Forget Lee; Oswalt is a sensible risk
The Philadelphia Phillies are like starlets obsessed with plastic surgery. They tweak here, tinker there and hope to hell they don’t turn out like Heidi Montag.
They underwent their third major procedure in the past six months Thursday. While the acquisition of Roy Oswalt(notes) is mere liposuction to the perfect nose job (getting Roy Halladay(notes)) and botched facelift (shipping out Cliff Lee(notes) for peanuts), it personifies an organization that runs itself in a most unconventional fashion.
Ruben Amaro Jr., the team’s general manager and architect of the three deals, defied industry norms by handing Ryan Howard(notes) a $25 million-a-year extension through his 36th birthday. Same with giving 36-year-old Raul Ibanez(notes) a three-year deal. The Phillies remain among the few teams that don’t examine defensive metrics. They scoff at sabermetrics as a whole. For each quirk, the Phillies are wholly unapologetic.
They won a World Series two years ago, went to another last year and — if Chase Utley(notes) and Shane Victorino(notes) come back healthy and Oswalt gives the Phillies a Three Aces assemblage alongside Halladay and Cole Hamels(notes) — they may well go to this year’s. With free agency and revenue sharing and a wide-open international market, year-to-year dominance in the major leagues is as hard as ever. Three straight World Series isn’t just an accomplishment; it’s damn near impossible.
Because the Phillies have turned into a money-making machine, a $140 million-plus payroll almost ensures their mortgaging of prospects won’t relegate them to a rebuilding phase anytime soon. Giving up left-hander J.A. Happ(notes) and prospects Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar, with $11 million coming back to the Phillies to cover Oswalt’s salary this year and next, didn’t wipe out the Phillies’ farm system.
Much of the Phillies’ success comes from homegrown players. Howard, Utley, Hamels and Jimmy Rollins(notes) were drafted by Philadelphia. So was Domonic Brown(notes), the game’s top prospect, who doubled Wednesday night in his first major league at-bat and could provide a jolt down the stretch. He was the product of another Phillies philosophy, one with which it’s impossible to argue.
Phillies scouting director Marti Wolever is one of the best, and his attitude come the June draft is simple: Choose athletes. Brown was a skinny, 6-foot-5 kid from Georgia who grew into a potential monster. Gose graded out with plus-plus speed and little discernable baseball skill. Michael Taylor(notes), who went to Toronto in the Halladay trade, came out of Stanford an unfinished product. The Phillies almost always follow the football axiom and go for the best athlete on the board. Even after dealing Kyle Drabek(notes), Travis D’Arnaud, Taylor, Gose and Villar — and whiffing on Phillippe Aumont(notes), Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez in the Lee haul — they remain plenty stocked.
Brown is a stud who, for the next three years, will make little more than $400,000. Jonathan Singleton, the Single A first baseman one scout compared to Fred McGriff – and whom the Astros coveted – remains in the Philadelphia farm system. So do power right-handers Jarred Cosart, Trevor May and Brody Colvin, toolsy outfielders Jiwan James and Domingo Santana and a host of others prospects the Phillies can develop or dangle.
Though it’s difficult to look at the Oswalt trade without lamenting the Lee deal, it’s necessary. The Lee deal was stupid. Amaro knows that. Manager Charlie Manuel knows that. It’s one thing upon which Jim, Pat, Geno and Tony Luke can all agree. With Halladay and Lee, the Phillies would not be trailing Atlanta by 3½ games in the National League East, and they would not sit 2½ back of San Francisco for the wild card.
It’s done, though, and rather than continue to insist that these Phillies could win without another pitcher, Amaro was proactive with the best one left on the market. That he managed to get Oswalt to waive his no-trade clause with only a $1 million sweetener in his 2012 option buyout — instead of requiring the Phillies to exercise it — was a victory. To have done so without sacrificing top prospects or key major leaguers makes this a worthwhile risk.
And risk is Amaro’s hallmark. He’s neither as measured as his predecessor and mentor, Pat Gillick, nor as reluctant as so many teams which hoard prospects like gold bullion. Amaro targets what he wants, attacks it with ravenous fury and almost always emerges with his prize. His aggression mimics his city’s.
So now, with 61 games remaining, with seven straight victories, with Dom Brown up and Ryan Howard mashing and Jayson Werth(notes) apparently sticking around and momentum hitching itself to the Phillies, they come at teams with baseball’s two greatest Roys since Campanella — and with the ace of their World Series championship team pitching out of the No. 3 slot. To get there, the Phillies nipped and tucked, their reflection in the mirror simply not good enough.
Come October, they might look beautiful. They might look unsightly. One way or another, we’ll all be watching.