These last few weeks haven't been kind to Ruben Amaro Jr.
The Roy Oswalt deal appears dead. The shuffling of pitchers back and forth between here and the minor leagues can most charitably be described as desperate. The looming trade the general manager hinted about last week never materialized. And as criticism of Cliff Lee's departure has grown more strident, Amaro has grown testier.
An unscientific philly.com poll last week found that, among the respondents, at least, the Phillies' GM gets the overwhelming share of blame for his team's sorry summer.
It's understandable. Philadelphians have grown fond of Charlie Manuel. They love his players. And with the team spending an estimated $139 million on salaries this season, they can't gripe anymore about Dave Montgomery and his fellow owners being cheap.
So, angry and frustrated over the Phillies' performance these last two months, they've turned in the only the direction available, toward the GM's office.
That's why these last few days before Saturday's trade deadline are so important for Amaro. With the right deal, he can save not just this puzzling Phillies season but also his own reputation.
Will he find another Cliff Lee? Or another Travis Lee?
Will he sacrifice a diamond in the rough (Domonic Brown)? Or a guy who's been having a rough time on the diamond (Jayson Werth)?
Will he bring to mind the Pope? Or just another dope?
For guidance, Amaro might want to look back on the Phils' biggest trade-deadline transactions over the last 35 years.
If he examines what arguably were the eight most significant - the "buyer's" trades that brought in Bake McBride, Dick Ruthven, Kyle Lohse, Joe Blanton, and Lee, and the "seller's" moves that dispatched Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, and Bobby Abreu - he might uncover some surprisingly helpful tips:
Any kind of significant move, whether unloading a big name or importing one, is likely to help. Following seven of the previously noted eight big deadline deals, the Phils went on to have winning second-half records. The 2006 Phils responded to Abreu's departure by going 36-23 the rest of the way. The 1978 team reacted to Ruthven's arrival by going 60-46 (The deadline then was June 15; it wasn't moved to July 31 until 1986.) The only case in which improvement didn't follow was in 2000, when Terry Francona's last club went 21-42 after sending the unhappy Schilling to Arizona for Travis "Zombie" Lee, Vicente Padilla, Nelson Figueroa, and Omar Daal.
Sure, as Amaro has said over and over in recent weeks, everyone needs arms. But it's sometimes wiser to add a good position player. After all, if these Phils continue to hit as they have, Sandy Koufax wouldn't help. Like this team, the young and talented 1977 Phillies also needed starting pitching behind a proven stud, Steve Carlton. But just before the June 15 deadline, GM Paul Owens instead got rightfielder McBride from St. Louis. With McBride's bat and speed added to an already potent lineup, the 31-28 Phils exploded, going an astonishing 70-33 down the stretch and capturing a second straight NL East crown.
Clubhouse chemistry is an odd thing. Sometimes, when there's a cloud of uncertainty hovering over a key player like an Abreu or a Rolen or a Werth, resolving the matter has a beneficial impact, even on mediocre clubs. Rolen's season-long funk appeared to hinder the development of the youthful 2002 Phils. After the all-star third baseman was shipped to St. Louis for Placido Polanco, Bud Smith, and Mike Timlin, Larry Bowa's 49-55 team found itself and played five games over .500 till season's end. It's not far-fetched to believe that replacing the mixed-up Werth with a steadier bat and head to hit behind or in front of Ryan Howard would be an improvement.
Sure, an Oswalt would be nice. But a healthy, back-of-the-rotation innings-eater can help, too. Ruthven solidified a shaky staff in 1978. In 2007, Pat Gillick's July 30 acquisition of Lohse from Cincinnati - for Matt Maloney - was a big reason the Phils were able to catch and overtake the Mets in September. A year later, Gillick pried Blanton from Oakland and, with his winning Game 4, the Phils captured a second World Series.
For every Ryne Sandberg, who was dealt in January, by the way, there are 99 Rick Bosettis (the McBride deal) and Adrian Cardenases (the Blanton deal) who never make a splash. Besides, in this win-now era, what GM can afford to wait for prospects to develop?
Owens understood that to get the players he wanted, he needed to surrender value. Ruthven, for example, came at a steep price, valuable reliever Gene Garber. But Owens still had Tug McGraw, who had shared the closer's role here with Garber. The Elizabethtown native went on to throw 853 mostly quality innings with the Braves through 1987. But the Phils might not have won their first World Series without Ruthven and a happier McGraw. A year earlier, to get McBride, the Pope (Owens) traded Bosetti, Dane Iorg, and Tom Underwood to the Cardinals.