It’s an odd transition under any circumstances, a former GM now on the field, coaching first base for the Mets.
But in the case of Ruben Amaro, it’s getting even weirder, as some of the moves he made with the Phillies — before getting run out of town — are suddenly coming to fruition for a team that is now his division rival.
All of which probably explains why Amaro declined my interview request through a club spokesman, apparently concerned the Mets’ front office wouldn’t appreciate a first-base coach getting headlines talking about another team he helped build.
After all, the Phillies appear to be more of a threat to the Mets this season than anyone expected, sitting ahead of them in second place in the NL East with a young team on the rise.
As such, perhaps Amaro is no longer the reviled figure he was in his final couple of seasons as GM in Philadelphia, where fans turned on him when a championship-era ballclub got old in a hurry, bringing on the need for a rebuild.
Which, by the way, is a position Sandy Alderson could find himself in — minus the world championship — if his aging position-player core can’t deliver another October appearance this year and/or next year.
Indeed, what happened to Amaro in Philadelphia could be instructive for Alderson, and actually for any front office that is faced with the question of how proactive it should be in moving on from fading glory days.
The Mets haven’t had nearly the run the Phillies did, winning five straight NL East titles from 2007 through 2011, winning a World Series in 2008, losing one to the Yankees in 2009, and winning 102 games in 2011 before getting stunned by the Cardinals in the NLDS.
Nevertheless, as I wrote last week, the window may already be closing on Alderson’s Mets after only two postseason appearances — the 2015 World Series loss and the 2016 wild-card game loss — due to injuries, an inability to draft and develop productively, and the faster-than-expected rebuilds of the Braves as well as the Phillies.
So while the Mets should be doing everything to win this season, even if signing Jose Bautista only shines more harsh light on their farm-system issues, there could come a point in the next few months where it becomes obvious the run is over — at least in terms of winning a championship.
That was the issue for Amaro by 2012 and 2013, as those 102 wins turned to 81 and then 73. The difference is those Jimmy Rollins-Chase Utley-Ryan Howard-Cole Hamels teams had more of a beloved legacy in Philadelphia, setting attendance records with nightly sellouts at Citizens Bank Park.
And so, as one person close to the situation in Philly told me, ownership was very involved in Amaro’s decision to go for it with those teams rather than make moves to re-load on the fly.
“The people at the top wanted to squeeze every last drop from those teams,” was the way the person put it. “It wasn’t just (Amaro).”
Nevertheless, soon enough the Phillies collapsed and fans blamed the GM. In a Philly.com poll in 2014 that included more than 10,000 votes, a whopping 93.6 percent of fans voted that Amaro should be fired.
On social media Ruben Amaro became “Ruin Tomorrow.”
GMs know the deal when they take the job, of course, but it had to sting for Amaro more than most.
He grew up in Philly, was a batboy when his dad played for the team, played a few years himself for the Phillies as part of an eight-year career as a backup outfielder, and worked in the front office beginning in 1998, taking over for Pat Gillick as GM in November of 2008, right after the championship season.
“All the fan stuff hurt him worse than he’ll ever admit,” a friend told me. “Fans can be vicious, especially in Philly. And that was home for him.”
It wasn’t until after the 2014 season that Amaro, together with ownership, embarked on a rebuild after a second straight 73-win season. The first move was trading Jimmy Rollins that December to the Dodgers for Zach Eflin, then a 21-year-old pitcher who has just moved into the Phillies’ rotation.
In July of 2015, Amaro traded Cole Hamels for four players, including the current starting catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams, and dealt Jonathan Papelbon for Nick Pivetta, another of the Phillies’ starting pitchers.
In addition, during Amaro’s time as GM the Phillies drafted star pitcher Aaron Nola, emerging slugger Rhys Hoskins, and shortstop J.P. Crawford, and stole Odubel Herrera, who is leading the NL in hitting, from the Rangers in the 2014 Rule 5 draft.
Even in his absence, then, Amaro remains the primary architect of a surprise team that seems to have a bright future, even though he was fired after the 2015 season.
So perhaps Philly fans, in time, will re-think Amaro’s legacy.
“The enlightened ones will, anyway,” was the way a friend of his put it.
Meanwhile, it’s not clear if Amaro wanted another job in a front office somewhere, but he wound up coaching first base for the Red Sox last year, and now the Mets. One person who knows him well believes Amaro wanted to get back on the field, saying he’s heard him talk even of wanting to manage someday.