Ruben Amaro: the Phillies want to keep Cole Hamels for a long, long time

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I just got done interviewing Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro.  The interview will air on NBC SportsTalk tonight on Versus at 6PM Eastern.  In the meantime, though, I can give you the gist:

  • Amaro said that he does not comment on rumors and thus didn’t have anything to say about the Gio Gonzalez stuff that was floating around last night, but he did say that whatever else they do, it will not impact what the future of Cole Hamels.
  • This is significant, because part of that Gonzalez stuff was tied to the notion of having him replace Hamels in the event he were to be traded or to walk when he becomes a free agent.  To the contrary, Amaro told me, the team wants Cole Hamels to be a member of the Philadelphia Philles for a long, long time, and they would address an extension for him “at the appropriate time.”
  • The team’s clear priority right now is “addressing the shortstop position,” which is obviously a reference to the team’s reported imminent re-signing of Jimmy Rollins. I tried to bait him a bit by mentioning the Brewers’ reported interest in Rollins. Amaro — because he’s smooth — gave a sly smile and said “I can’t comment on what the Brewers are doing.”
  • He acknowledged that it was tough balance to address the flaws that were exposed in the team during the playoffs without screwing up what worked so well for 162 games. He’s confident, however, that team health — specifically Chase Utley and Hunter Pence — will be a big key to helping an offense that looked overmatched in the playoffs. Pitching, he said, is obviously still this team’s strength; finally
  • Amaro reiterated what had been previously reported: Ryan Howard, at present, is only expected to miss about the first month of the season and that some combination of Jim Thome and existing parts would fill the void in the big man’s absence.

I did not ask him about Domonic Brown because I heard that Amaro is capable of Jedi mind control and would use it on me if I suggested that the kid needs a freakin’ chance to play. After all, Keaton once said “I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of him.” Well I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Ruben Amaro being mad at me.

Tune in to NBC SportsTalk on Versus at 6PM Eastern to see my interview with Ruben Amaro.

Mark Lerner says Nationals can’t afford both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg

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The defending champion Washington Nationals may have to replace two star players in third baseman Anthony Rendon and starter Stephen Strasburg as both are free agents. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras and both are expected to command lucrative contracts. As a result, Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said the club can’t afford to bring back both players, Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington reports.

Lerner told Donald Dell in an interview, “We really can only afford to have one of those two guys. They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

As Dybas notes, there are myriad reasons why Lerner would say this publicly. If Lerner had instead said, “Yeah, we’re filthy stinking rich, especially coming off of a World Series win. We could afford to get every free agent if we wanted to,” then the Nationals would have no leverage in negotiations. Creating artificial scarcity increases the Nationals’ leverage when negotiating with Boras and his clients. And as Dybas also points out, Lerner’s statement also prepares fans for an unsatisfactory outcome not unlike when the club took itself out of the running to bring back outfielder Bryce Harper earlier this year. This not to say Lerner’s statement is justified; it’s just how things work in the current system.

Lerner also defended the Nationals’ approach to free agency. He said, “They think you’re really back there printing money and it’s whoever goes to the highest bidder. It’s not that way at all. You give these fellas — there’s a negotiation that goes on, but…We’ve been pretty successful in free agency over time. You’re not going to get everybody. Certain players may want to go home, closer to where their home is. You never know the reason why people move on. But, we’ve been very successful. Probably one of the most successful teams in free agency the last 10 years. We’re very proud of our record. But, again, I think people have to realize, it’s not all up to us.”

It is true that the Nationals have been one of the most active teams in free agency in recent years. In a league that has otherwise done the opposite, they deserve some credit for that. But the Nationals are also keenly aware of the competitive balance tax threshold, which teams use as a de facto salary cap. They don’t have to, but they choose to because it’s a convenient structure that allows them to limit expenditures.

At the end of the day, it’s baseball’s financial structure that is rotten. It forces constant misinformation out of everyone’s mouths so as to protect their financial interests and leverage, and incentivizes teams to value profits above all. In a perfect world, MLB team owners wouldn’t need to cry poor every offseason, but we don’t live in such a world.