Bill Conlin: Phillies GM Amaro pulls off masterful move to land Lee

Rookie GM Ruben Amaro adapted on the fly.
Rookie GM Ruben Amaro adapted on the fly.
Posted: July 30, 2009

IF ANYBODY knew before the town changed its name to Halladelphia that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro would deliver the 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner by tomorrow's trade deadline, Mayor Nutter would have issued the World Series parade permits.

And after you finished high-fiving your pals when the deal for Indians lefthander Cliff Lee went down with startling swiftness - physicals pending - you might have thought to ask: "By the way, what did he cost us?"

The answer would have been your second shock of the day.

For that, I turn to a "Pulp Fiction" line by ace problem-solver Winston Wolf when asked the identity of the headless small-time thief in the trunk of a Nova about to be compacted at a friendly salvage yard.

"Nobody who will be missed . . . "

A year ago, Carlos Carrasco went to the Futures Game with the "Untouchable" sticker on his forehead. If you look closely today, there's a faint adhesive patch still showing. It was stripped during his mostly off season in Triple A. Fortunately, Amaro does not write "Untouchable" using indelible ink.

Yesterday, the organization finally ended a patient wait for the Venezuelan righthander to touch the high ceiling projected for a teenager signed with little more than a promise of future size and a sizzling fastball. The latter earned him a green card.

Carlos moved to the head of the package for Cliff Lee with a minor league record of 45-44 and a 4.14 ERA compiled during six seasons less about 6 weeks. He has not had a shining season. Amaro would have faced a tough roster decision. Was the former prodigy worth a 40-man spot to keep him out of the Rule 5 draft? The Indians made his decision an easy one. The toughest part of the baseball business is walking away from a player you once considered can't-miss. But time dulls that ardor for a GM and the best ones never permit themselves to fall in love with organizational mistakes. Maybe Carrasco will learn to "man up" in a different uniform. He effectively took himself out of any conversation Amaro was having with the Blue Jays in the Halladay sweepstakes. He produced a meandering six-run outing his last start with Toronto scouts taking notes. When Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi turned down a Phillies five-pack for Halladay that included Carrasco and versatile outfielder Michael Taylor, Amaro knew it was time to shift gears and turn his attention to Plan B, which was Clifton Phifer Lee, incumbent AL Cy Young winner.

It was time for the rookie GM and his seasoned assistants to cash some of the quality and quantity minor league chips the Phillies have been accumulating.

And he did so without the expenditure of hot minor league prospects Kyle Drabek, Dom Brown and Michael Taylor. And for a package that included low-Class A prospect Jason Knapp, a towering teenaged righthander sidelined with "shoulder fatigue," the Indians tossed in 27-year-old outfielder Ben Francisco. He is a UCLA product with speed and power who will make a bad memory of outfielder John Mayberry's sweeping, ungainly flails at anything that breaks. Francisco has a chance to make Charlie Manuel's position player array scarily good.

By the way, Knapp's sizzling but erratic high-90s fastball could have arrived at the Bank as early as 2012. Anybody out there who was eager to wait 3 more years for his arrival? Cliff Lee is on schedule to start tomorrow against the Giants, depending on how Manuel sets his new rotation.

Ruben Amaro Jr. gets to drive the Clydesdales this October. And if he can land a back-of-the-rotation righthander for J.A. Happ - Arizona's Jon Garland, perhaps - and toss a few B-list bodies Baltimore's way for lefthanded closer George Sherrill, Ruben can have his pick from Hertz-Rent-a-Pooch for his Budwagon canine companion.

Jason Donald overachieved his way into the spring-training mix as a possible early season hedge against a Chase Utley setback by tearing up the Arizona Fall League. But the infielder showed few elements of his offensive versatility in Clearwater and earned his option to Triple A. A bad start in Lehigh Valley was exacerbated by a knee injury that landed him on the DL - just when he was being mentioned in trade rumors involving Red Sox righthander Brad Penny. Donald was activated after a lengthy rehab that started with the Gulf Coast League rookie team and was back in time to produce two hits for Indians scouts Tuesday in Allentown.

Donald is a high-motor grinder in the Mark DeRosa mold who is well-suited for an American League No. 2 or 9 spot in a batting order. While he lacks range at short, it is his most natural position.

The biggest chip Amaro played, however, was catcher Lou Marson. He is a big kid who was supposed to grow into a little more power than he has generated. However, Lou is a fine receiver who was an Eastern League .300 hitter last year and was flirting with .300 at Lehigh Valley. Scouts downgrade his throwing, however. Lou is not blessed with a powerful arm and needs slide-step help from a pitching staff. Basestealers are running .750 against him this season.

I don't know how the Indians rank the four futures they accepted for Lee and Francisco. But if I was guessing where they will be a year from now, they would look like this:

Marson: Indians backup.

Donald: Utility infielder with a puncher's chance to seize an opportunity.

Carrasco: Will get spring-training chance to make rotation back end, but might need more Triple A experience.

Knapp: High-Class A.

One short-term Phillies projection. Mayberry goes down. Eric Bruntlett is the only backup middle infielder and is safe. Jamie Moyer will not be sent to the bullpen, no matter what. Ditto Pedro Martinez. You can't ask veteran starters to adjust to the vagaries of situational relief.

You can pencil Cliff Lee into the No. 1 or 2 slot, depending on how Manuel chooses to apportion what could suddenly become an embarrassment of pitching riches reading Lee, Hamels, Blanton, Moyer, Happ (or possible righthanded replacement), Pedro.

I don't know if there is an all-points bulletin out for Ruben Amaro in Ohio, but there should be. Grand Theft. Really grand.

Send e-mail to bill1chair@aol.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/conlin.

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