Ruben Amaro Jr. was supposed to be explaining why he and the Phillies had traded Cole Hamels and what they had received in return, but for a few seconds Friday afternoon, he did something rather remarkable, shrinking the Citizens Bank Park news conference room into a confessional.
Amaro sounded like a man who had found religion when it came to what he and the Phillies had done wrong in their recent history. For Hamels and reliever Jake Diekman, Amaro, team president Pat Gillick, and president-in-waiting Andy MacPhail coaxed five prospects from the Texas Rangers. Later Friday, the Philllies sent outfielder Ben Revere to the Toronto Blue Jays for two minor-league pitchers - this, after trading Jonathan Papelbon on July 28 and Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd in the offseason and getting no major-league-ready players back.
"In this day and age, teams are much more willing to dole out money than they are prospects," Amaro said. "The value of the prospects has increased dramatically. I've had to make a personal adjustment on that, to understand that a bit better and make the adjustment there. I think we did that with this deal."
That admission from Amaro, that he was late in recognizing how the sport had evolved, was the most striking thing he said in the trade's aftermath. But just as striking was this: that Amaro was the one speaking. He was alone on that dais. Gillick, who has been signing off on every player-personnel move since assuming duties as president, wasn't there. MacPhail - who will have to deal with the ramifications (good or bad) of this deal, who presumably will have the chance to choose his own GM - wasn't there, either. For now, for a little while longer, Amaro was the one out front. It was an interesting visual. It made you wonder just whether Amaro might still have a role among the Phillies' power people once MacPhail takes over and, if so, how important that role would be.
"Clearly, the process by which we do these deals is kind of an all-encompassing process," Amaro said. "I'm the point guy and I guess the talking head, whatever you want to call me, but the fact of the matter is, this is no different from doing a deal for Cliff Lee or anyone else."
Not quite. This deal was different. No sports executive in this city has taken more arrows over the last few years than Amaro, for the way he and the Phillies insisted on clinging to the good ol' days and allowing their roster to collapse like a building infested with dry rot. At times - in late May, for instance, when he took a needless and bitter swipe at the intelligence of Phillies fans - it was as if he painted the bull's-eye on his own chest. And as the general manager and the public face and voice of the Phillies administration, Amaro represented the snarling defiance of an organization that for too long refused to embrace the intellectual and economic innovations that have changed Major League Baseball.
As a function of that obstinacy, after so much misguided decision-making, Amaro and the Phillies left themselves with a barren farm system and a husk of a big-league club. They spent millions to retain veteran stars and sign new ones. They traded away minor-leaguers for established major-leaguers. They acquired minor-leaguers with too far to go to develop into established major-leaguers. They banked that drafting "athletes" would lead to a new generation of superstars; it led to the likes of Anthony Hewitt and Joe Savery and the uncertainty about Amaro's future.
It's easy to assume that MacPhail will replace Amaro. But it's worth remembering that the Phillies have never been a franchise that makes radical, sudden changes, and in MacPhail, they hired an MLB old hand known for his deliberate way of doing things. Had the Phillies given away Hamels for a bag of fungo bats or, maybe worse, failed to trade him now when his value was at its highest, the public outrage would have been overwhelming, and Amaro would have been its focal point.
The negotiations and trade - six to eight months in the making, Amaro said - didn't play out that way, though. The Phillies got a respectable haul for Hamels and Diekman. They're still in a bad place, and they will be for a while, and a more-forward-thinking franchise never would have reached the point where it had to part with a pitcher of Hamels' caliber. But with this trade, it's possible that they have begun to pull themselves out of the quicksand, and Amaro was integral in making it happen, recognizing that the Phillies couldn't risk holding on to Hamels, who turns 32 in December, and having him break down like Roy Halladay and Lee did.
"This may not sound right because it's coming from my mouth, but we took a pretty analytical approach as far as what we saw with these guys and where the trends might be," Amaro said. "Naturally, as players get older, their ability to function at the same level can dip."
That insight arrived five years too late to save the Phillies from themselves. The question for Ruben Amaro is whether it arrived in time to save his job.