Not many people doubted that the Phillies lineup of tater tot smashers could bring the team back the World Series for the second year in a row. After all, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth have been there, done that, seen it, tore it up before. But for first-year general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr., nothing was guaranteed from Opening Day all the way up to his stint on the platform to receive the National League Championship trophy last night.
True, Ruben inherited a team built at its foundation by a lucky Ed Wade and fine-tuned by a shrewd evaluator of talent in Pat Gillick. And yes, Ruben didn't have to make any exceptionally wild changes to a team coming off a dominating 2008 postseason run. But in the end, Amaro deserves all the credit for three moves that were proved to be both bold and fruitful.
First, he brought in an aging Raul Ibanez to replace fan favorite Pat Burrell. Ibanez was seen as a simple slugger with no defensive aptitude and fading production. Ibanez might have had a down second half of the season, but still ended the season with a career-high .899 OPS and a whopping ISO of .280. His power was never in doubt, and he even finished with a positive UZR, only making 2 errors and recording 9 outfield assists.
Then, two weeks before the trading deadline in July, Ruben signed idle legend Pedro Martinez to a one-year incentive-filled deal to shore up a starting rotation hurt by injury and lack of effectiveness (cough cough Cole Hamels). Pedro rewarded the Phillies faith with nine starts down the stretch in which he went 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA and a great 4.63 K/BB ratio.
And then there was Cliff Lee. In a deadline deal that proved to be the top trade of the year, Ruben sent prospect Carlos Carrasco to the Indians in exchange for the 2008 Cy Young winner, who turned around and spent a month pitching like a hybrid of Sandy Koufax and Walter freakin Johnson. Lee stumbled a bit in September, but in the playoffs, he's thrown 24 innings in three starts and allowed but two earned runs. He's been the most dominant pitcher on the National League side of the ledger in October.
Meanwhile, Ruben's counterpart out in Los Angeles is pretty much responsible for a roster that has shown promise by sweeping two straight NLDS matchups against NL Central opponents, but fallen flat once they reach the NLCS against the Phillies. Colletti's biggest off-season moves were re-signing slugger Manny Ramirez to a fat contract, bringing in starter Randy Wolf, and acquiring second baseman Orlando Hudson.
All these moves were positive in the end, but there was a parade of mid-year trades and signings that fell short: Jim Thome, Jon Garland, and George Sherrill all failed to make a difference in the playoffs, while Vicente Padilla's poor outing last night slammed the door on the Dodgers' chances.
Colletti got a tidy extension from the Dodgers earlier this week, but it's truly Ruben Amaro who is the richer man today for accomplishing so much early in his career.