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Expectations high for Amaro to make another blockbuster deal for Phillies

Two years ago this week, Ruben Amaro Jr. walked into the visiting clubhouse in Phoenix and received an ovation from the Phillies.

Phillies fans have grown accustomed to a very generous Santa in Ruben Amaro Jr. (David M Warren/Staff file photo)
Phillies fans have grown accustomed to a very generous Santa in Ruben Amaro Jr. (David M Warren/Staff file photo)Read more

Two years ago this week, Ruben Amaro Jr. walked into the visiting clubhouse in Phoenix and received an ovation from the Phillies.

Amaro had just traded for Cliff Lee, energizing the defending champions and fueling a run to a second consecutive National League pennant. A year later, with Roy Halladay in the fold, Amaro produced Roy Oswalt at the trade deadline.

So what's in the bag this year, Santa?

That's the atmosphere around the Phillies with the non-waiver trade deadline a week away. Because of his previous blockbusters - and moves made by his predecessor, Pat Gillick - Amaro has created awfully high expectations. They're so high, in fact, that you wonder how deflating it would be if the general manager decided to stand pat this time around.

You could make a pretty good argument that he should. The Phillies have the best record in baseball. They are in first place in the National League East and a breathtaking 10 games ahead of any other possible wild-card team. In other words, they are prohibitive favorites to return to the postseason for the fifth year in a row.

The starting rotation is awesome, even with Oswalt and Joe Blanton out with injuries. The bullpen has been great and will only get stronger with Ryan Madson back and Brad Lidge returning from his injury. The lineup has been less productive than hoped, but Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins seem to be finding their A games at the right time.

Amaro - who has decided not to talk to reporters during the height of the speculation season - could justify sticking with what he has and letting the whole thing play out. It would be easy.

So why do you get the feeling he won't? Why is there so much anticipation that Santa will reach into his bag and pull out Hunter Pence or Carlos Beltran or Heath Bell or Melky Cabrera?

We're not just talking about overenthusiastic fans or talk radio hosts looking to stimulate chatter, either. Various reports have Phillies scouts watching Beltran in New York while scouts for other teams pack the ballpark in Clearwater to monitor single-A Thresher prospects. All signs point to a move.

So does Amaro's recent history. He seems hardwired to make bold moves. No one was clamoring for Halladay after the 2009 season, but Amaro went and got him. When the fans were hoping for a new bat last July, Amaro pulled Oswalt out of the bag. With the best rotation in years already in place, he went and got Lee again last winter.

The fans and, more important still, this team have grown accustomed to a very generous Santa. These Phillies have come to expect a significant in-season addition. It's not as if they'd see a quiet trade deadline as a white flag. They're too good a team with too much at stake. But if a big addition is energizing, then no addition would be the opposite of that. And the louder the buzz, the more deafening the quiet would be.

The buzz is really loud this year.

Amaro does not have to listen to it. He has fulfilled his duties to ownership and to the fans, fielding a winning team that rewards those sellout crowds at the Bank every night. At this point, there is a different obligation pressing on the GM.

Come November, Amaro has to be able to look Halladay and Lee and Oswalt in the eyes and tell them he did all he could to win a championship. The other players, too, but especially those three elite pitchers who chose to come here for the chance to win.

Lee was brilliant in the 2009 postseason. The offense and the rest of the rotation let him down.

The Yankees hit only .247 in that World Series, but the Phillies hit just .227.

Halladay threw a no-hitter in the NL Division Series last year and pitched through an injury against the Giants in the NL Championship Series. The offense let him down. The Giants hit only .244 in the NLCS, but the Phillies hit just .216.

Amaro has already been proven right in assembling this embarrassment of pitching riches. The Phillies have endured injuries to Utley, Lidge, Madson, Oswalt, Blanton, Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, and Jose Contreras. They have won despite subpar offensive performances from Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez.

Will that work in October? It didn't in 2009 or 2010. In October, pitching is No. 1, but you still have to score a few runs to win it all.

That's why Beltran or, better, Cabrera or, better still, Pence would make sense. Any of them would make it that much tougher for opposing pitchers in a tight postseason game. Any of them would meet the high trade-deadline standard Amaro has set for himself.

He might even get another round of applause from his team.