PHOENIX - Infielder Adrian Cardenas was the Phillies' second-best prospect going into last season, according to Baseball America. And lefthander Josh Outman was ranked fourth.
Neither was on the list this year. And there's a good reason for that. Both were traded, along with outfielder Matt Spencer, to the Oakland A's for righthander Joe Blanton last July.
At the time, the deal wasn't greeted with a hearty round of applause by the phandom. Some were underwhelmed by Blanton, clinging desperately to the CC Sabathia fantasy. Others were concerned at the amount of talent the Phillies parted with.
None of that matters anymore. Blanton didn't lose a game wearing a Phillies uniform and even hit a big home run to help clinch the world championship. You might have read about it. It was in all the papers.
No matter what happens now, then, the Phillies have earned some immunity from second-guessing for that deal. Please direct all complaints to that big, shiny trophy with all the gold flags on it.
Still, life goes on. So Cardenas, a nonroster invitee to big-league camp, and Outman, vying for the fifth spot in the rotation, are working out at the Papago Park Baseball Complex these days. Spencer will report with the rest of the minor leaguers next month.
Cardenas, 21, acknowledged last week he was a little surprised to hear he had been traded.
"But the bottom line is that you look above you and you see that they've got great players like [Chase] Utley and [Jimmy] Rollins and you kind of wonder where you fit in," he added. "It's always in the back of your head. Even if Utley and Rollins weren't there, there's always talk about trades. It's part of the business I guess."
The 24-year-old Outman, on the other hand, saw the move as a lifeline.
"I'm extremely happy being with the A's. I think it was the best thing that ever happened to me in my career, because I feel like I had kind of leveled off in the Philadelphia system," he said. "I don't know if it was true or not, but it was just kind of a feeling I got, that I had reached my maximum there.
"So coming over here was like a breath of fresh air. I didn't feel like the [Phillies] organization had anything against me. It was just getting a little demoralizing being stuck in Reading, because I thought I had pitched well enough to at least get the chance to prove myself in [Triple A] Lehigh Valley."
Athletics assistant general manager David Forst said Oakland zeroed in on the players they wanted from the start.
"Adrian was certainly a guy who was on our radar," he said. "We saw him a lot in high school and our scouts had always thought very highly of him. And then, giving up a starting pitcher, we knew we wanted to get an arm back in the deal. Outman was a guy who was pitching well at the time. We saw him in the Eastern League All-Star Game, and he was always a guy our scouts thought could go back to being a starter because of his repertoire. So those were two of the first guys we asked about."
Cardenas first reported to Class A Stockton and then ended the season at Double A Midland. Outman eventually made it all the way to the big leagues, going 1-2 with a 4.56 earned run average in six games, four of them starts.
"I think Josh did a great job at the end of last season," Forst said. "We got a chance to look at him in the big leagues, and he's certainly in competition for the fifth starter's spot right now. If he doesn't win that job, he's always an option to pitch out of the bullpen for us.
"Adrian made the jump to Double A last year and held his own. I expect he'll start back in Midland this year. We played him at shortstop and he was fine. We'll probably leave him there for the time being, although I think his future is probably either at second or third. Our staff is very happy with his offensive approach and the fact that he handled shortstop well, having not played there since high school."
Spencer batted .333 with a .936 OPS at Stockton after the deal.
Phillies minor leaguers are required to be cleanshaven and wear their pants high. When Cardenas got to Stockton, the players were having a contest to see who could grow the best facial hair. And he immediately started wearing his pants down.
Said Outman: "The main thing is, the rules in the organization are different. Not that one's better or worse. Just different organizations, different set of rules, different air in the clubhouse."
Both players said they watched the World Series. Outman described the feeling as "bittersweet," although he was happy for his friends on the team. Cardenas had an interesting take, that in some way he had contributed by being traded for Blanton.
"That made it all worth it," he said. "Because it's like, 'Who did I get traded for? Oh, Blanton.' I had never seen him throw, so it was great to see him throw that well. And I was like, 'Well, you know what? It's great that the Phillies thought that much of me and ultimately it worked out and gave them a chance to win the World Series.' " *