The Red Sox team for which he now coaches first base is similar to the Phillies team he once ran. Young, hungry, home-grown players in a big market are something Ruben Amaro Jr. knows about.
Amaro’s home-grown Phillies became World Series champions, then lost the Series the following year. While the 2016 Red Sox haven’t gone that far yet, they seem on their way. And Amaro loves the comparison.
“It says a lot about the scouting and player development and how well they’ve done,” said Amaro, who spent nine seasons as the Phillies’ general manager after 10 seasons as assistant GM. “Not only do they have good young players at major league level, but the tone they’re setting at the minor league level is pretty special. These guys come to the big leagues and they know what they’re doing. They know how to play. And there’s a nice continuity throughout the organization and I’m impressed by that.”
Amaro credits Ed Wade, who was the GM when the Phillies’ core was just getting together, for not dealing them. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Cole Hamels were part of that young core. Amaro was assistant GM under Wade and then Hall of Famer Pat Gillick during those nurturing years.
The players became All-Stars, and then Amaro had to break up the core group as the players got older.
But Amaro felt the pride of bringing up home-grown players, along with the benefits, including saving a lot of money at least early on.
The Yankees did the same thing in developing Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and Andy Pettitte, and it resulted in five World Series championships.
The Royals were patient with their core of young players, and it paid off with a World Series championship in 2015, after being runner-up in 2014.
It’s always been the smartest way of building a team, yet it’s so hard to find the right core. Which is why we’re paying so much attention to the Red Sox and Cubs in 2016.
When the Red Sox have Blake Swihart in left field, they have an entire home-grown defensive lineup. The Sox also have home-grown Clay Buchholz and Matt Barnes, and technically Junichi Tazawa has only been with the Red Sox in the United States. That’s 11 home-grown Red Sox on the 25-man roster. Guys who came up together. Guys who have a bond. Guys who are forever linked.
Amaro certainly tried to pry some of the players he now coaches away from the Red Sox in an effort to sell off Hamels, but former Sox GM Ben Cherington never bit.
“Being patient is the hardest part, in a big market especially,” said Amaro. “We had teams coming at us for Ryan, Rollins, Utley, Ruiz, and to Ed Wade’s credit he didn’t trade anyone. I think we had such a solid up-the-middle, and that was the backbone of our team. We also had a top pitcher in Hamels.”
Amaro noticed similarities between the Red Sox and his former Phillies the moment he set foot in spring training.
“I’m impressed with how engaged the young players are,” Amaro said. “Their engagement carried on during the season. It’s not just about getting hits, it’s about running the bases properly, playing good defense, doing things the right way. Hopefully that continues.”
Amaro believes the core of a good team is built up the middle, and the Red Sox have that with Christian Vazquez, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts.
“In Philly, arguably we had the best first baseman, best second baseman, best shortstop, best catcher at times, and a starting pitcher in our organization’s history,” said Amaro. “You line that up on what’s here [in Boston] and it’s not all that dissimilar to what we could have here.”
And then there’s the bonding of home-grown talent.
“When you’re pulling on the same side of the rope, that goes a long way,” Amaro said. “Ben Cherington deserves a lot of credit putting this together. Theo [Epstein] set the tone just like Eddie Wade did for the Phillies then.”
Amaro, like everyone else in Red Sox Nation, is curious about where it all goes. He thinks he’s seeing what he once saw in Philly. He likes how it’s starting.
Burks recalls years in Boston
Ellis Burks is a special assistant to Rockies GM Jeff Bridich and is traveling with the team. Burks, 51, had a career that spanned 18 seasons, including seven with the Red Sox. He also played for the White Sox, Rockies, Indians, and Giants.
Burks was a career .291 hitter with 352 homers, 1,206 RBIs, and an .874 OPS. He played in 2,000 games and had 2,107 hits. He won one Gold Glove.
After playing his first six seasons in Boston, the Red Sox let him go because of back problems.
