Ruben Amaro Jr. either stepped into an enviable or unenviable position in November, when the Phillies named him Pat Gillick's replacement as general manager. Enviable because the Phillies had just won the World Series and looked strong enough to have a chance to win more titles in the near future. Unenviable because eventually there is only one way to go when a team is on top -- down.
But after less than a year on the job, Amaro's two predecessors give him high marks. Amaro signed Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Jayson Werth, Ryan Madson, Greg Dobbs and Jamie Moyer to multiyear contracts in the offseason. He signed Scott Eyre and Chan Ho Park to one-year deals. He replaced Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez in left field. He took a gamble and signed right-hander Pedro Martinez to an incentive-laden one-year contract in July, despite the fact Martinez had not thrown a pitch in the Majors since last September. He made a blockbuster trade July 29 when he shipped prospects Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson and Jason Donald to the Indians for reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco.
"He hit the ground running," said Astros general manager Ed Wade, who hired Amaro as an assistant general manager with the Phillies in 1998. "People do say, 'Well, it's an enviable position to inherit the World [Series] champions.' But with the inheritance comes expectations. You're only as good as your last parade down Broad Street. I think he knew that going in, and I think the way he approached things aggressively is admirable."
The streaky Burrell finished last season a fan favorite, but Amaro cut him loose to sign Ibanez. Burrell has hit .226 with 14 home runs and 63 RBIs in 464 at-bats with the Rays, while Ibanez has hit .275 with a career-high 34 homers and 92 RBIs in 491 at-bats. Ibanez also has been a positive force in the clubhouse.
"Even though Pat did a great job for us in 2008, I think it was time to make a change," said Gillick, who serves as a senior advisor to Amaro. "I don't think Ruben could have picked up anybody -- not only from a production standpoint, but a teammate standpoint -- better than Ibanez."
"There were lots of reasons why people would have emotional ties to a guy like Pat Burrell," Wade said. "But to get Raul Ibanez, I thought showed that the focus was on 2009 and not necessarily basking in the glow of 2008."
Martinez was a low-risk move, but it was a risk. Martinez had not pitched since last season with the Mets, and his arrival in August meant Moyer was demoted to the bullpen. In essence, the Phillies took a shot that Martinez could pitch better than Moyer, understanding it would upset Moyer in the process.
Martinez is 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA in nine starts.
And then there is Lee. A few players applauded Amaro as he walked through the visitors' clubhouse at Chase Field in Phoenix after the trade. The Phillies badly needed rotation help at the time, and Amaro got it.
The Phillies had tried to get right-hander Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays, but Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi wanted top prospects Domonic Brown, Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and J.A. Happ. Amaro balked, and instead sent four lesser prospects to the Indians for Lee and Francisco.
"That not only gave a boost to the fans, but it gave a boost to the players," Gillick said. "I think when that happened, I think the players knew that he was very serious and we were very serious about winning."
Gillick has made his share of trades over the years. He knows how difficult and tricky they can be.
"Sometimes you can't get exactly who you want because you don't want to mortgage too much of your future," Gillick said. "At that time, there were two guys on the radar screen: Halladay and Lee. We thought they could help us. Really, what they were requesting for Halladay, Ruben felt took too much out of our future. Consequently, what we gave up for Lee hurt, but he preserved a lot of the players that we feel are going to make a significant contribution to the club down the line."
Amaro said he would have loved to have done a little more to improve the bench or a bullpen that has been decimated by injuries (Brett Myers, J.C. Romero, Clay Condrey, Park, Eyre and Moyer) and ineffectiveness (Brad Lidge).
"We try to address all the issues," Amaro said. "Sometimes you feel like you haven't done enough. I've talked about the possibility of improving the bench. But just like the bullpen, from year to year, you just don't know how guys are going to perform. It took us a long time to get a right-handed bat for the bench in Francisco. It was a long, arduous process. It was amazing. The fact of the matter is, you've got to hope some of the guys perform back to where they were.
"If you could add more depth in the bench and in the bullpen, I guess I would have loved to be able to do that. But that's living in fantasy world. There were some bullpen arms that were available, but at some point, you've got to make a choice. We probably could have gotten some guys that are out there, but at the time, we felt our biggest need was starting pitching. You just can't mortgage the entire future of your organization."
It has been Amaro's ability to take risks while keeping an eye on the short-term and long-term goals of the organization that has impressed Gillick and Wade the most.
"I think as a general manager, you have to be a good listener," said Gillick, who talks to Amaro at least a couple times a week. "He has been a good listener to the scouts and to the people that are providing the evaluations of talent. If you're a good listener, then you're going to make good decisions. You've got to basically take in the information and then make a decision. I think with the deals that he did make -- Cliff Lee, Ibanez and Pedro -- I think he was listening to the people in the field and made good decisions on the information provided."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.