That wasn't always Gillick's reputation upon his arrival here. He was known as "Stand Pat" for the first few seasons, making few moves until he felt the team was close enough to justify them. In 2006, Gillick appeared to be taking a step backward, dumping Bobby Abreu at the trade deadline, but even though the Phils were sellers, not buyers, the team very nearly made the postseason anyway. That happened the following season and the Phillies have been back in the playoffs ever since.
The common logic is that the Phillies should be looking to land a righthanded-hitting corner outfielder at the trade deadline this year. Raul Ibanez, John Mayberry Jr., Domonic Brown and Ben Francisco have all either underperformed or performed sporadically.
Ibanez has 320 at-bats this season, enough of a trial to suggest that a .241 average with moderate power is about what he will produce. Francisco could have claimed right field, but he's hitting .230, and there is no indication that is a fluke. Mayberry and Brown have had their moments, but neither fits in the top of the lineup nor does enough to protect Ryan Howard from the middle of the order down. Brown is also a somewhat scary outfielder.
An upgrade appears necessary because the Phillies are nowhere near the offensive team that bashed to the World Series title in 2008. They are ninth in the National League in home runs, and their .250 average puts them squarely on the median among NL teams. Not great, not awful, just there.
If Amaro and the front office gave special weight to the series against the Braves that led into the all-star break, what was on display was exactly the team's personality for the entire season. The Phillies won a low-scoring game very narrowly, lost a game in which they simply did not hit, and then enjoyed a game in which everyone hit well.
As it turned out, the Phils won two of the three games, but if the coin had flipped one more turn, they would have lost two of the three games. And that's in a series in which they had Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels lined up.
So, what's a general manager to do? Let's use two of the outfield names that are out there. Not to say they are exactly what the Phillies want, but Josh Willingham of the Athletics and Ryan Ludwick of the Padres are apparently on the market. They are outfielders, they hit righthanded, and they are available. Both are 32. Willingham is hitting .241, Ludwick .245. Neither has shown great power this season. Would either really represent an upgrade or just the second coming of Geoff Jenkins?
Amaro said recently he's looking closely at the trade market, looking at outfielders, infielders, and perhaps bullpen help. He's also said that by July 31 the Phillies might have "a totally different need."
This is a team built on its starting pitching. Amaro is not going to be able to trade for power and remake this into the 2008 team. The bullpen, with Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge coming back, is crowded and talented enough to take the Phils where they want to go.
As improbable as it might sound, the "totally different need" the Phillies have by the end of this month might just be starting pitching. It is the direction the team has gone at the last three trade deadlines (Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt), and the leopard does like to zig when everyone expects him to zag.
At the moment, there is no guarantee that either Oswalt or Blanton returns to the rotation this season. Oswalt has a bad back and, since his stint as a tractor jockey in Mississippi, seems a quart low on motivation. Blanton has a sore elbow that defies diagnosis and, if he returns, he'll still be the same guy who has pitched to a 4.34 ERA in the postseason for the Phillies. Except older, and with a bad arm.
That leaves three horsemen - Halladay, Lee, and Hamels - an untested kid (Vance Worley), and a bottom-of-the-rotation starter (Kyle Kendrick) whom the organization has lost faith in, by all indications. It is a slim rope across the ravine, and good luck if anything were to happen to another of the horsemen.
Amaro sees all of this on a team that is dependent on its starting pitching. He sees the incremental improvements that bringing in a position player or a bullpen arm might bring. And he knows that none of it will matter if the rotation slips a cog.
We'll watch the cat closely in the next three weeks. He might take the quiet, expected route. But the unchanged pattern of his spots is that he prefers the unexpected much more.
Contact columnist Bob Ford
at email@example.com and read his blog at philly.com/postpatterns