Ruben Amaro Jr. Is Smarter Than You

And pretty much everyone in Major League Baseball and the city of Philadelphia

Over the weekend, Ruben Amaro Jr. brought Hunter Pence to Philadelphia. He did so at a time when Pence was the most sought-after bat for all teams that qualified as buyers at the deadline. He did so without parting with 23-year-old future-of-the-Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown. He did so while holding onto 23-year-old surprise-of-the-team and new fan favorite the Vanimal. And he managed to stay under Major League Baseball’s luxury tax mark.

But this shouldn’t startle Philly’s faithful, because stunts like that have been more common during Amaro’s tenure than training montages in a Rocky film. The deal wasn’t the masterpiece to end all masterpieces, but it was an impressive improvement that Philly will benefit from for years. If he were Helmut Jahn, that move would be One Liberty Place.

Amaro turned Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Lou Marson and Jason Donald into Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco. Then he turned Cliff Lee, Kyle Drabek, Travis D’Arnaud and Michael Taylor into Doc Halladay, Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont, Juan Carlos Ramirez and $6 million. Oh, and then he went out and signed Cliff Lee.

He declined a club option on Pedro Feliz to go out and bring Placido Polanco back to town. He signed Raul Ibanez as a free agent to replace the departing Pat Burrell and has re-signed Hamels, Howard, Victorino, Ruiz, Blanton, Contreras and Charlie Manuel. Amaro’s best move thus far might not have even been a trade or a free agent—on February 27, 2009, he announced that the Phillies were releasing Adam Eaton.

The Phillies have the most dominant pitching staff in baseball. Now, the team’s much-maligned hitting seems to be coming around just when it counts. What’s more, the team has—for the first time in my lifetime—a potent lineup with a legitimate hitter at the five spot. And we have Ruben Amaro Jr. to thank for it.

Forget giving him a key to the city—let’s set him up in a corner office at City Hall and have him tackle the budget crisis. Let’s get him to sit down with Mayor Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey to figure out this flash-mob atrocity and have him pilot the duck boats—ya know, just to be safe. We can have him oversee construction of the Central Delaware River Master Plan and implementation of the potential SEPTA smartcard system. While he’s at it, maybe he could take a brief look at the Orchestra’s financial documents.

If Arlene Ackerman was half as effective at her post there wouldn’t be a need to talk about her every day. Of all the people who work in Philadelphia, it’s hard to imagine anyone would have a higher approval rating than the Phillies general manager.

Amaro’s tenure—thus far—has far exceeded all of the fans’ expectations. After nearly a decade of free-agent busts, no-trade clauses and 80-some-win seasons under Ed Wade, every day is a great day under the new regime. It feels like the team is constantly improving without overpaying for anyone in terms of money or prospects. And—dare I say—this team feels destined to mow a path through the rest of the 2011 season.

The Phillies had the best record in the Bigs before this weekend’s blockbuster deal. Now, there’s no doubting who the league’s top team is. Last night the Phils put another full game between them and the Braves in the race for the NL East title. If this were Mortal Kombat, the Braves’ legs would be stationary as their upper body oscillated involuntarily. Finish them.