A year ago, if you had told me that the Phillies would trade for Roy Halladay, and that I, like most Phillies fans, would be a little disappointed about it, I would have never believed you.
Halladay is a star pitcher, formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays. He won the 2003 American League Cy Young Award and is generally considered among the top five pitchers in baseball.
While I am thrilled that the Phillies are gaining his services, I am still slightly disappointed by the team’s actions.
Last year at the trading deadline, when the Blue Jays made it clear that they were open to trading Halladay, the Phillies were thought to be one of the leading candidates. Halladay had a no-trade clause, meaning he could veto any trade. But based on reports, the Phillies met most of his criteria for a trade destination: an East Coast team and a contender, and their Spring Training complex in Clearwater, FL is near his home.
However, Blue Jays J.P. Ricciardi made insanely high trade demands for Halladay that the Phillies would not meet. The Blue Jays were asking for the Phillies' top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek and their top hitting prospect Dominic Brown, as well as pitcher J.A. Happ, who was already a key part of the Phillies' major league roster. It was reported that they wanted some other top prospects included as well.
This trade would have decimated their farm system and hurt their current major league roster.
Wisely, the Phillies balked at those demands, and when the Blue Jays didn’t relent, they decided instead to trade for Cleveland Indians pitcher Cliff Lee. Lee wasn’t as highly regarded as Halladay—although certainly no slouch since he did win the 2008 AL Cy Young Award—and therefore they were able to get him for a much lesser haul of prospects, none of whom looked to be major contributors to the Phillies in the near future.
The deal was a successful one, as Lee was good in the regular season and amazing in the playoffs. Without him, the Phillies probably don’t win the National League and might have been swept in the World Series. Even if Lee had been a free agent after the World Series, it would have been considered a good deal.
Lee is going to be a free agent after the 2010 season, so naturally, the Phillies tried to get him to sign a contract extension. But his agent kept saying that Lee wanted to hit the open market and get the best deal possible. Ace pitchers are hard to come by, and it was likely that teams would be willing to give him a lot of money.
Also, the Phillies do not like signing pitchers to contracts longer than three years (probably a good idea since if you look at pitchers signed to long-term deals, the teams almost always regret it), and it looked like they would have to in order to re-sign Lee. There was the very real possibility that they would lose him to free agency.
Meanwhile, Toronto hired a new GM (Ricciardi was fired, and the nail in the coffin may have been his mishandling of the Halladay situation) and once again made it clear that Halladay would be available. Since it was a season later, the trade demands would be lower.
An added bonus is that if they traded for Halladay, he would probably sign a (slightly) below market extension, meaning that they wouldn’t have to worry about losing or overpaying him after the season.
The Phillies were once again rumored to be the leaders to get Halladay, and Phillies fans began to dream of a pitching rotation led by Halladay, Lee, and Cole Hamels, who despite his troubles last year does have ace material and was the 2008 World Series MVP.
With those three at the front of the rotation, it would be hard to beat the Phillies in a playoff series. (Sure, they’d still have to make the playoffs, but with those three pitchers leading their lineup, probably the only thing that could stop them would be a few major injuries.)
Anyway, word started to spread on Monday that the Phillies were indeed going to trade for Halladay. The euphoria lasted only a few seconds before it was announced that they would then trade Lee to the Seattle Mariners for prospects.
Instead of having two star pitchers at the front of the rotation, they would have only one—and it wouldn’t be the one who had already proven himself to be a postseason star.
Why did the Phillies ruin their fans' dreams of having the best pitching rotation in the majors? There are a few reasons.
First, even though the demands were lower, trading for Halladay still came with a high price. They had to give up Drabek, along with two other highly rated prospects. Combined with the prospects they traded to Cleveland for Lee last season, the Phillies' minor league system had been greatly diminished.
They were able to get three good prospects (although not rated as highly as the ones they gave up) from the Mariners in exchange for Lee.
Probably the more crucial reason they traded Lee was because having both Lee and Halladay in the rotation would have cost the Phillies too much money in payroll.
When the subject comes to money, Phillies fans always get a bit edgy. The team has long been perceived as being cheap and unwilling to spend money on premium free agents. Fans blame the team’s cheapness for why they spent so many years without making the playoffs.
This is only partially true. The Phillies did give decent contracts to players in the '90s, only it often gave them to the wrong ones (Gregg Jefferies for example). The bigger reason why the team wasn’t any good was because their minor league system never produced any good players. Still, the Phillies often claimed that they didn’t have enough money to truly compete for the best free agents available.
