Halladay and Lee – The Verdict

So by now i’m sure you’re all wondering why the hell i’ve been silent when it comes to the “big trade” or, I should say, the “big tradeS.” One, the blog is only 2 days old (ha!). But two, I wanted to wait until the deal was official and I heard the press conference before weighing in on the subject.  To recap (for those of you who don’t follow baseball or have been living under a rock the last week and a half), my Phillies have traded their big studly acquisition (and postseason god) from last season, Cliff Lee, to Seattle while simaltaneously acquiring the man most observers believe to be the best pitcher in all of baseball, Roy “Doc” Halladay.  The complete breakdown of the various trades looks like this:

Phillies get:

Roy Halladay RHP (from Toronto)

6 Million Dollars (from Toronto)

Phillipe Aumont RHP(from Seattle)

Tyson Gillies OF (from Seattle)

Juan (J.C.) Ramirez RHP (from Seattle)

Seattle gets:

Cliff Lee LHP (from Phillies)

Toronto gets:

Kyle Drabek RHP (from Phillies)

Travis d’Arnaud C (from Phillies)

Brett Wallace 1B/3B (from Oakland)

Oakland gets:

Michael Taylor OF (from Phillies via Toronto)

9 players, 4 teams, and 6 million bucks.  Wow.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a trade like this in ANY sport in my entire life.  Yes, the Herschel Walker deal had a lot of moving parts, but there were only 2 teams involved and unlike this trade (which involves 2 of the top 10 best pitchers in the entire league) there wasn’t a second player directly involved in that trade that was on the same level as Walker (I know Dallas eventually got Emmitt Smith, Alvin Harper, and Darren Woodson as a result, but spare me – it’s not the same).  I’ve got a ton to say about this from the Phillies perspective but first I’m gonna go through the other teams.


The A’s end up with the second best OF prospect in the Phillies’ system almost as a throwaway.  The Phillies rated Taylor slightly below Dominic Brown because he’s older and they think Brown has more upside.  Taylor’s a masher with good speed who will probably make the big club and continue the A’s approach of trying to win with young talent.


They get the guy they’ve wanted since last summer in the person of Kyle Drabek.  Scouts seem to be torn about whether he’s a future legit number one starter or more of a two/three but either way, they get the clear number one pitcher in the entire Phillies’ farm system.  I don’t know much about d’Arnaud other than that he’s young and will provide some depth at catcher.  They traded Taylor for Wallace (who’s noteworthy because he was the main prospect at the center of the Matt Holliday deal last summer) b/c they intend to shift him to first base and that way they’ll get more offense out of their infielders.

Toronto HAD to make this move and had to do it now.  Halladay’s value was only gonna decrease as the season wore on, so their new GM Alex Anthopolous made the wise decision to make the move rather than let Halladay walk for 2 draft picks at the end of the year.  It’s always hard to part with a guy of Halladay’s caliber but it seems like he got just about as much as he could.  If Drabek turns out to be a legit number one, then Anthopolous will look like a genius.  Even if he ends up as more of a two or a three, at least they got an eventual major league caliber pitcher as well as two other pieces when all is said and done.  Minnesota didn’t do this well when they traded Santana so I’d say that for his first big move, Anthopolous did pretty well.  Fans of the Blue Jays (are there any left?) will be miserable, but what can you say? That’s the business.


I think they’re actually the biggest winners in the deal.  They gave up fewer prospects for Lee than the Phillies did last July and now they can send Lee and Felix Hernandez to the mound 2 out of every 5 days.  They didn’t give up any major league players and Lee will be highly motivated (not only is it his contract year, but he’s probably secretly pissed that the Phillies gave up on him so quickly).  Couple this move with the Chone Figgins signing and Seattle has gotta be the clear cut favorite to win the AL West right now.  They probably still need another bat but given how many pieces the Angels have lost this division is there for the taking.  In fact, Hernandez and Lee may be the best 1-2 punch in the entire major leagues. And they got that for 3 prospects? That’s HUGE.  Even if Lee walks after the season they have a real shot to contend this year and will at least come away with 2 draft picks for him. 

