Ruben Amaro has become the king of the non-waiver trading deadline.
He has swung major deals in each of his three seasons as the Phillies' general manager in advance of the cutoff for making trades without needing to secure waivers on players. He acquired left-hander Cliff Lee from the Indians in 2009, right-hander Roy Oswalt from the Astros in 2010, and then went back to Houston last week and obtained right fielder Hunter Pence.
Three years as the GM and three All-Star caliber players added to the roster for the stretch run. It's an impressive record, and it raises the question as to how Amaro is continually able to make such major in-season acquisitions
"I don't know," Amaro said initially when queried.
After thinking about it for a few more seconds, he realized there was an answer. It is because the Phillies have continued to produce players in their farm system who interest other clubs.
The Phillies gave up right-handers Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp, catcher Lou Marson, and infielder Jason Donald in the Lee trade. All but Knapp are currently in the big leagues with the Indians, who are in the American League Central race.
For Oswalt, the Phillies surrendered left-hander J.A. Happ, shortstop Jonathan Villar, and outfielder Anthony Gose. Happ is in the Astros' rotation, and Gose was traded to the Blue Jays for Brett Wallace, who spent the first four months of this season as Houston’s starting first baseman before being optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma last weekend.
The Phillies dealt four players for Pence—right-handers Jarred Cosart and Josh Zeid, first baseman/outfielder Jonathan Singleton, and a player to be named later. Baseball Prospectus prospect expert Kevin Goldstein had Singleton (four-star) and Cosart (three-star) ranked as the Nos. 3 and 4 prospects in the Phillies' system coming into this season, behind outfielder Domonic Brown and right-hander Brody Colvin.
"Even though we haven't had a lot of high-round draft picks, (scouting director) Marti Wolever has done a fantastic job," Amaro said. "He brings high levels of talent into our system. We're giving away a lot of good, quality talent. Are they major-league players? Some will be, and some will be impact players that may bite us."
The Phillies don't mind paying on the back end because of what dealing prospects has helped provide on the front end. The Phillies have won four straight National League East titles and also two pennants and one World Series in that span. They have the best record in the major leagues, as they are a season-high 31 games over .500 at 71-39 through 100 games, and Pence fills their most-glaring need as a right-handed hitter with power.
Part of the reason the Phillies have been able to stay competitive is because they try to make deadline trades for players who can be part of the future. Oswalt had another year on his contract when acquired, and the Phillies hold a club option on him next for next season, while Pence is under club control through the 2013 season. The Phillies opted not to re-sign Lee after he became a free agent in 2009, as they traded with the Blue Jays for right-hander Roy Halladay. Yet Lee enjoyed the Philadelphia experience so much that he signed a five-year, $120 million contract with the Phillies as a free agent last winter despite receiving more lucrative offers from the Yankees and Rangers.
"I think we've targeted the right guys because of their makeup, the ability to keep them more than just half a year," Amaro said. "We try to stay away from guys who aren't good fits or who will be rentals."
The Phillies, who are sixth in the NL and 12th in the majors with an average of 4.37 runs scored per game, believe Pence is the right fit, as he had a .303 True Average in 432 plate appearances for the Astros with a .308/.356/.471 slash line and 11 home runs. They also believe Pence, with his spindly legs and hard-charging style, can bring some extra energy to a veteran club.
"He's a .300 hitter that averages 25 homers a year," manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's going to make a pretty good impact. He's going be a good player. He doesn't say a whole lot, but he's jumping around. He's a unique kind of player. He's different, but he's good."
The Phillies are good, too, because their starting rotation has been everything it was expected to be behind the Four Aces—Halladay (2.24 FIP), Lee (2.81), left-hander Cole Hamels (2.58), and Oswalt (3.85), who will return from a back injury this weekend. The Phillies have allowed the fewest runs in the majors (3.30 per game), though they did look for bullpen help at the deadline. Amaro is hopeful that Jose Contreras (3.08) can return from a right forearm strain and team with closer Ryan Madson (2.18) and left-hander Antonio Bastardo (2.48) to form a strong late-inning trio.
"I like our bullpen," Amaro said. "I like it more if Contreras gets back. That will help us. There are ways to improve it, but the likelihood of that is not great. But we’ll still continue to look to do some things."
The Phillies would need to make a waiver trade in order to add a reliever. Being that they have baseball's best record, any of the other 29 teams could block a potential trade by claiming a player off waivers.
"That’s a great question," Amaro said when asked about the chances of making a waiver trade. "One year, a team blocks everyone on the planet. Then you’ll have some years where you can’t believe that some guys are still available. We’ll see how it all pans out."
Even if Amaro doesn't add any more players this season, he certainly knows his team is good enough to win its second World Series in four years.
"We're happy about the way we are playing right now," said Amaro, whose team has won six straight games and 37 of its last 52. "We're getting contributions from everyone, and that’s the only way you can win a championship."
Tigers right fielder Brennan Boesch: "I'll give this kid credit, because he looked like a half-season wonder with the way he faded after the All-Star break as a rookie last year. I'm still not sold on him, though. He has a slider-speed bat, and he still chases too many pitches out of the strike zone. He can be exploited by smart pitchers."
Mariners right-hander Michael Pineda: "This kid has everything it takes to be a No.1 starter for a long time. He's big and strong, can overpower hitters with his fastball, and locks guys up with his slider. The best thing about him is he is that he's only 22. The sky really is the limit."
Rays left-hander David Price: "He's pitched better than his record this year, but he hasn't commanded his breaking pitches as well as in the past. He's gotten beat on the curveball more this year than ever before. It's hurt him in some big situations."
Angels right-hander Ervin Santana: "He is one of the few starting pitchers in the game who can get by with two pitches because his slider is so good. It has a break almost as big as a curveball, but he throws it harder than a curve. In his no-hitter, Cleveland's hitters didn't have a chance against it."
Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson: "He's really tightened up both his control and command this year. He's around the strike zone more, and he's throwing more quality strikes. His fastball command is just about as good as anybody's now. He throws it to both sides of the plate consistently."