“I never wanted to leave,” said Burks this past week while in town. “After the White Sox put me on a back program, I never had a problem with my back again. I wish I could have spent my entire career here.”
Burks has managerial aspirations, and his current role may be preparing him. But for now, Burks is excited about the Rockies’ future because “we have some pitching in Double A and Triple A that I think is going to be really good for us as an organization.”
A few weeks ago, I compared Mookie Betts to a young Burks, and Betts decided to introduce himself this past week.
“What a great kid,” Burks said. “He mentioned to me that [he reminds people]of me. But wow, what an athlete he is. He’s just a phenomenal athlete who can do anything on the baseball field. I always point him out to my son because he has such quick hands.”
The Rockies, like the Red Sox, have had trouble developing pitching. It’s also been difficult to sign free agent pitchers who don’t want to pitch at Coors Field. Even 2013 first-round pick Jon Gray, who defeated the Red Sox on Thursday, told the Denver Post in January, “I feel like my road numbers are good. But here [at Coors], they’re really bad. If I can just . . . I don’t know if it’s setting my sights on pitches or what, but I have to make a change fast. I have to pitch here.”
Burks expects the team will get over the hump in terms of pitching.
Burks got a kick out of showing Rockies outfielders how to play balls off the Green Monster. The direction balls took off the Wall was often how Burks predicted, which shows that playing the Wall hasn’t changed a lot.
Burks is hoping that his son, Chris, who plays for Arizona Christian University, will get drafted in June. Burks said his son is smaller than him and is a lefthanded-hitting center fielder who can run well.
Apropos of nothing
1. The numbers associated with the Red Sox that are really impressive? Those of groundskeeper Dave Mellor. He’s had 43 surgeries, including a knee replacement, hip replacement, four back fusions, a pin in his foot, and a pin in his hand, all the result of when a deranged woman drove into County Stadium in Milwaukee, where Mellor was the groundskeeper, and ran him over in 1981. He was in severe pain for years, but Mellor is finally feeling better. The reason? A medtronic spinal cord stimulator, which was introduced to him by Dr. Jeff Arle at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “There’s a lead wire that attaches to my spinal cord and a little pacemaker implanted into my skin so I can send out electrical impulses [with a remote control] that interrupts the pain signal from the time it happens to the time it gets to my brain,” explained Mellor. “The stimulator has been life-changing. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
2. The last pitcher to defeat Jake Arrieta in the regular season? Cole Hamels, then of the Phillies, and he had to throw a no-hitter to do it. Hamels is now with the Rangers, who face the Cubs after the All-Star break, and it could be high drama if Arrieta’s streak (20-0 with a 1.05 ERA since the loss) is intact. Of course, Hamels also has been pretty successful. He was 12-0 with a 3.04 ERA in his last 19 starts heading into the weekend.
3. David Freese has taken well to being a platoon player with the Pirates, playing some third and first base. Would the Pirates consider dealing him to the Royals with Mike Moustakas now out for the season?
4. If you think Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are the two best players in the game, it’s eerie how close their numbers are. Entering the weekend, Harper’s OPS was .972 to Trout’s .962. They both had 32 RBIs. Harper had 12 homers to Trout’s 10. And Trout was slugging .557 to Harper’s .545.
5. From April 24 (the start of Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 29-game hitting streak) to the start of play on May 27 (the day after it ended), the batter with the most hits in the majors was Xander Bogaerts with 49 (.383 bating average), followed by Marcell Ozuna (.404) and Daniel Murphy with 46 (.387), and Bradley with 44 (.400).
6. Chris Colabello is working out in extended spring training in Dunedin, Fla., while serving his 80-game suspension for PED use.
