Phillies To Trade Away Stars?

10 05 2012

by Jim Salisbury

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. witnessed the verbal spanking that Charlie Manuel gave his sleep-walking team after it fell victim to an ugly sweep at the hands of the New York Mets on Wednesday night.

Was it needed?

“Most undoubtedly,” Amaro said Thursday. “It was deserved.”Cole Hamels Philadelphia Phillies

Was it overdue?

“Maybe,” Amaro said.

Did Amaro feel compelled to jump in and say anything to his stumbling team?

“I didn’t have to,” he said. “Charlie handled it very well.”

As GM, Amaro charts the team’s course with his handling of personnel matters, and, as he pointed out Thursday, “Sometimes change is good.” But for now, Amaro said he was not planning any wholesale changes. A bullpen tweak — the promotion of lefty Jake Diekman — appears on the way, but the bulk of the responsibility of turning around this downbound train lies with the players.

And if things don’t turn around, Amaro said, it could be another busy July for him. Only this time, instead of adding talent — as he did with Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence — he could be looking to sell it off.

“The way we’re playing is unacceptable,” Amaro said. “We’re always looking to improve the club, but we have to start by doing it in-house. Guys have to play better. There are players with talent here. Sometimes players need to take it upon themselves to perform better.”

Phillies officials knew things would be challenging as Chase Utley and Ryan Howard recovered from injuries during the first couple of months of the season. The goal was to tread water until the team was healthy, and in some ways that has happened — the Phils are 14-18, five games back in the NL East and they’ve climbed out of bigger holes at much later stages of the season in winning five straight division titles.

But none of this has made the Phils’ performance any easier to take. The bullpen has given away leads like Halloween candy. The offense, though better lately, has still been maddeningly inconsistent. The defense in the Mets’ series was wretched.

“I don’t like the type of baseball we’re playing,” Amaro said. “We’re playing fundamentally unsound baseball, missing cutoffs and making mental mistakes. We’re better than what we’re showing. How much better? I don’t know. But we’re better than this. Regardless of who is in or out of the lineup we should be better.

“With the exception of our starting pitching, all phases of the game have been shoddy.”

Five weeks into the season, Phillies starting pitchers have a combined 3.06 ERA, third-best in the NL.

But the bullpen has a 5.47 ERA — worst in the majors — and six blown saves, third-most in the league. The bullpen has allowed opponents a batting average of .286, the second-highest in baseball. Phils relievers have struck out just 57, fewest in the NL. That’s why it’s necessary to add a strikeout arm like Diekman.

With the exception of one outing, closer Jonathan Papelbon, Amaro’s big off-season addition, has pitched well. But getting a lead to Papelbon has been a problem lately. Chad Qualls handled the job well early, but has struggled in recent outings. Antonio Bastardo has been an up-and-down adventure since September. Jose Contreras, age 40 and coming off elbow surgery, doesn’t have the thunder or command he used to. Mike Stutes is on the disabled list. Kyle Kendrick let a lead get away Wednesday night.

Did Amaro have too much faith in this bullpen?

“I don’t know if I had too much faith,” he said. “I had faith that they’d do well. Qualls has thrown the ball well at times. Contreras, Stutes and Bastardo — you had to put a little faith in their past performance. Obviously, Stutes is hurt and Bastardo has not performed quite as well as in the past.

“But I don’t think you can pinpoint this on the ‘pen. Like I said, with the exception of our starting pitching, we’ve been shoddy in all phases of the game.”

Amaro pointed the finger at himself and Manuel, saying, “We all need to do a better job. We win and lose together.”

He added that he believed the team was prepared coming out of spring training.

“Right now it looks like guys are trying to do too much,” he said.

During difficult times, a team needs the guidance of a clubhouse leader. With Utley and Howard out of action, leadership is thin. Still, someone has to step up and step out front. That was one of the messages of Manuel’s meeting Wednesday night.

“The veterans have to take ownership and play to the level we expect them to play,” Amaro said. “Otherwise we’re going to be in trouble. All of us.”

The Phils entered the season with a $174 million payroll, second-highest in the majors, and just shy of the $178 million luxury-tax threshold. Phillies officials have said publicly that they’d like to avoid paying the tax. That could make it difficult, though not impossible, for Amaro to improve the team during the July trade season.

“We can be buyers,” he said. “It just depends on how creative I can be.”

But he added, if things don’t turn around, he could look to subtract talent, not add.

“July is so far ahead,” Amaro said. “We just have to get on track. But if July comes and we’re playing like this, we’ll be sellers. How we play now will determine whether we’ll be buyers or sellers in July.”


PCPTAKE:  Shouldn’t the Phils be buyers now to avoid having to be sellers in July?




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