Amaro Jr. reflects on time with Phillies

Amaro Jr. reflects on time with Phillies

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to steer the conversation on Sunday from his Phillies past to his Red Sox present.

Amaro is the Red Sox's first-base coach. His nearly seven seasons as Phillies general manager ended in September.

"I'm proud of the things we did there," Amaro said Sunday morning at JetBlue Park, where the Phillies played the Red Sox in a Grapefruit League game. "The Phillies are the Phillies, and they have their own organization. I was fortunate to be a part of it. I'm on a new chapter now, and I'm loving what I'm doing. And I've kind of moved on. I mean, listen, I'm going to watch and see how those guys progress, obviously, but for me it's about moving my own baseball life forward."

But one wonders how Phillies history might have changed with a hit here or a pitch there. The Phillies had the best record in the Majors in 2011. They won a franchise record 102 games with one of the best rotations in baseball history. But Chris Carpenter outdueled Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, 1-0, ending the Phillies' season of high expectations with massive disappointment.

Ruben Amaro Jr. had been the Phillies' general manager since 2008.AP

If Cliff Lee held a four-run lead in Game 2, if Raul Ibanez or Chase Utley squared up a couple of warning-track fly outs a little more in Game 5, maybe the Phillies win the series and maybe they win the World Series.

And maybe Amaro remains GM.

"In '08, we ended up being the best team in baseball because we won the World Series, but I don't know if we were the best team in baseball," Amaro said. "When you get to the playoffs, it's about whether you can execute at that moment, whether you can make the pitch, whether you can get the big base hit. We did it in '08. We didn't do it in '09, '10 or '11. I'm every bit as proud of those teams. They were good friggin' teams. They were good teams."

Everybody knows what happened next. The Phillies started their fall to the bottom of the NL standings the following season, and they finished with the worst record in baseball in 2015. The Phillies fired Amaro in September, replacing him with Matt Klentak in October.

"It was clear that changes were going to be made," Amaro said. "That didn't stop me from trying to do my job. We continued do things the way we operate, and hopefully the Phillies will benefit from that."

The Phillies' farm system jumped from one of the worst to one of the best in little over a year, specifically from the moment former Phillies president Pat Gillick gave Amaro permission to begin the rebuilding process following the 2014 season. Big reasons for the drastic improvement are the trades Amaro made before he lost his job.

The biggest is the one that sent Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman to Texas in July for Jake Thompson, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, Jerad Eickhoff and Alec Asher. Thompson, Williams and Alfaro are three of the top 100 prospects, according to MLBPipeline. Eickhoff, who started Sunday's game in Fort Myers, will open this season in the Phillies' rotation.

The Phillies have been praised for that trade, although it remains to be seen how many of those players fulfill their potential. But it is a little ironic that the same guy that got criticized for being allergic to analytics might have made the trade that helps the Phillies return to the postseason in a couple of years.

Eickhoff strikes out seven

"We did that because we had good scouts," Amaro said. "Mike Ondo is a very, very good pro scouting director. We had people who know baseball and know players. I think we did that [trade] because of that."

Members of the new Phillies' regime have said the analytics system was way more advanced than they had anticipated, based on nothing more than the world's outside perception of it.

If that is true, then why did the Phillies try to seem so unanalytical at times?

"We didn't think it was all that important for us to have to advertise what we were doing," Amaro said. "Why do we have to advertise what we do? Am I doing it to save my job or what? We were a little behind I think with some of the analytics. The reality of it is we won without the analytics. We had the best team in baseball without the analytics … a full analytics core. Could we have been better? Maybe. There's always ways to improve, but that's probably why I'm in a uniform now."

Amaro said he is enjoying his new job. He lost 15-20 pounds since the fall, looking fitter than he has in years.

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His former employees noticed.

"Damn, what happened, man?" Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa said, lifting up Amaro's blue batting practice pullover to reveal Amaro's thinner frame. "You look good."

"I'm trying to be like you," Amaro said.

Amaro chatted with a few of his former players on Sunday prior to Boston's 5-1 win. He is following Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez and others. He certainly will follow the progress of the prospects he acquired.

"Like I said, I'm proud of the things we did there," Amaro said. "We had a lot of great years, a lot of fun, fun years. Obviously when there's change made there's a reason there's change. That's not stuff I can control. I'm enjoying what I'm doing now, and we'll see what happens after I get this opportunity and see how it goes."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.