The Phillies

Where to start? Last July if you had told me I could have 3 dominant months of Cliff Lee, Ben Francisco, 4 YEARS of Roy Halladay, and 3 new prospects in exchange for only 7 prospects, I would have said yes faster than it takes Usain Bolt to run 100M. Plus Philly GM Ruben Amaro even got Toronto to pick up $6 million of Halladay’s salary, so he won’t cost the team anymore money this year than Lee would have.  If you only look at it like that, then you had to make this deal.

Far as the prospects go…who knows?  Opinions that I’ve read don’t seem to be overly enamored with them but at least Amaro was able to replenish the farm somewhat.  Now instead of having lost 7 prospects, they only lost 4.

As far as Halladay goes…he’s widely considered to be the best pitcher in all of baseball.  He’s 32 years old and in the prime of his career.  He’s a ground ball pitcher (perfect for Citizens’ Bank Park) and logs a ton of innings.  He leads the majors in complete games over the last four seasons with 44 (over 20 more than the next guy).  In addition, he became that dominant while pitching in the AL East to the likes of Jeter, A-rod, Manny, Teixeira, Pena, Longoria, Damon, Matsui, and Ortiz.  There’s no denying this guy’s talent.  Philadelphia will fall in love with him just like they did Lee.  He’s not a huge strikeout guy, but he’s a bulldog with an unquestioned work ethic who likes to start and finish games all by himself.  He’ll definitely provide lots of days off for the bullpen too.  Now that he’s moving to the National League and will get to feast on the likes of the Mets, the Nationals, the Reds, the Marlins and the Pirates, his stats should only get more impressive.  While 30 wins is probably unrealistic, 25 is not entirely out of the question.  Hell, I’d even say it’s legitimately within reach.  Not only that, he’s been dying to come to Philadelphia and he proved this by signing an extension for what was slightly less than market value.  All of those things make him a huge get for the Phils. 

Still, I have my reservations…

1) The Cliff Lee Hangover – Lee was utterly dominant for the Phils last year and seemed to take an even bigger leap in the postseason.  He worked fast, kept the players engaged on the field, and attacked the hell out of opposing hitters.  He fit right in with the clubhouse and the city of Philadelphia fell in love with his demeanor, his work ethic and his effectiveness.  Now it’s very likely that Halladay will be all of those things as well.  However, although Lee was only here a short while, he will be sorely missed, and on the days when Doc doesn’t have his best stuff, people will (stupidly, mind you) be calling for Cliff Lee.


2) The Hamels Situation – Cole Hamels sucked last year.  There’s really no way to sugarcoat it.  A victim of his own success in 2008, he showed flashes of brilliance last year but they were few and far between.  Things really came to a head in the playoffs when he was seen sulking regularly, pouting on the mound, upstaging Chase Utley, and then whining about how he couldn’t wait ‘til the season was over.  For whatever reason, Cole had an off year.


Now I truly believe Amaro doesn’t make BOTH moves if he wasn’t SUPREMELY CONVINCED Hamels will bounce back this year.  I personally thought having Lee around would’ve helped Cole.  Lee’s a lefty who goes right after the hitters, works quickly, and even when he didn’t have his best stuff, he never let it affect him for too long. His focus was incredible and by quickly becoming the number one guy, he took some pressure off Cole.  But things never materialized the way I thought they would.  Maybe Lee came in too late or didn’t feel right mentoring Hamels or maybe they just didn’t bond all that much.  Who knows?  This is all pure speculation on my part but Cole never seemed to get anything out of watching Lee.


