park.  With the victory, the third-place Phils moved within seven and a half games behind the Braves in the National League East.

“It tells me that we have to play like hell,” Manuel said after the game. “It tells me that we have to go out here and play even keel and stay with our philosophy.”

For Manuel, who said before the game that he isn’t sure how good his team is at this point, it has to be a start in the right direction. It was the Phillies third win in their last four games.

Of course, the hard part for the Phillies will be doing on a more consistent basis. But Friday night’s game was a good start.

“I got a good feel for our team right now,” Manuel said. “If we keep scoring some runs and our pitching holds up. Who knows what we can do? You don’t ever give up. You stay there and fight and grind it out. There’s luck in the game. But if you play good, you make a lot of luck.”

Offensively, the Phillies scored enough runs to win.  Chase Utley scored the game’s first run on a throwing error by Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. Utley reached on a double.

In the second inning, catcher Humberto Quintero came up big for the Phillies with three batted in.  The first two came on a two-run homer to right in the second inning that had to be reviewed by the umpire. The ball went over the railing after being touched by a fan.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard added a solo homer in the third off the Braves left-hander Paul Maholm, who gave up five runs (four earned) off nine hits.  Quintero closed out the scoring in the sixth inning with an RBI double that drove home Delmon Young, who reached on a single.

By the seventh inning, the Phillies had a 5-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Cliff Lee had been pitching shutout ball through six innings, but apparently got worn down by the heat and humidity. The Braves touched him four runs in that inning including a three-run homer by second baseman Dan Uggla.

Lee (10-2), who won his eighth straight, said the heat was no excuse for the pitch he threw to Uggla.

“I threw five changeups in a row and had two strikes on him,” Lee said. “I tried to throw a fast ball up and in. It was up, but it wasn’t as in as much as I wanted. He got on top of it, put a good swing on it and hit a home run.

“I’m going to blame it on the heat. We all play in the same conditions. It was hot and humid, but that’s an excuse.”

After Lee gave up the four runs in the seventh, the Phillies relievers J.C. Ramirez, Antonio Bastardo shut the Braves down and allowed just one hit the rest of the way.