His puffy eyes tinged with red and blurriness gave it away that Ruben Amaro Jr. had not slept much lately. If his appearance wasn’t a giveaway to how little he’d been sleeping, his voice did. No, his words weren’t quite slurred together, but they weren’t exactly robust, either.
No, Amaro wasn’t commiserating the one-year anniversary of the acquisition of Cliff Lee, which, coincidentally, was Thursday. Those no more lamenting the one that got away since it’s not unfair to suggest that the team’s starting staff is stronger now than it was then.
Instead, the Phillies general manager had to be thinking about the few mornings of extra sleep-in time based on his work transforming the Phillies’ starting rotation. Actually, Amaro just didn’t transform the Phillies’ rotation. No, that’s far too tame. Instead, those sleepless nights could result in the Phillies going to battle over the next two seasons—and possibly the season after that—with a top of the rotation that rivals any put together in team history.
See, from here on out the Phillies have three aces, a veteran wild card and fifth starter that performs along the lines of which a fifth starter should. In fact, if the Phillies get into the playoffs for a fourth year in a row, there is no team in the National League that can match up with their top three.
Seriously, what team wants to face Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and the new ace, Roy Oswalt, over a five or seven game series? Sure, those are just names on paper and the game is, as pointed out by Amaro, played by human beings.
As far as that goes, with Thursday’s acquisition of Oswalt, the humans assembled by Amaro just might be the best trio ever to wear a Phillies’ uniform.
Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt? More like electric chair, lethal injection and firing squad.
After the 1916 season where Grover Cleveland Alexander (33 wins), Eppa Rixey (22) and Al Demaree (19) combined for 74 wins, the next best starting trio in team history was on the 1977 club that got 53 wins from Steve Carlton (23), Larry Christenson (19) and Jim Lonborg (11) on the way to a 101 win season and an early exit in the playoffs. The World Champion 1980 club got 52 of their 91 wins from Carlton (24), Dick Ruthven (17) and Bob Walk (11) with no club coming close since.
What does that mean now that the Phillies have Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt, three All-Stars and perennial Cy Young Award candidates?
“I think it’s time for them to go pitch and win,” Amaro said.
That shouldn’t be a problem considering the Phillies’ penchant for scoring runs and the fact that the Philly Big Three are hitting their prime athletic years. Yes, with the addition of Oswalt the Phillies’ budget is pushed to the max. In fact, The Big Three are owed $45.5 million in salary for 2011 on top of the combined $31.5 million owed to Brad Lidge, Raul Ibanez and Jimmy Rollins in the final year of their deals, with the $35 million owed to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley means many more sleepless nights for Amaro as he attempts to figure out how to stretch his dollars.
A baseball roster is like a human body in that if something is wrong with the foot, it could have an effect on the back. Everything is connected, and if that means eight guys are owed a combined $112 million, it’s going to be tough to squeeze in Jayson Werth and/or Chad Durbin when nine other players are owed $38.75 million if J.C. Romero’s option is exercised. That’s more than $150 million with eight spots left open on the roster.
In 2009, only one team spent more than $150 million in player salaries.
Want to guess which team that was?
“This is not easy and it’s not going to happen all of the time,” Amaro said, sounding a lot like a guy who spent way too much money on a really cool car that he wanted. “We don’t have unlimited funds.”
The Phillies have issues, too. For instance, they surely want to bolster the backend of the bullpen with a more efficient closer. They also could use a bat for the bench and a lefty specialist in the ‘pen. They could probably stand a few more seats in the ballpark in order to add on to the revenue from ticket sales, too.
But the bigger question is this…
Is it worth it?
Not since the Braves had Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz has a team in the National League had a top of the rotation as fearsome as the Phillies. The 1971 Orioles got to the World Series (and lost in seven) with four starting pitchers that won at least 20 games. More recently the Oakland A’s had a strong threesome with Tim Hudson, mark Mulder and Barry Zito before they were faced with matching process in free agency.
Heck, even Oswalt was part of a nasty group with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte with the Astros (and Lidge as the closer) that got to the World Series. But for the Phillies? Yes, this is unprecedented.
That ought to make a manager like Charlie Manuel feel lucky, huh?
“I feel lucky every day,” Manuel said about his fearsome threesome. “That’s good. I like it. Five [ace starters] would be good, too. What the hell? I want to be the best.”
With the best starting pitching trio Manuel should be set for a franchise best fourth straight trip to the playoffs and it “sends a message that we’re all about winning,” Manuel said.
Combined, Hamels, Halladay and Oswalt have a Cy Young Award, a pair of NLCS MVP Awards, and a World Series MVP Award, too. Add in the 11 combined All-Star appearances and four 20-win seasons, and clearly the Phillies are stacked.
But it guarantees nothing. In the past the Phillies never won it all with three aces, though to be fair, they never had three studs like Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt before, either.
“I want the most perfect team I can get,” Manuel said.
Tall order. For now he just has the best team Amaro could squeeze in under $150 million.