Inside the Phillies: Phillies GM must map a path back to Fall Classic

The improvement of players such as Darin Ruf (18) along with good pitching and a solid foundation could propel the Phillies back to the Fall Classic next season.
The improvement of players such as Darin Ruf (18) along with good pitching and a solid foundation could propel the Phillies back to the Fall Classic next season. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: October 29, 2012

The World Series will be over by the end of this week, and the focus for the Phillies and every other team in baseball quickly will turn to free agency and trades.

Opportunities exist for every team to improve, but the risk of a major misstep also looms.

The teams that get it right end up playing in the World Series, with the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers serving as the latest examples.

Each team is a fascinating case study.

The Tigers made the second-biggest free-agent signing of the offseason when they gave Prince Fielder a nine-year, $214 million deal. The move was not made until late January, when they discovered that catcher Victor Martinez would be lost for the season to injury.

That's called good fortune, because Fielder proved to be the perfect complement to the incredibly talented Miguel Cabrera.

The 29-year-old Cabrera best exemplifies how the Tigers were constructed. He was part of a 2007 trade with the Marlins that proved to be a steal for Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski. The Marlins, who also gave up Dontrelle Willis, got six players in return - Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, and Mike Rabelo - and none of them is still playing in Miami.

Dombrowski has made a series of brilliant trades in recent years. Centerfielder Austin Jackson, starter Max Scherzer, and relievers Daniel Schlereth and Phil Coke were acquired in the 2009 three-team deal that sent Curtis Granderson to the New York Yankees and Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy to Arizona.

That's a deal that helped every team, but none more so than the Tigers. Other trades also have contributed to the Tigers' rise as a consistent World Series contender, and it does not hurt that they have developed the best starting pitcher in the game in Justin Verlander.

The Giants, meanwhile, were built a little differently. Their core is homegrown, with 25-year-old catcher Buster Posey serving as the heart and soul.

Four of the Giants' eight position players came from the team's farm system, including Game 1 hero Pablo Sandoval. The other two are shortstop Brandon Crawford and first baseman Brandon Belt. All four are 25 or younger.

The Giants, once considered a light-hitting team with great pitching, evolved into a team that can win with arms and bats in 2012. Solid trades by general manager Brian Sabean helped the cause, with his best additions being centerfielder Angel Pagan from the New York Mets over the winter and Marco Scutaro from Colorado at the trade deadline.

It is the job of Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to put together a blueprint similar to those drawn up by Dombrowski and Sabean, both of whom have been considered among baseball's best general managers for some time.

The foundation for the Phillies to return to the postseason is in place. Both World Series competitors have terrific starting pitchers, and so do the Phils.

To support the rotation, Amaro needs to make at least one good trade and a few good free-agent signings. He also needs some good fortune, which would come in the form of player development.

In fact, the improvement of players such as Domonic Brown, Freddy Galvis, Darin Ruf, Tyson Gillies, and the team's cast of young pitchers is every bit as important as any free-agent signing or trade Amaro could make this season.

It's true that Brown has not yet proved he is an everyday player in the big leagues. It's true that Galvis had only a .254 on-base percentage before a drug suspension and fractured back ended his season. It's true that Ruf was barely a blip on the Phillies' prospect screen when the 2012 season started.

All of the above still could prove to be valuable players.

"One of the things we sometimes lose sight of is that we want guys to make an impact immediately," the general manager said. "Guys like Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins and Mike Schmidt didn't make an impact right away. It takes some time to be a good, solid everyday major-league player."

There are examples of San Francisco players who did not make immediate impacts either. Crawford was less productive at the plate than Galvis as a rookie in 2011, but he improved in 2012. Belt also made significant strides in his second season. Galvis went into the weekend hitting .375 with three home runs in 48 at-bats in the Venezuelan Winter League.

The St. Louis Cardinals won last year's World Series because of hot young hitters such as David Freese and Allen Craig, neither of whom was a high-profile prospect coming through the team's minor-league system. Maybe Ruf is one of those diamonds.

The Phillies still have enough pieces in place to rebound in 2013. Good decisions and good fortune are the two ingredients that could put them over the top.


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com or on Twitter @brookob.

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