Enter Roy Halladay.  If I’m Amaro, I tell Hamels to get his ass to Florida to hang with Halladay as soon as friggin’ possible.  If the Phils are to make it back to the Series this year, they NEED Cole to at least approach his 2008 form.  Who better to learn what it takes to get to the “next level” than the guy who’s reputed to have the best work ethic of any pitcher in the game right now?  Cole has plenty of talent for sure.  But anybody can have one great season.  To truly make your mark on the game of baseball requires more than just talent.  Halladay has proven year in and year out he has what it takes and hopefully he can impart some of his knowledge onto young Mr. Hamels.  If Cole swallows his pride, learns from the master, and comes back ready to kick ass, there’s no telling how good they can be together.  If Hamels has a repeat of last season, he may not finish the year as a Phillie.


3) Why not keep Halladay AND Lee?? – That’s the question on everybody’s lips.  The obvious answer is money.  Keeping them both (and factoring in Joe Blanton’s pending arbitration raise to roughly $8 million) would probably have raised the team’s payroll to somewhere around $160 million.  While that would’ve put the Phils in the top 5 teams payroll-wise, that’s still a far cry from the Yankees and the Red Sox.  Plus, seeing as the home games sell out all the time and the Phillies are one of the more popular teams on TV, it does seem a little strange that they would’ve completely balked at this idea.


But while Amaro would never come out and say it, it seems as though the team simply didn’t want the payroll to get that high.  Obviously, the higher the payroll the less the profits, and now that the team seems to be solvent after years of mediocrity and shoddy attendance, they aren’t about to risk that. For the record, Amaro did say at the press conference he could have afforded Halladay AND Lee and that finances played no part in trading Cliff Lee.  Believe that if you want to.  I don’t.


4) Was trading Lee REALLY only a baseball decision?? – Though Ruben Amaro’s answer would be yes, as I just said, I’m not buying that and I don’t think anyone else is either.  The first question you have to ask is did Lee really want out of Philadelphia?  The quick answer is no, of course not.  I think Lee was very happy here and was probably looking forward to a whole year in the National League to help boost his stock for his upcoming payday. Lee’s agent would even have us believe that he was willing to consider an extension and that the Phils blindsided them with the trade.  Nobody’s buying that either.  However he did it, Lee made it clear that he was gonna test the market, and once he did that, he had to know what the consequences of that act were gonna be.


The Phils have only recently become a profitable operation and a hot ticket.  Success and all the spoils that come with it (i.e. the opportunity to spend lots of money and acquire talent) is still relatively new to them and they’re bound to be cautious. If Lee had signed an extension, Halladay is not a Phillie right now.  Plain and simple.  But everything I’ve read says that not only was Lee determined to test the market after this year but that he was looking for CC Sabbathia type money.  Maybe that’s the case, maybe it’s not.  But once Amaro got the sense that Lee might walk after this year, he had to act.  So he went out and got the one guy who was not only available, but who most people believe is slightly better than Lee in the form of Roy Halladay.  The kicker, of course, was that Halladay was not only willing to sign an extension, but he was willing to meet the Phils’ terms when it came to the length of said extension.  By doing so, he was able to save the Phils some money in the future.  Not only that, but because Toronto is picking up $6 million worth of his salary for this year, he will cost the Phillies EXACTLY what they would have paid Cliff Lee.


With Halladay in the fold, and knowing that the closer a pitcher gets to free agency the harder it is to get anything for him, Amaro was then able to spin Lee to Seattle for 3 prospects.  Flashy? No.  Disappointing? Slightly.  Could he have done better? Probably not.  So now, rather than go into the offseason with no stud pitchers under contract and ending up in a bidding war with the Yankees and the Red Sox over Halladay AND Lee (which they might have lost), the Phils now have Halladay under contract for 4 years and a somewhat replenished farm system to boot (not to mention the obvious added benefit of shedding Lee’s $9 million salary).  Although Amaro said at Halladay’s press conference that trading Cliff Lee was solely a baseball decision, the truth is that it was a shrewd business decision disguised as a baseball decision.


