There's little to sleep on at Trade Deadline
Armed with information, executives and scouts rapidly consider proposals, ideas
WASHINGTON -- Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. finally left the hotel suite, where team officials had been exchanging text messages and phone calls with teams and scouts about potential trades for 15 hours, at a little before 5 a.m. ET Tuesday.
He needed to sleep.
"You get a little punchy," Amaro said.
Amaro slept for a little less than two hours, woke up and returned to the suite about seven hours before the 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline. The Phils had moved close to the finish line late Monday on a trade that would send Shane Victorino to the Dodgers, but they still needed to finalize a few things. They also had discussions with the San Francisco Giants about Hunter Pence, although those talks truly heated up when Amaro reconvened in the suite with team president David Montgomery, assistant GMs Scott Proefrock and Benny Looper, director of pro scouting Mike Ondo and director of player development Joe Jordan.
Things move fast in the hours before the Trade Deadline.
They moved remarkably fast for the Phillies, who traded two-thirds of their outfield in an attempt to retool for 2013.
"It's invigorating. It's sometimes frustrating. But it's a fun time," Amaro said. "In this day and age because of texting and e-mail, I probably got 20 or 30 texts in short bursts. And then you'll have a text exchange. Then we'll discuss it. Then we'll throw out an idea. Then we'll throw an idea back at them. You have a give and take. Then it seems like you really have nothing going and two hours later they'll call back, 'Hey, what about this?' You're kicking these things around in the room and calling your scouts to find out their thoughts on a player or how he might fit or whether or not it makes any sense."
A fan's brain would melt upon hearing some of the names and proposals. Amaro said the Phils had a "very, very big opportunity very, very late that was extremely interesting." It did not pan out, but he said it is something they could revisit in the offseason.
"Most of the time we waste is with the ridiculous proposals we make with ourselves," Amaro chuckled. "We talk about that openly with other GMs. The biggest joke is we make more trades with ourselves than anybody else. Hundreds of them. 'I can't believe they don't want this guy! Why wouldn't they want this guy?'"
But sometimes the proposals work like they did on Tuesday. The Phillies traded Victorino to the Dodgers for right-hander Josh Lindblom and Double-A right-hander Ethan Martin, and they dealt Pence to the Giants for outfielder Nate Schierholtz, Double-A catcher Tommy Joseph and Class A right-hander Seth Rosin.
If the trades do what the Phillies hope they do, they will be on their way toward a bounce-back season in 2013. If the players don't pan out and the Phils don't take advantage of the payroll flexibility the trades provided, it could be a critical setback.
The potential ramifications for the Phillies made this Trade Deadline the craziest Amaro has experienced.
"Probably a little bit more because of the decision we made and the long-term decision associated with it," he said. "There were a lot of things to think about -- the fan base and how this would be perceived in some ways, what we're trying to do. We're trying to do what's best for the club, short and long-term."
Information is gold.
Actually, good information is gold. In the weeks and months leading to the Trade Deadline, the Phillies gathered truckloads of information. Ondo orchestrates a schedule to send scouts across the country to get the latest information on players at the Major League and Minor League levels in various organizations.
The executives need to have informed opinions at their disposal if talks heat up with a particular team. They need to know which players to push for and which players to avoid.
"Teams start checking in with each other weeks beforehand and interest starts peaking and you start hearing things," Ondo said.
Those efforts are frequently in vain. Phillies scouts spent plenty of time evaluating the Rangers' farm system when they believed they might have to trade Cole Hamels. But once the Phils signed the left-hander to a six-year, $144 million extension, a trade was no longer a possibility, although they still used their information when they briefly discussed sending Cliff Lee to Texas.
"You spend so much time communicating with the scouts and prepping for different scenarios," Ondo said. "The Deadline is the one time when you get in the room and some of these names we've scouted actually get discussed and brought up and thrown about. The scouts are out there communicating back and forth the entire time, getting opinions. You're asking them to compare people.
"What you try to do is try to move the scouts around in positions where they can get comparable looks on things. If something comes up, you call the two guys who saw the players. Ruben gets to talk with them and ask questions. The next thing comes up and you may get three guys on the line or you might just call one guy. I've got notes and reports. Sometimes you just want to run through it one more time."
Ondo organizes each organization's prospects into three tiers, which is handy when a team calls at the last minute about a trade. Instead of scrambling to figure out the players the Phillies like, Ondo has the answers at his fingertips.
"There aren't any arguments," he said. "We kind of work through the arguments ahead of time. It's just a matter of sorting everything out and getting the combination of players you like."
Of course, it is easier said than done.
Dodgers GM Ned Colletti had been talking with Amaro about Victorino for more than a month. The Giants jumped into the Pence sweepstakes much later.
"Some of these teams don't contact us out of respect for our team, because they think we're still in it," Amaro said. "It's like, 'I'm not going to call and ask about Hunter Pence because he's an important part of the club.' It would be like me calling [Yankees GM Brian Cashman] and asking about CC Sabathia. 'Are you going to move CC?' Cash would go, 'Really, dude?'"
