Bill Conlin: For Phillies GM Amaro, quiet means busy

Posted: November 18, 2010

MANY MAJOR LEAGUE baseball general managers would hear the word omerta and start checking for a Latino middle infielder.

Omerta is a Sicilian-originated word for an oath of silence, the violation of which can lead to a halibut in the mail, a cement shoe fitting or a bullet in the eye. Baseball GMs don't realize it but they are practicing omerta this November, thanks to the downsized window through which to negotiate with their former players who have filed for free agency.

Clubs used to have 15 days of exclusive negotiating rights with the pastime's Cliff Lees and Jayson Werths. Not anymore. An agreement hammered out between MLB and the players union lopped 10 days off the former ballclub's exclusivity. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, who practices omerta with the expressionless aplomb of Michael Corleone, had 5 days after the final out of the World Series to strike a deal with Werth's agent, who happens to be Scott Boras. And Boras is no Sen. Pat Geary. There is no entrapping the man famed for anointing just-above-average players like J.D. Drew as "special talents" and scoring them insane amounts of money. Never mind that Drew has spent more time in the pool than Michael Phelps.

Amaro is at the general managers meetings in Orlando with 29 of his closest Facebook friends.

Before agents pimping their free-agent clients took over the early December winter meetings, once the traditional swap meet, the GM gatherings didn't attract much media coverage. They were a front-office version of spring practice for a college football team. Groundwork was laid between and during rounds of golf, needs discussed, proposals put on the table. Game plans formulated. A few weeks later, when they all showed up again with their entourages in Nashville, or Hollywood, Fla., or back in the good old days, Waikiki Beach (three meetings), they had an agenda ready to roll out.

It was a fascinating process to watch, as choreographed as Swan Lake. You had the GM in his suite, ready to hold court. Many presided over a fully stocked (but not for long) bar. Room service was kept busy rolling in tables laden with jumbo shrimp and finger food.

Phillies GM Paul Owens ran his suite like a combination of Kid Shelleen and Emeril Lagasse. The manager, scouts, farm director, even Bill Giles, would work the phones and circulate through the public areas, buttonholing their counterparts, setting meetings, exchanging names. This was going on times 30 GMs and their staffs.

One year in New Orleans, the Pope partied a little too hearty with Tigers GM Jim Campbell and wound up trading Bob Boone and Larry Christenson for catcher Bill Freehan and outfielder Jim Northrup. The Phillies' future for the Tigers' past. When owner Ruly Carpenter was informed, he immediately called it off. An angry Campbell asked the next morning, "How do you unshake a handshake?"

Also in New Orleans, the Phillies called a press conference to announce a minor deal just as the waiters were cakewalking in the baked Alaska at the national association banquet.

In Hollywood, Fla., PR veep Larry Shenk had the media holed up in a restaurant on the Intercoastal Waterway while the Phils' trade team finalized the Jim Kaat deal in the Gold Coast Restaurant, a stone-crab emporium a few miles up A1A. We took turns talking to Kaat on a phone set up on the bar.

The intensity of Amaro's silence would seem to indicate he's in serious negotiations. And with some kind of loose "gag order" in place, it appears the media that have now turned the more productive GM meetings into a ball-writers ordinal - or ordeal - could have covered it by Twitter.

You have to remember that in the span of just under 16 months, Amaro dealt for Cliff Lee and traded him after an epic postseason, traded for Roy Halladay, then added Roy Oswalt to the most potent four-man rotation - with Cole Hamels - in franchise history. I can't think of a GM in baseball's trading annals who ever had his hands around two Cy Young winners and a righthander always in the Top 5 conversation in such a short time frame. And ravished the farm system to land three men who have been selected for 12 All-Star Games.

In the vacuum created by the no comments of omerta, GM style, crazy rumors are bound to surface away from the nonaction. I heard a doozy the other day from a normally sane e-mailer with a relative who works in marketing for the A's. He's got a buddy who does similar work for the Angels. And that guy said he heard the Phillies were talking to both teams about something big that might involve core players.

I heard the names but will not repeat them - not in a rumor that swirls in from cyberspace.

But who knows what mischief lurks in the heart of Junior? He rocked the town on its heels with the Lee deal in July of 2009. Then put everybody through the ecstasy of the trade for Halladay, followed by the almost-immediate whiplash agony of Lee's exit.

Many of us doubted Oswalt could be had last summer - until the deal happened.

It is a baseball time of year with this general manager to expect the unexpected and be ready for whatever happens to burst on you with the suddenness of Michael Vick breaking contain and blazing upfield. *

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