SweetSpot: Ruben Amaro Jr.

SweetSpot TV: Rapid Fire!

June, 3, 2014

The awesome Eric Karabell and myself with another edition of Rapid Fire. Today's topics: Robinson Cano, Jedd Gyorko, Jose Abreu, Eric Hosmer, Starlin Castro and Javier Baez and a certain Phillies general manager.

Happy Birthday, Ruben Amaro Jr.

February, 12, 2014
A fun day for birthdays. A quick rundown of some of the interesting names ...

Chick Hafey: Born 1903

Hafey was a big league regular for only six seasons -- in spite of which the Veterans Committee elected him to the Hall of Fame in a weak moment in 1971. Hafey wore big, thick glasses and probably played most of his career with something less than 20-20 vision. His SABR bio reports that he had sinus surgery after the 1926 season and his eyesight may have been affected as a result of that. Others have suggested an infected tooth caused his vision problems. Hafey himself said, "Sinus surgery helped, and so did glasses, but often I’d have double vision. Bright days bothered me. The cold climate, after coming up from Florida every spring, made the first month particularly tough and painful." He still hit .318 in his career (which isn't as impressive as it sounds for the era he played in) and won the batting title with the Cardinals in 1931. Here's a factoid that will win you a bar bet: Who hit cleanup for the National League in the first All-Star Game? Chick Hafey.

Dom DiMaggio: Born 1917
About two years younger than his Hall of Fame brother, Dom was a heck of a ballplayer as well even though he looked more like your high school math teacher than a Red Sox center fielder (his nickname was "The Little Professor"). He was a seven-time All-Star, a plus defender in center (many regarded him a better center fielder than Joe), hit .298 in his career and drew as many as 101 walks in a season, pushing his career on-base percentage to .383.

Pat Dobson: Born 1942
One of four members of the 1971 Orioles to win 20 games, along with Dave McNally, Jim Palmer and Mike Cuellar. The next year, Dobson lowered his ERA by 0.25 and led the league in losses. After winning 122 games in the majors, Dobson served as the pitching coach for the Brewers, Padres, Royals and Orioles and scouted for other teams. He passed away from leukemia in 2006.

Don Wilson: Born 1945
A hard-throwing right-hander for the Astros from 1966 to 1974, Wilson pitched two no-hitters and went 104-92 in his career, which came to a tragic end in January 1975 when he was found dead in his car with the engine running in the garage. His 5-year-old son also died. (You often hear Wilson's death reported as a suicide, but the official cause of death was ruled accidental.) Here's the obit of Wilson's death. The article points out that Wilson was born in Monroe, La., on the same as day as basketball great Bill Russell (although both graduated from high school in California, Wilson in Los Angeles, Russell in Oakland).

Enzo Hernandez: Born 1949
Part of the trade that brought Dobson to the Orioles from the Padres, Hernandez is famous for one of the most futile seasons at the plate in major league history: In 1971, he batted 618 times for the Padres and drove in 12 runs.

Lenny Randle: Born 1949
One of the great moments in Mariners history.

Don Stanhouse: Born 1951
Stanhouse hung around the big leagues for 10 seasons, gaining his most fame as the closer for the Orioles in 1978 and 1979. He was a fastball/slider guy, known for being maybe the slowest-working pitcher of his era, and also known for his two nicknames: "Stan the Man Unusual" and "Full Pack," a name given to him by Earl Weaver as Weaver joked he nervously smoked a complete pack of cigarettes when Stanhouse would close out a game. In looking at his statistics, you can see why Weaver was never exactly comfortable handing the ball to Stanhouse: Over those two seasons, he saved 45 games with a 2.87 ERA but walked 103 batters in 147.1 innings while striking out just 76. He made the All-Star team in '79 even though he had 34 walks and 20 strikeouts at the break. Yes, times have changed. Stanhouse signed a big five-year, $2.1 million contract (no sabermetric analysis back then!) as a free agent with the Dodgers, but hurt his shoulder. Here's a good bio of Stanhouse.

Chet Lemon: Born 1955
The center fielder on the 1984 World Series champion Tigers, Lemon was a very underrated player, a guy who hit as high as .318, hit as many as 24 home runs, drew as many as 71 walks and played a good center field. He never did all those in the same season; otherwise, he'd be in the Hall of Fame. But he was a valuable player for a lot of years. He recorded 509 putouts in center field in 1977 with the White Sox, a total Baseball-Reference lists as the third highest for a center fielder.

Ruben Amaro Jr.: Born 1965
Still the general manager of the Phillies.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. found time for a little hot stove humor before his daily winter meetings media briefing Monday. Upon arriving at the team’s Opryland Hotel suite a couple of minutes late, Amaro apologized to the assembled scribes for his tardiness.

"I had to dry my eyes because Angel is gone," Amaro said.

That’s a reference to Angel Pagan, who signed a four-year, $40 million contract with the San Francisco Giants on Monday. In the aftermath of B.J. Upton’s five-year, $75 million deal with Atlanta last week, the Phillies now have watched two potential center-field targets sign with other clubs.

"He’s off the market," Amaro said of Pagan. "We move on. We liked both players, but that’s part of the process."

The Phillies made it clear from the outset that they would explore lots of avenues in free agency, and several routes remain open. They can make a serious play for Michael Bourn, a true leadoff hitter who spent his first five professional seasons in the Philadelphia organization before being traded to Houston in 2007. Bourn’s price tag is likely to be high, but agent Scott Boras’ leverage appears to be dropping due to a recent sequence of events. Washington filled its center-field void by trading for Denard Span, and Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty has publicly downplayed the team's interest in Bourn.

The Phils could really make a splash and go for Josh Hamilton -- a move that fits with Amaro’s history of dropping stealth bombshells. But when Amaro was asked Monday whether he’s spoken with Hamilton or his agent, Mike Moye, he gave the same terse response.

"No," he told one of the team’s beat reporters. "But I wouldn’t tell you if I did."

The Phillies also could bring back Shane Victorino, but the consensus in baseball circles is that a return engagement isn’t likely. Victorino was a popular player during his first run in Philadelphia and a key member of the team’s 2008 world championship club. But sources said the Phils are more inclined to go in a different direction this time around.

At the moment, the Phillies’ outfield consists of Domonic Brown in right field, John Mayberry Jr. in center and Darin Ruf in left, so the only certainty is that Amaro will do something. He has a hole to fill at third base along with multiple vacancies in the outfield, and the prospect of a Freddy Galvis-Kevin Frandsen platoon isn’t going to do much for season-ticket sales.

"This offseason we’re going to have to be as creative as we can possibly be to make our team better," Amaro said, "even if it means having two or three platoons or improving in other areas. We’re going to have to be as creative as possible, because the market is not a great market."

The Phillies had enough of a need in center field for Amaro to engage on Upton and Pagan, but he wasn’t sold enough on either player to go beyond his comfort level price-wise. A month into free-agent season, Philadelphia's general manager still has money in his pocket. He also has a lot of work to do.