Art of the deal: Amaro, Phillies in a different class

Art of the deal: Amaro, Phillies in a different class
July 31, 2011, 2:15 pm
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There are always rumors. Mostly though, the rumors that flow like lava during this time of the baseball season resonate like a glass jar thrown at brick wall. Sure, they make a lot of noise, but rarely do they stick.

So as the trading deadline inches ever-so closer to its end point on Sunday afternoon, the big-market monoliths like the Yankees and the Red Sox are merely part of that clamor. Ubaldo Jimenez's name pops up. Rich Harden and Hiroki Kurado also seem to be very popular, too.

To be frank, Phillies' general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. just can't stand the constant rumor mongering. It drives him nuts.

"Yes," Amaro said. "That's why I go silent."

Silent is a relative term, of course. Amaro may impose a media blackout when it comes to his wheeling and dealing, but when he gets to the finish line there is a lot to discuss. After all, for the three years he has been a general manager at the trading deadline, Amaro has been way out in front. It's one thing to be active and to add a missing piece here or there, but it's a completely different realm where the Phillies live these days. The Phillies under Amaro just don't make moves, they make the biggest moves.

While the Yankees and Red Sox talk the talk, Amaro gives press conferences. Even when he has swung and missed, the Phillies have landed on their feet. In 2009 the Phillies tried to get Roy Halladay at the trade deadline, only to fall short. Instead, Amaro swung deals to get Pedro Martinez and Cliff Lee.

In 2010, with Halladay holding down a spot at the top of rotation after Amaro revisited the deal with Toronto, Amaro added ace Roy Oswalt. Then, after reacquiring Lee over the winter, but losing right-handed slugger Jayson Werth, the Phillies got a younger, cheaper and better right-handed hitter for right field by dealing for Hunter Pence.

Over the same time period, the Red Sox have swung deals for catchers Victor Martinez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, while the Yankees got Lance Berkman, Kerry Wood and Mark Teixeira. That's not bad, but it's not Cliff Lee, a player the Yankees whiffed on (twice) in 2010.

Yep, Trader Rube got it done again.

"Let me tell you something about Ruben, I definitely have to give him a lot of praise and credit," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's active, he's aggressive -- I like that. He's a chance taker."

Art of the deal
So what's the deal? Or better yet, what's the art of the deal? How come Amaro seems to pull off a big acquisition every year and other teams cannot?

According to Amaro, it has nothing to do with wits or skill with negotiations. After all, he says, there were other GMs that came up with intricate three-way and four-way trades that left Amaro's head spinning. Fortunately, he says, the Phillies have been lucky enough to have a surplus of talent in the minor leagues and other teams willing to part with a much-needed piece.

"You just try to get to the point where you match up right," Amaro said.

"Trades are so hard to get done that you just stay cautiously optimistic. It's just so hard to match up these days, we're just lucky that the talent we have and the talent we're getting back were what other clubs were seeking."

It's as simple as that, Amaro says. There also seems to be a humbleness that one has to possess, too. Oh sure, Amaro gets teased about his "smugness," and surely the Smug Meter very well could reach Code Red if the Phillies continue to make the deals work. But at the core of it, Amaro says the idea isn't to "win the trade." After all, who wants to do business with someone unwilling to part with anything of value.

The basic tenets are something Amaro picked up from his predecessor, Pat Gillick, which is to always listen to everyone, especially the folks trying to help, and always add some talent.

"It's about bringing in talent into the system," Amaro said. "That's the single most important part of putting together a team."

Of course a GM can't always pull off a blockbuster. Sometimes it's a seemingly small move that resonates. For instance, Amaro added starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez in 2009 from the scrap heap and the team went 4-1 in his five starts. They also got future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez and used him in three starts between the NLCS and the World Series.

Last season when Ryan Howard went on the disabled list with an ankle injury, Amaro swung a post-deadline deal for veteran Mike Sweeney to fill in at first base during the stretch drive.

Maybe this year's Mike Sweeney could be Jason Giambi or Jim Thome for the bench or perhaps even a bullpen piece.

"If you go back and look at what Ruben as done, there's the Halladays, the Lees, the Oswalts, and Pedro Martinez," Manuel said. "But it's Lopez, Rodrigo Lopez, they all helped our team. I can't say enough good things about it. Every year we've done things to bolster our roster to give us the best chance to win."

How long can it keep up? Who knows. In the meantime, while folks are busy yapping about potential baseball deals, the Phillies are getting work done. Besides, sometimes a GM is only as good as his last deal.

E-mail John R. Finger at Follow him on Twitter @JRFingerCSN.

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