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Oswalt a deflection, not redemption, for Amaro

Michael Rushton, MLB Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When Roy Oswalt puts on his Phillies uniform for the first time, he might have to check to make sure it is his name on the back of the jersey rather than what everyone in Philadelphia will be calling him for the rest of 2010.

Will "Not Cliff Lee" even fit on a jersey?

Oswalt has to be excited to go from a last-place club to one that is within arm's-reach of first place in the National League East, a Phillies team coming off back-to-back World Series appearances and figures to be the favorite to get to a third in a row now that they have added Oswalt from the Astros.

What the three-time All-Star won't be a fan of is the position he is in; that of replacing former fan favorite Lee, even if it is seven months after Lee left town. Oswalt can thank Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. for that awkwardness.

Amaro's decision to trade Lee, who was dominant for the Phillies after being acquired from the Indians before last year's non-waiver trade deadline, to Seattle in December was an unpopular one, even if it did get the club its current ace, Roy Halladay, from Toronto in the same four-team deal.

Amaro said that with Halladay, there could be no Lee. Philadelphia had given up too many prospects -- four to Cleveland in the original deal and another three to Toronto for Halladay -- and that shipping off Lee to the Mariners for Phillippe Aumont, Juan Ramirez and Tyson Gillies was designed to keep the team competitive for years to come by restocking the minor league system. He took this stance even knowing that a 2010 rotation of Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels would have been perhaps the best in baseball.

Little has gone right for Amaro since.

Outside of Halladay and Hamels, the Phillies' rotation has been a mess, hindered by underperformance and injury. Joe Blanton has an earned run average just under six and Kyle Kendrick has tortured the Phils with inconsistency. J.A. Happ missed three months due to injury and veteran Jamie Moyer's 2010 season is over due to an elbow injury.


In Roy Oswalt, Ruben Amaro sees redemption for not keeping Cliff Lee.
So you can imagine the uproar when word started to leak out that the Phillies were looking to add starting pitching help, a move that would certainly cost them some of their so-called minor league depth.

Even after Philadelphia acquired Oswalt, a 32-year-old righty with 143 wins and playoff experience, everyone continued to ask the same question: why didn't they just keep Lee?

"We can rehash this if you like," Amaro said on Thursday. "We had negotiations with Cliff. We were not comfortable he would be on our club past 2010. We designed a trade that would not only replenish our farm system, but would give us an opportunity to keep a No. 1 pitcher [Halladay] in our system beyond 2010.

He later added, "[With] this particular trade [for Oswalt], we have the ability under our terms to keep this No. 1 starter in our system not just for 2010, but in 2011 under our terms, and perhaps beyond that."

In Oswalt, Amaro sees redemption for not keeping Lee. In reality, all he has done is put an innocent outsider looking to win a title into the cross hairs of every Phillies fan who wanted to keep Lee.

If Oswalt losses a game 2-1, Lee would have won it 1-0. If Oswalt serves up a home run to center field, it would have been a pop up had Lee been on the mound.

Amaro, and by extension Oswalt, will be deemed failures if the Phillies don't capture their second title in three years. Imagine if Philadelphia battles the very capable Texas Rangers, Lee's new team, in the World Series and loses.

Lee's trade to the Rangers also made Amaro look bad, given the return the Mariners got for the future free agent. While Amaro netted a trio of prospects who have gotten lost in the system this year, the Mariners received Justin Smoak as part of the four-player package. Smoak, the 11th overall pick of the 2008 draft, was rated as Texas' second-best prospect by Baseball America and is already playing in the majors.

In Amaro's defense, the players he sent to the Astros for Oswalt -- Happ and minor leaguers Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar -- aren't going to make Phillies fans weep, especially considering Philadelphia reportedly got $11 million from Houston in the deal to offset some of the cost for Oswalt.

Still, the loss of Happ, a 27-year-old hurler with 12 wins and a 2.98 ERA in 31 career starts, seems to contradict Amaro's idea of young depth for the long haul. Had Amaro kept Lee, he would still have Happ, Hamels and Halladay and could have netted some compensation picks for losing Lee this offseason as a free agent.

What's done is done, however, and Amaro has still gotten himself a player that greatly increases Philadelphia's chances at getting back to the Fall Classic. Amaro just shouldn't expect that the move, in and of itself, constitutes total atonement.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Michael Rushton at mrushton@sportsnetwork.com.

Follow Michael Rushton on Twitter and Facebook.

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