AT ONE POINT, Ruben Amaro Jr. did use the word "untouchables." It was in July, as the first chapter in the Roy Halladay-to-Philadelphia saga was being written. He was sitting in the home dugout at Citizens Bank Park before that night's game.
"There are some untouchables in our system," he said.
Later, he was asked if there were prospects he absolutely would not trade even for a pitcher of Halladay's caliber.
"There are," he responded.
But while his contention yesterday that he had never used the word "untouchable" when discussing his farm system may not have been entirely accurate, the spirit of his comments - both when he pondered the trade market that day in July and when he introduced Halladay as a Phillie yesterday - have remained consistent.
"What I have said is that some [prospects] are more touchable than others," Amaro said yesterday, when, after days of wrangling, he put the finishing touches on a deal that sent top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek, well-respected outfield prospect Michael Taylor and high-ceiling catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud to Toronto for Halladay. The Blue Jays then traded Taylor to the Oakland Athletics for third baseman Brett Wallace.
On a scale of untouchability, according to various organizational insiders, Drabek ranked near the top, on par, or just below outfielder Domonic Brown, and well above Taylor. Manager Charlie Manuel has compared him to former Mets great Tom Seaver. Amaro said yesterday he expected Drabek "is going to be an outstanding major league pitcher" and that Taylor "has a chance at being an outstanding major league outfielder."
Taylor, who hit .320 with a .395 on-base percentage and 20 home runs between Double A Reading and Triple A Lehigh Valley, has put up phenomenal numbers since the Phillies selected him in the fifth round out of Stanford in 2007. In the scouting community, opinions on Taylor's potential differ. As an organization, the Phillies project Brown as the better pro corner outfielder, but many scouts also view him as their most major league-ready position player. Still, the presence of Jayson Werth in rightfield this season (he'll be a free agent at the end of the year) and Raul Ibanez in left for the next two seasons, along with Brown and up-and-comer Anthony Gose in the system, made Taylor a player Amaro felt he could afford to lose.
D'Arnaud, meanwhile, doesn't turn 21 until February. And while his overall numbers at Class A Lakewood were pedestrian - .255 with a .319 on-base percentage, 13 home runs and 38 doubles - he had a strong second half and plays a premium position that is noticably lacking in the Phillies' system.
But the Phillies' biggest bargaining chip was Drabek, who went 8-2 with a 3.64 ERA and struck out 7.1 batters per nine innings in 15 appearances at Double A Reading in 2009. The 22-year-old righthander missed the second half of the 2007 season and the first half of 2008 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but many in the Phillies organization felt he would seriously challenge for a spot in the rotation in 2011 - and perhaps as early as the second half of 2010.
Still, the thinking goes, in a best-case scenario Drabek turns out to be another Halladay. But in trading him to Toronto, the Phillies secure the real thing.
Between the trade for Cliff Lee last summer and the trade for Halladay this week, the Phillies parted with seven players who were considered to be among their Top 10 prospects at the time of the respective deals. In trading Lee to Seattle, they received the Mariners' top pitching prospect in Phillippe Aumont and one of their top outfield prospects in Tyson Gillies, along with righthander Juan Ramirez.
"Clearly, when you acquire a player of this caliber, it's going to hurt your system," Amaro said. "It's going to hurt a little bit. And it should. That's part of the business. That said . . . we are not able to make these moves unless we have one of the best farm systems in baseball and scouting systems."