But it wasn't like the Phils were talking only to the Dodgers and Giants about Victorino and Pence. They were talking to the Yankees, Pirates, Reds, Orioles and others, too. They talked extensively with the O's about Blanton, but a trade never materialized because Baltimore did not want to assume the $2.8 million remaining on Blanton's contract. The Reds had interest in Juan Pierre, but nothing happened there, either.
Amaro is constantly checking his phone, sifting through text messages.
Has he ever missed one?
"Yeah," Amaro said. "In fact, there was one that could have had a major impact on us, but as it turns out, it didn't. Sometimes you don't see them pop up. We circled back to that team. It was an interesting discussion, but nothing that would have changed anything."
Amaro records every proposal throughout the process, so the Phillies know what has been offered at different times. That gives them a better sense of the flow of negotiations. Amaro said he heard a little of everything in the hours before the Deadline. He received offers for players he simply had no interest in trading.
Let your imagination run wild on that.
The countless options and scenarios with teams had Amaro and his top lieutenants seeking counsel from a lot of people throughout the process.
"This organization by far communicates with their people in the field better than anybody I've been with," said Proefrock, who has worked for four other teams. "Those guys [scouts] know throughout the course of the year -- the conference calls every week -- they know people are listening and they know they're going to get called when there is a decision to be made. When someone cares about your opinion, you make sure you give them all the information you have. You know it matters."
Amaro speaks regularly with special assistant to the GM Charley Kerfeld and former GM Pat Gillick, the Hall of Famer who remains in the organization as a senior advisor.
"I call Pat for advice all the time, try to pick his brain a little bit, try to give him updates as we get closer and closer to getting things done," Amaro said. "He reminds me about being patient. He reminds me also of the importance of creating flexibility for the club and making sure we're targeting people that can create flexibility for us. And something he's told me, it wasn't something we discussed yesterday, but even little incremental improvements are improvements."
The Phils made incremental improvements in 2008 to win the World Series. They picked up Blanton from Oakland before the Trade Deadline. They got Scott Eyre in a trade with the Cubs and Matt Stairs in a trade with the Blue Jays.
Not one of those moves got Phillies fans excited at the time, but they made an impact in October.
The Phillies and Dodgers reached an agreement on Victorino early Tuesday morning. The deal for Pence was completed a little later.
Upon agreement, the teams exchange e-mails. Then they wait for medical records to be reviewed. Trades generally are buyer beware, unlike free-agent signings when a player will undergo a full medical, which might include a fresh MRI exam. Medical records, particularly at this time of year, have to be reviewed quickly.
Fortunately, Major League Baseball has a centralized computer system that allows easy access to players' medical records. Basically, teams get a code, which unlocks the file for a particular player. In this case, Phils head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan and team physician Michael Ciccotti examine the records and determine the level of risk involved.
No pressure, guys.
"The medicals are a very, very difficult process," Amaro said. "This year, more than any year, we had issues with medicals. We had some deals with other players that we just didn't feel comfortable with medically. Trades had to be adjusted. That's why we don't sleep."
Once the medicals are approved, the Phillies send an e-mail to the Commissioner's Office if there is cash involved, which was the case with the Pence deal. Once the Commissioner approves the money involved, the trade is entered into the system and the other team accepts it. It is then kicked back to MLB for final approval.
The news reports about Victorino and Pence had been flying by that point, but not until the final e-mails started being exchanged did Amaro call Victorino and Pence to inform them.
Amaro also called Phils director of team travel and clubhouse services Frank Coppenbarger at about 10:30 a.m. to inform him of potential deals for Victorino and Pence. They were not finished, but Amaro wanted to give Coppenbarger a heads up.
A short time later, Amaro texted him the cell-phone numbers of Lindblom and Schierholtz so he could contact them about their travel arrangements to Philadelphia.
Coppenbarger also needed to figure out what uniform numbers they would wear. Lindblom wore No. 52 with the Dodgers, but that is Jose Contreras' number, despite the fact his season is over because of an injured right elbow. Coppenbarger offered Lindblom a few choices before he settled on No. 43. That was Triple-A Lehigh Valley right-hander Phillippe Aumont's number in Spring Training, but he has not reached the big leagues yet.
"We'll come up with something else when he comes up," Coppenbarger said of Aumont.
Schierholtz wore No. 12 with the Giants, but indicated he wanted a change. Basically, No. 8 (Victorino), No. 3 (Pence) and No. 25 (Jim Thome) were off-limits through the end of the season as a token of respect for those players' accomplishments in Philadelphia.
Schierholtz settled on No. 22.
The 4 p.m. ET Deadline passed without any other deals, although the Phillies were talking to teams until the end. They eventually exited the suite and made their way to Nationals Park for that night's game.
"It's an adrenaline rush for you," Proefrock said. "I got an hour and a half sleep. I didn't even think about it. ... We're always working to get better, and this is sort of the culmination of that. The circumstances of this were certainly different than in the past, but the end result is still to make the team better, whether it's the long-term or short-term."
It might take a year or two to know how much these trades benefited the organization.
In the short-term, get some sleep.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.