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By Michael Rushton, MLB Contributor - Archive - Email
Rest of the National League still looking up at Phillies
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There are many who subscribe to the philosophy that the best defense is a strong offense. Count among them Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who suddenly has become the James Bond of baseball front offices.

In short, Ruben Amaro Jr. gets what he wants.

For a third straight year, Amaro pulled off one of the biggest trade deadline moves. The 2009 campaign saw him land Cliff Lee from the Indians after failing to get then-Toronto pitcher Roy Halladay as the Phillies gunned for a second straight World Series title.

The following season, Mr. Don Juan schmoozed Roy Oswalt away from the Astros before the deadline and he tapped the Houston well again last week when he got perhaps the best offensive player dealt at the deadline in outfielder Hunter Pence.

That list doesn't even count past offseason moves of trading for Halladay and eventually re-signing Lee. In just two-plus seasons as a general manager, Amaro has collected a list of talent that would make Charlie Sheen blush.

Amaro, though, just doesn't chase after sexy names; his moves come with a purpose. The Oswalt deal a season ago gave the Phillies a pitching staff that was assembled to overcome any issues the inconsistent offense might provide in the playoffs. That staff certainly held its end up, but the offense went flat in an NL Championship Series loss to the Giants.

So, Amaro brought back Lee to a Mount Rushmore rotation that included Halladay, Oswalt and Cole Hamels, but at the price of losing free agent outfielder Jayson Werth.

The key to Werth was he was the lone right-handed cog to a hitting machine full of lefties in Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. Many said Philadelphia would suffer without the balance Werth's bat gave the lineup.

That didn't stop the Phillies from posting the best record in baseball at the time of the deadline, but the rumblings were enough for Amaro to give up three prospects, including two in Jarred Cozart and Jonathan Singleton that were ranked among the top 50 in baseball by MLB.com and another player to be named later for an All-Star in Pence.

"We tried to address a need we felt was a missing piece. We believe in our offense as it stands, but it has been a little inconsistent," Amaro said. "It gives us a little more balance ... It gives us someone who is extremely well- rounded and the type of player we like to have in Philadelphia."

Despite their current claim at the top of the baseball standings, the Phillies didn't sit back and let their prey come after them. In getting Pence, the franchise put added pressure on the rest of the league to keep up.

The NL West-leading Giants had already fired the first shot well before the deadline, getting former Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran during a series with the Phillies. Beltran is a fine addition to a San Francisco club that mirrors Philadelphia's ability to win with pitching and perhaps made Amaro's trigger finger a little more itchy by taking two of three in the aforementioned NLCS rematch.

Philadelphia was also rumored to be in on the Beltran sweepstakes, but Amaro made the better move. Yes, the Giants only gave up one highly-regarded prospect in pitcher Zack Wheeler to the Phillies two, but Beltran is a free agent at season's end while Pence stays under Philadelphia control until at least 2013 because of arbitration.

"The fact that we have him under control for not only the end of this year, but for two more years was a pretty big factor for us," Amaro said.

That type of control over Beltran is lacking for the Giants, who also nabbed Orlando Cabrera from the Indians to help shore up their shortstop position.

Still, given the loss of catcher Buster Posey for the rest of 2011 earlier in the season due to injury, few can blame San Francisco for making the move to get Beltran even though he has struggled in his first four games with his new club, going just 2-for-17 with six strikeouts. Like Pence, Beltran is just another piece to a talented puzzle and San Francisco didn't exactly hit the cover off the ball in winning the World Series last year.

"He's going to get settled in," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Beltran following the outfielder's hitless debut last Thursday. "It's not going to be one guy carrying us. We're not going to ask him to do that."

Not to be left out, the wild-card leading Braves also made a significant move before Sunday, getting two-time Gold Glove winner Michael Bourn to man center field. Atlanta, which came into Monday trailing the Phillies by six games in the NL East, hasn't had a true leadoff hitter in sometime and the speedy All- Star should present plenty of RBI opportunities for Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Chipper Jones (when he returns).

Atlanta gave up Jordan Schafer, who it had hoped would be its center fielder of the future, and three prospects for Bourn in a move that should at least help the Braves wrap up the wild card.

But it is still the Phillies who are kings of the National League jungle.

THESE SNAKES CAN THROW

The Giants enter Monday with two fewer wins than the Braves and are also just two games up on the Diamondbacks in the NL West standings. Arizona, which begins a big three-game set with the division leaders on Monday, didn't sit idle at the deadline, adding a pair of pitchers in its quest to unseat San Francisco.

Already armed with a pair of double-digit winners in Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, the Diamondbacks strengthened the depth of their rotation by getting starter Jason Marquis from the Nationals. Marquis is in the midst of an excellent bounce-back season, going 8-5 with a 3.95 earned run average in 20 starts with Washington after posting a 6.60 ERA during an injury-plagued 2010 campaign.

One day after that move, Arizona added to its bullpen by getting righty Brad Ziegler, who is still arbitration-eligible after the season, from Oakland.

Once thought to be a possible closer option for the Athletics, Ziegler began his career with a major league record 39 scoreless-innings streak and owns a career 2.49 ERA.

With Arizona already having the ability to drive in runs at a quick rate, the club was wise to upgrade its pitching. The addition of two proven arms should keep things interesting out west.

NICE TO MEET YOU

No team made more of a roster overhaul before the deadline than the St. Louis Cardinals, who picked up five fresh faces for the stretch drive.

The Cardinals got in the act early, adding to all aspects of their roster by getting starter Edwin Jackson, outfielder Corey Patterson and relievers Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski from the Blue Jays last Wednesday.

The haul seemed solid given what St. Louis gave up: three pitchers who didn't figure to make an impact this season and an offensive piece in Colby Rasmus who never got out of manager Tony La Russa's doghouse.

"We feel that this deal strengthens us in a number of key areas," said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. "Trades of this nature are never easy to make, but we felt that it was important to solidify a number of areas on our ball club to better position ourselves for what looks to be a highly competitive divisional race."

The Cardinals enter play on Monday 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Brewers and two up on the Pirates and didn't stop after the big deal with the Blue Jays, landing Rafael Furcal from the Dodgers to provide a spark at the top of the order.

Curiously, the Brewers didn't do much but add infield depth with Felipe Lopez and Jerry Hairston Jr. in the wake of an injury to Rickie Weeks, but the Pirates showed they aren't just riding out the good feelings created by their surprising season.

Usually known for being sellers this time of year, the Pirates acquired first baseman Derrek Lee from the Orioles and Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick. While both moves could be viewed as minor as far as impact, it was nice to see Pittsburgh add to its roster for once.

Plus, Lee and Ludwick can't hurt an offense that, like many, sometimes struggles to score runs. Another veteran starter could have really made things exciting in the Steel City, but one step at a time I guess.

"We are pleased to add a quality veteran player like Derrek Lee to our ball club," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "He is an experienced, productive right-handed hitter and solid defender who should add to our team on the field and in the clubhouse."

While the NL Central now seems like it might be the Cardinals to lose, the baseball world may still get a chance to cheer on the Pirates well into September.

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