Updates on nine
1. Rich Hill, LHP, Athletics — Hill’s amazing resurgence continues. He’s 7-3 with a 2.18 ERA and has become one of the leading “gets” at the trade deadline. At the time GM Billy Beane acquired him, many wondered how he could give a guy who had four good games last September (2-1, 1.55 ERA) for Boston a $6 million deal. Now, if the A’s aren’t cutting it by the deadline, and because there isn’t much out there for established pitchers who can help a contender, Beane can flip the 36-year-old Hill for a decent prospect or two. Is a return to Boston a possibility? “Honestly, I haven’t heard a thing about a trade,” Hill said. But he will.
2. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers — “He’s the hot name out there,” said one National League scout. Braun is having an outstanding year, seemingly all the way back from PED disgrace and the subsequent reduction of his numbers. Which team could benefit from the righthanded, middle-of-the-order bat? The scout thought the Astros, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Giants, and White Sox were good fits. Braun is in the first year of a five-year, $105 million extension.
3. Hector Santiago, LHP, Angels — Santiago’s name has popped up as possible trade bait if the Angels are out of the race. He has struggled in his last two starts and is far from an ideal acquisition. If there’s an uptick in his results soon, Santiago could gain popularity closer to the deadline.
4. Matt Moore, LHP, Rays — According to a major league source, the Rays aren’t interested in dealing any of their starting pitchers for a hitter, but they would listen on Moore in the type of deal that would bring back a major league player and a good minor league piece. The development of Blake Snell and the possible late-summer return of Alex Cobb are reasons the Rays could part with a starter.
5. Jay Bruce, RF, Reds — The Reds are open for business and Bruce is available. They want quite a bit for him, which will limit the interest, but there are plenty of teams (including the Royals, Phillies, Cardinals, and Mets) looking for a lefthanded bat.
6. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies — “Cargo” is another intriguing bat that could be had for the right price. Recently, ESPN’s Jim Bowden saw the Red Sox as a great fit for him. Another talent evaluator seconded Bowden’s choice. “Their offense is cranking right now, but there’s an outfield position there that could possibly be enhanced if the Red Sox don’t think Brock Holt or Blake Swihart or Chris Young are the answer,” said the evaluator. “They might be. But Cargo fits them as a top all-around player with power.”
7. Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers — When Dave Roberts was hired as manager, this reporter suggested that if anyone could get through to Puig, it would be Roberts. Well, it started well but recently had a hiccup when Puig was benched for dogging it on a ground ball. Puig is still an enigma, but it appears this was a fork in the road — either Puig, who said all of the right things after the benching, learns from it, or he continues on a path that will eventually get him traded. “I think Dave Roberts will get to him,” predicted one NL player who knows Roberts well. “When Dave looks you in the eye and talks to you like a father, you can’t help but take it to heart. I think Puig will respond to the benching in a positive way.”
8. Justin Upton, OF, Tigers — One guy who hasn’t given up on Upton is Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. I asked Ausmus what he thought the reason was for Upton’s poor start. He said, “There are no hard theories. He got off to a really bad start and is pressing a little now. Great guy. He’s working hard and keeping a great attitude.” Is he pressing because of his six-year, $132.75 million contract? Ausmus didn’t think Upton’s start had anything to do with moving to a new league, but he’s certainly been a drain on the lineup. Upton, who missed time with a quadriceps injury, had a .223 average with two homers, 10 RBIs, and a .589 OPS entering the weekend.
9. Wade Boggs, 3B, retired — Boggs is still trying to work out a role with the Red Sox going forward. That could include anything from making personal appearances to taking advantage of his hitting expertise and working like Jason Varitek and Pedro Martinez do in the farm system.
From Bill Arnold’s goodie bag: “When Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki recorded four hits in a game against the Nationals on May 21 at the age of 42 years, 212 days, he became the seventh-oldest major leaguer over the last 100 years to accomplish the feat. The only older players to do so were Pete Rose (45 years, 119 days), Sam Rice (44, 138), Carlton Fisk (43, 115), Honus Wagner (43, 109), Carl Yastrzemski (42, 286) and Rickey Henderson (42, 273).” . . . Happy birthday, Mike Stenhouse (58) and John “Super Sub” Kennedy (75).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.