That can't be it. Something more has to happen. Something big has to happen. If Ruben wants to sell tickets at Citizens Bank Park next season, he has to come up with more than that.
Amaro has said he believes the Phillies can contend in the National League East in 2014. If his veteran core nucleus -- Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins -- can all perform something like they did in bygone days, they just might contend. If Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee can pitch like the All-Stars they are -- meaning they both approach 20 wins -- the Phillies just might contend. If Cuban star Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez goes from complete unknown to Fernando Valenzuela-type overnight pitching sensation, the Phillies just might contend.
Phillies Nation counted on a lot of dominoes falling perfectly last season, too, and it couldn't have gone much worse. Let's just say it's become pretty difficult to count on "ifs" anymore.
Then again, if the Washington Nationals and/or Atlanta Braves perform to their best potentials, it may not matter what the Phillies do, at least as currently constituted. Right now, the Nats and Braves appear to have better rosters overall. The Phillies need a new stud player to create some juice around Philadelphia. Finding one at a reasonable cost in dollars or personnel is another matter, however.
Marlon Byrd had a career year last season and the Phillies are hoping he can duplicate it at age 36. He's played in the majors since 2002 and hit 24 of his 106 career home runs in 2013. Roberto Hernandez used to be called Fausto Carmona and won 19 games in 2007. He's won 39 since, while losing 64. His career ERA is 4.67. Carlos Ruiz will be 35 next month, and he's been a stalwart behind the plate. He's also had health problems the past few seasons.
I mean, what kind of expectations should Phillies fans have? Ruben, there has to be more. But what?
Free agency? The New York Yankees spent way too much money for Jacoby Ellsbury and probably went over the top for an aging Carlos Beltran as well. The Seattle Mariners gave away the franchise to Robinson Cano. The better players get overpaid in free agency, it's a fact of baseball life.
Amaro has been criticized enough for the big contracts he handed out in the last several years in an attempt to keep the Phillies in the World Series hunt. Adding a big-money free agent to this roster doesn't appear to be the answer.
Can Ruben trade for somebody? We've heard rumblings about a bid for Tampa Bay Rays ace left-hander David Price. There has been talk about coming up with something the Miami Marlins might want for slugging outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. But what do the Phillies really have to offer?
Domonic Brown? The formerly untouchable outfielder finally performed well at the major league level for a time last season. But he's a defensive liability and has had problems staying on the field. Jonathan Papelbon? He's owed $26 million over the next two seasons and has a vesting option for another $13 million in 2016. He just turned 33. He's been a solid closer to be sure and should still be considered as one despite his struggles last season. But who would take on that contract?
So in a nutshell, it seems as though Amaro may well be stuck with the status quo. He just doesn't appear to have much wiggle room. It's difficult to blame him for paying big money to Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee at the times he did. They were among the very best in the game when he signed them to their last contracts. It's difficult to blame him for paying Cole Hamels two years ago. Hamels is one of the best young left-handers around; if Amaro wouldn't have showered him with money, some other team would have.
The Phillies have a chance to win in 2014 if all goes right. He could have said goodbye to Utley and Ruiz last year. But he believes they have enough left. He believes the same in Howard and Rollins. If he's right and Byrd is the Byrd of last year, and Brown finds his All-Star swing again, it could be an interesting year. But after last season, fans will have to see it working before they'll come out to Citizens Bank Park with the regularity of the past.
So I believe Ruben Amaro, Jr. has to have something up his sleeve. We've seen it before. There's got to be a move ahead that's going to change this perception and put the Phillies back in the baseball elite conversation.
What that might be is anybody's guess.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime Phillies follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards. He covered the 1980 World Series, the first championship in Phillies history.
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- Cole Hamels
- Marlon Byrd
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