As the decade turned, the Phillies began to build a new stadium, which would provide them with much more revenue than their old one. Ownership claimed that they would use this added income to build a better team—and they actually lived up to their word. After years of not going after the biggest names on the market, suddenly they were signing expensive players like Jim Thome and David Bell.
Anyone who follows baseball knows that sports economics are a bit messed up. Smaller market teams essentially serve as feeders for the larger market teams. Teams in the smaller markets are essentially forced to trade star players before they hit free agency, because they know that once they become free agents, they’ll never be able to afford them.
This is essentially why players like Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay were available. Their teams wanted to get something for them instead of watching them walk away for nothing.
For years, the Phillies had been one of the teams that traded away their stars. Early in the decade, they essentially gave away Scott Rolen and Curt Schilling and then watched them win the World Series on other teams. So for Phillies fans, it was a very nice change of pace to have them as one of the big market teams that can take advantage of this.
Except maybe Phillies fans got a little too caught up in things, because it caused them to forget something:
They ain’t the Yankees.
There are small market teams, and then there are big market teams—and in a category all by themselves are the New York Yankees.
The Yankees are dangerous because they have, by far, the most money and the willingness to spend whatever it takes to win. Last year, when CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira were free agents, the Yankees were able to sign them both simply by blowing everyone else away.
(Yankees fans can feel free to mention that those players also signed due to the Yankees' championship-level core and the desire to play in New York, but really, in the end, money talks and BS walks.)
If the Yankees were in this situation and had the chance to obtain both Halladay and Lee, knowing that it would give them a great shot at another world title, would they have done it? Yes, I think they would have.
To the Phillies' credit, it clearly wasn’t all about money. They could have pretty much given away Joe Blanton, since his salary is similar to Lee’s this season, and he will also be a free agent after the season. But while Blanton is a good mid-level starting pitcher, they wouldn’t have gotten nearly the quality of prospects they received for Lee.
Of course, had they not signed Jamie Moyer to a two-year contract before last season, they’d also have more money available. (I like Moyer, but even before last season it was questionable how much he had left. Signing him to a two-year deal seemed a bit too much.)
The funny thing is, if you had gone a year back in time and asked Phillies fans, “If you won another pennant and then went into the following season with Roy Halladay, would you be happy?” I think everyone would have given a resounding YES! But once the dream of “Halladay AND Lee” entered their minds, then only having one of them became a huge disappointment.
On the surface to Phillies fans, here’s what it looks like: They got rid of their ace pitcher (a postseason hero at that) for a different ace pitcher. In doing so, they gave up a lot of minor league prospects that they’ve been hearing so much about.
Part of the problem is that as fans of a baseball team, you not only become attached to the players on the roster, you also become attached to the prospects. Teams love to tout the “hot prospects” they have brewing in the minor leagues.
Last year, when the Phillies were first talking about trading for Halladay, we heard all this talk about how good guys like Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor were going to be. While counting on prospects is a bad idea (there are thousands of “can’t miss” prospects who missed and missed badly), when you hear so much hype about them, it’s only natural to get excited.
While they may have gotten some prospects back from Seattle in exchange for Lee, it’s tough for Phillies fans to get that excited about them. They’ve been hearing about how great Drabek and Taylor are going to be. They haven’t heard anything about Phillippe Aumont or Tyson Gillies because they’ve been in the Seattle system.
In reality, it isn’t like the Phillies are in a bad situation. Sure, they have traded a lot of prospects, but keep in mind that the prospects traded last season already helped them earn a National League pennant.
More importantly, they now have one of the best pitchers in baseball (ultimately, most people think he’s even better than Cliff Lee) under their control for the next few seasons, while they were probably only going to get one more season out of Lee.
While the prospects they traded away may develop into stars, you have to ask who will help the Phillies more in the next three years: the prospects or Roy Halladay? I’ll take my chances with Halladay.
As it stands now, the Phillies will go into next season as the favorites to win the National League once again. If they had kept Lee, they would have been an overwhelming favorite, but it might have left their minor leagues even more barren than they are now.
While that may seem like a small concern, keep in mind that injuries happen, and it’s nice to be able to replenish the roster from the minor leagues or possibly use those minor leaguers to make a trade. After all, you never know when a small market team will be looking to trade away one of their players.
Of course, they might get outbid on that player by another team, maybe even the Yankees. Because if there’s one thing that 2009 has taught me, it's that while the Phillies are good, they ain’t the Yankees.
This article originally published on my blog: http://thecutterrambles.wordpress.com