Nothing off the table for Phillies this offseason
Amaro keeping open mind evaluating potential 2015 squad
PHILADELPHIA -- It sounds like the Phillies are ready to deviate from their offseason norm.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. spoke Monday afternoon about open-mindedness and making changes to an "aging" roster this offseason. The front office entered the past few offseasons believing it only needed to tweak its roster because as long as it had Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz it could win. But three consecutive seasons without a winning record and a last-place finish in the National League East this season have changed that.
"I guess you could say there's nothing that's really off the table," Amaro said.
But some things will remain the same. Amaro relieved assistant general manager of amateur scouting Marti Wolever of his duties. They have since announced they have hired a new Minor League pitching coordinator, but they also have invited their entire big league coaching staff to return.
"Everybody wants to try to scapegoat people, but these guys worked very hard," Amaro said about the coaching staff.
Wolever is expected to be the only significant change to the baseball operations department.
"I don't think there's going to be a complete philosophical change about how we do our business because, frankly, I think we have a pretty good track record overall," said Amaro, whose contract expires after next season. "The last two or three years have not been good for us at the Major League level. We do need to improve in a lot of areas, but … I don't think this organization needs a philosophical overhaul as far as how we evaluate players."
The Phillies at least have come around to the idea they no longer can rely on their 2008 World Series heroes to win.
Utley posted a .751 OPS as a second baseman, which ranked seventh out of 21 qualifying second basemen. Rollins posted a .716 OPS as a shortstop, which ranked seventh out of 23 shortstops. Ruiz's .719 OPS as a catcher ranked 10th out of 21 catchers. Howard posted a .688 OPS as a first baseman, which ranked last out of 20 first basemen.
Individually, Utley and Rollins remain among the more productive players at their respective positions. But they no longer can carry a lineup. And while the Phillies tout Howard's 95 RBIs, his .695 OPS in the No. 4 spot ranked 314th out of 316 hitters with 600 or more plate appearances in the cleanup spot since 1914.
Hamels remains one of the game's elite pitchers, but the Phillies are willing to move any of their players if it makes sense.
No veteran is untouchable.
"I think we have to look at everything kind of deeply," Amaro said when asked if the organization held on too long to the '08 core. "My feeling is we need to try to get younger. We need to try to put ourselves in a position to be a little bit more athletic, and we have to put ourselves in position to be open-minded about some changes at the Major League level.
"Clearly, we've gone for it several times and the last couple years it hasn't worked for us. We have been thinking about ways to move the organization forward in a different way other than just adding small pieces to try to be a championship club. I think we have to certainly, and we have been, looking for more long-term solutions."
Amaro mentioned athleticism a couple times. He said with a lack of power bats available, "speed and contact and ability to put the ball in play may become more of a priority of us. Clearly, power is a premium because nobody has it. It's not very prevalent, so you have to figure out ways to maximize your offense if you don't have power."
That leads the Phillies into Howard. The Phillies will try hard to move Howard in the offseason, although it will not be easy. (Sources said in July the front office discussed the possibility of releasing him in the offseason.) He is guaranteed $60 million over the next two years -- $50 million in salary and a $10 million option buyout after the 2016 season. Combine his salary with his declining production and the Phillies will need to pay the majority of his contract to get an American League team to even think about acquiring him.
They know this, but the Phillies have eaten contracts in the past (i.e. Jim Thome, Adam Eaton, Geoff Jenkins).
"We've been greatly supported by our ownership group," Amaro said. "They've been open-minded about that and they will continue to be. I haven't been told that will change. Fortunately, hopefully, we'll have opportunities to do some things not based on the bottom line."
That could help them move other players, too. Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd and others are more tradable if the Phillies pay some of their remaining salaries.
Changing the mix in the clubhouse cannot hurt. Amaro acknowledged chemistry in the clubhouse could be better.
"But that's no different from any other area that we have and need to improve," he said.
Amaro expects Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg to improve. There was a lack of communication between manager and players at times, which became an issue. Players often questioned where they stood with Sandberg.
"It was a very good learning experience for him -- first-time manager on an aging team that has an expectation of winning," Amaro said. "I think Ryno is the man for the job. I believe in him. I know that he is dedicated and focused on putting the Phillies where they need to be, and I feel very good about his instincts and ability to get us to where we need to go."
Fans are wondering the same thing about Amaro. He said he does not feel any more pressure this offseason because he is entering the final year of his contract and does not feel like he has one winter to turn around the Phillies.
"It doesn't bother me one way or another," Amaro said. "I have a job to do and that's to get the Phillies back to where we can be a perennial contender. And that's really the ultimate goal. If you wanted to put a stamp on what we're talking about today, it's about getting the Phillies back to the point where we're a perennial contender. Does it happen next year? Does it happen in two years? Does it happen in three years? We don't know yet."