09/23/10 8:04 PM ET
Phils' successful 2010 due to many moves
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
They can do that.
They also want to win their second World Series title in three years.
They can do that, too.
The Phillies open a three-game series Friday against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park with a six-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East with just nine games to play. The Phils are 92-61, which equals the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins for the most wins in baseball. They have a fearsome threesome atop their rotation, a back end of the bullpen that has been reliable for months and an offense that seems to be finding its groove at just the right time.
The players have performed, but it took numerous personnel moves to put those players on the field and numerous decisions in the dugout to play them at the proper times.
Here is a look at the decisions that made the biggest differences in 2010:
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. had his sights on Roy Halladay before the July 31, 2009, Trade Deadline, but he turned to Cliff Lee when the asking price proved too high. But once it became clear that Lee would be difficult to sign to a contract extension following a fantastic '09 postseason, Amaro retargeted Halladay. This time he got him. He shipped prospects Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis d'Arnaud to the Toronto Blue Jays for one of the best pitchers in baseball. Of course, in a move that will be forever debated, the Phillies shipped Lee to the Seattle Mariners the same day for three prospects. Early returns on that trade are not good, but the Halladay trade has been a winner. Halladay became the first Phillies pitcher to win 20 games in a season since Steve Carlton in 1982. He could become the first Phillies pitcher to win a Cy Young Award since Steve Bedrosian in 1987.
Pedro Feliz knocked in the winning run in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, but the Phillies needed a change at third base after 2009. They targeted a few replacements: Placido Polanco, Mark DeRosa, Adrian Beltre and others. They signed Polanco to a three-year, $18 million contract. He has hit better than .300 for much of the season, despite playing with a bone spur in his left elbow that likely will require surgery after the season. He also has played Gold Glove-caliber third base. Polanco's UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) is 9.3, which ranks fifth in baseball. He also leads third basemen with a .988 fielding percentage and just four errors. Not bad for somebody who played the last few years at second base.
The Phillies wanted to bring back right-hander Chan Ho Park, but he balked at their contract offer. The Phillies moved onto right-hander Danys Baez, signing him to a two-year, $5.25 million contract. But with a little money left to spend, they signed Jose Contreras to a one-year, $1.5 million contract on Jan. 28. Baez has struggled, but Contreras, who Phillies manager Charlie Manuel calls "Big Truck," has been a key piece in the back of the bullpen.
The rotation needed help in July, which made the cries for Lee constant. The Phillies could have bolstered the bullpen or bench, but they addressed their biggest need and got Roy Oswalt in a trade with the Houston Astros. The move acknowledged the Phillies made a mistake trading Lee, but Oswalt's remarkable performance has very few Phillies fans talking about Lee these days. Oswalt is 7-1 with a 1.76 ERA since he joined the Phillies, giving the Philadelphia the most impressive threesome in the league.
The Phillies quietly signed infielder Wilson Valdez to a Minor League contract on Nov. 20, 2009. Nobody thought much about it, especially when the Phillies signed infielder Juan Castro to a one-year, $750,000 contract nearly a month later. But Castro struggled and the Phillies eventually released him because Valdez had outplayed him. Valdez has been a savior with Jimmy Rollins missing most of the season with various leg injuries.
Baseball is a 162-game season, but it sometimes is hard for fans to remember that. Raul Ibanez was hitting just .236 with six home runs, 36 RBIs, a .323 on-base percentage and a .388 slugging percentage in 76 games through July 1. There were questions about his health, following sports hernia surgeries after the 2009 season. There were questions about his age after turning 38 on June 2. Reporters asked Amaro and Manuel if Triple-A Lehigh Valley outfielder Domonic Brown deserved a shot. But since July 1, Ibanez has hit .305 with nine homers, 43 RBIs, a .375 on-base percentage and a .493 slugging percentage in 72 games. He has come up with several big hits in September.
Besides Valdez, the Phillies have a better bench in 2010 than '09. They signed catcher Brian Schneider, who has been an upgrade over Chris Coste and Paul Bako. They signed Ross Gload, who has been better than Matt Stairs. And when Ryan Howard landed on the disabled list in August, they traded for Mike Sweeney. The Phillies have more weapons at Manuel's disposal in the late innings, which could come in handy should they need a big hit in the late innings like the one Stairs provided in Game 4 of the 2008 NL Championship Series.
Manuel dismissed former third-base Steve Smith following the 2008 World Series championship, despite his desires to dismiss him during the season. Manuel and Smith never jived personally, but Manuel did not want to create a distraction during the season. But Manuel changed course in July of 2010, when he dismissed hitting coach Milt Thompson and replaced him with Greg Gross. Manuel saw the Phillies fall seven games behind the Braves in the NL East and feared they might fall further back because of their struggling offense. So Manuel made a change. It is impossible to say how much of an impact Gross has had, but Manuel thought he needed to do something to save the season, and he did it.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.