My Final Thoughts

1) Ruben Amaro has Big Hairy Cojones

Say what you want about the trades but there’s no denying that Amaro is certainly willing to make some deals.  In only his first year on the job, he’s proven to be the ballsiest general manager the Phillies have had since Dallas Green and possibly one of the sharper GM’s in all of baseball.  While the jury won’t have a final verdict on these deals anytime soon, there’s no denying that when he thinks he has the chance to improve the team, he goes out and does it.  After the debacle that was the Ed Wade years, Pat Gillick came in, stabilized the organization and built a foundation.  In the process, he was also in the midst of training his protégé: Ruben Amaro.  There was a time when Gillick was thought to be one of the more shrewd and daring GM’s in the entire game and clearly he has passed on some of his moxie to his prize pupil.  As none of Amaro’s major moves have really backfired so far, there’s no reason to start doubting him now.  In Ruben We Trust?  Yeah, I guess so. 

(For what it’s worth, I would’ve bit the bullet and put Lee and Halladay together for one year.  Are the Phillies better today with Halladay than they were last week with Lee? Slightly, yes.  I absolutely believe that Halladay will do great things in the National League.  But if I were Amaro, I would’ve kept Lee, let him walk at the end of the year and taken the 2 draft picks.  Sure, it would’ve thinned out our farm system, but that would’ve been a chance I was willing to take.  A year of Halladay and Lee fronting our rotation coupled with the current lineup could’ve set records.  If I wanted to shed payroll or pick up a prospect, I could’ve traded Blanton and his $8 million salary. But I’m content to see how this thing plays out.  Amaro’s track record is impeccable right now so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt)


2) Welcome to the Golden Age of Philadelphia Sports


Much has been written about the 25 year Championship drought that the Phillies so graciously ended in 2008.  In fact, until last year, I’d seen 2 Philadelphia teams win championships in my entire lifetime – the 1980 Phillies (when I was 1 ½ years old) and the 1983 Sixers (when I was 4).  Needless to say, I don’t remember those.  But I do remember the Flyers losing in 1987 and 1997, the Sixers losing in 2001, the Phillies losing in 1993, and of course the Eagles losing in 2004.  My entire sports loving existence was marred by ineptitude and failure on any number of levels and the inability of my hometown teams to sustain any kind of success.  Even those teams I just mentioned got to the championship with a lotta luck and only a little bit of talent (The Flyers had Hextall playing off his rocker in ’87 and Lindros doing the same in ’97, the ’01 Sixers consisted of Allen Iverson and not much else, the ’93 Phils were a bunch of misfits and crazies that got by mostly on grit and determination as opposed to talent, and the ’04 Eagles had T.O. and played some crap teams in the NFC playoffs)


But guess what?  The tide has turned.  The last several years have seen sustained success from the Flyers (though things are ugly at the moment they remain a playoff team every year and continue to attract free agents), the Eagles (Andy Reid has won over 100 games in the last decade and though he hasn’t yet won the big one, having a competitive team year in and year out sure beats the alternative) and yes, the Phillies (back to back World Series appearances and the destruction of the aforementioned 25 year championship drought).


The Roy Halladay signing should help cement Philly’s legacy as a top notch free agent destination.  The best pitcher in the entire sport WANTED TO COME TO PHILLY.  When’s the last time the top position player in his sport had Philadelphia as his top choice of where to spend the prime of his career?  Um, never.  But beginning with Jim Thome and Peter Forsberg a few years ago, athletes have begun to realize that winning in Philly is unlike winning anywhere else.  Thanks to the aforementioned teams and their success, Philadelphia has become as attractive a destination for free agents as any city in the entire U.S. No, we don’t have the weather or the beaches of Miami and L.A., and we don’t have the glitz and glam of New York, but you know what we do have? We have the most passionate and loyal fan base of any city in the entire country.  Thankfully, the people that run our teams finally seem to understand that and seem dedicated to the idea of maintaining that success.  It’s not fair to the city to have one great year followed by several years of ineptitude.  This city deserves better and guess what?  We’re finally getting it.  No, we won’t win every year and things won’t be as rosy as they are right now.  But the lows will never again be quite as low as we once knew.  This is as tough a town as you’ll find anywhere on the map, but for those who succeed, success here is unlike success anywhere else.  Success here is everlasting.


Welcome home, Roy.









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