Philly's Cliff Lee Debacle: Why Ruben Amaro, Jr. Is Not a Corporate Negotiator

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Philly's Cliff Lee Debacle: Why Ruben Amaro, Jr. Is Not a Corporate Negotiator
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

With rumors swirling about the acquisition of perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, Roy Halladay, Phillies fans were salivating at the 1-2-3 punch of Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels and an almost certain bid for a third consecutive trip to the World Series.

It was December 2009, and the hot stove was heating up for a team that had gone from the doldrums of the NL East basement to respectability and perennial playoff contention in the last decade.

The front office had put together a lineup stacked with homegrown talent, free agent acquisitions, and savvy trades that would give the Phillies a three-year window as favorites to play for the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Adding Halladay to an already formidable roster was as close to a sure thing in sports as a GM could hope for.

Then came the sucker punch that knocked the wind out of fans’ souls and left pundits scratching their heads.

There are few outside of the Philadelphia Phillies’ front office who would openly defend the now infamous trade that sent Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners for three prospects last December.

Most analysts and writers immediately panned the trade, although it was made at the same time Roy Halladay was acquired, so the negative reaction was muted.

Although the reason to trade Lee made some logical sense—Ruben Amaro, Jr. cited the need to restock his depleted farm system and the fact that Lee was going to test the open market once he became a free agent in the fall of 2010—it was widely reported that many of MLB’s GMs were not aware that Lee was on the market and that the Phillies could have acquired a much better package for Lee had they performed their due diligence.

Hence, one of the chief rules of negotiation was ignored: Know your market value.

A savvy businessman doesn’t go into negotiations without researching the market, whether it be to determine his own worth if he is negotiating an employment contract or a product’s worth if he is negotiating a sale.

No one can as yet predict the outcome of the trade that netted Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and J.C. Ramirez.

However, one can question the reasoning behind trading a proven top-tier asset without determining his market value by offering his services to multiple teams and letting the laws of supply and demand set the market for the trade.

It was no secret that Halladay was the object of desire for one Ruben Amaro, Jr. Having failed to acquire Halladay at the trade deadline from the Toronto Blue Jays in July of 2009, Ruben had his sights set on adding the pitcher many consider to be the most dominant in baseball.

The media knew it, baseball fans knew it, and most importantly, the Toronto Blue Jays knew it.

What was also important was that Seattle’s GM, Jack Zduriencik, knew that the Phillies were after Roy Halladay and that Amaro was willing to part with Lee should the Phillies be successful in making the trade with the Blue Jays.

As reported in a story on ESPN by Buster Olney, "Zduriencik's interest peaked when Amaro, who had pushed hard to get Halladay last summer, asked Seattle's GM, 'If I'm able to do Halladay, would you be interested in having Cliff Lee ?'"

Here, again, two major rules of negotiation are broken: separating the people from the problem and the use of leverage.

Amaro's obsession with obtaining Roy Halladay had clouded his objectivity. He was acting as a fan rather than a general manager, and his overall objective or goal, winning championships and maintaining a competitive roster, was clouded by his desire to obtain one asset.

At the same time, he lost his leverage in trading Cliff Lee by making it known to Seattle’s GM that he would look to trade Lee once Halladay was acquired. His leverage was further squandered by the aforementioned lack of due diligence in determining market value.

Lastly, it seems incongruous with the Phillies’ current situation to have traded Cliff Lee in order to replenish their farm system. Most of the Phillies’ starters are 30 or older, and there is a general consensus that age and contract status will limit the Phillies to only a few more years of competing at the highest levels before having to rebuild.

Since the opportunity to be competitive enough to play for the World Series only comes so often, one would think that the front office would place as many eggs in this particular basket considering this limited window.

And so here the Phillies are again, approaching midseason in need of another starting pitcher due to inconsistent play from Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick and an extended DL trip for J.A. Happ. Aumont, Gillies, and Ramirez have either been hurt or underperforming thus far and will not be considered as trade chips to acquire a top-tier pitcher before the deadline.

Will Amaro admit his mistake and sacrifice more for Cliff Lee now than he received in return last December, or will the Phillies squander an opportunity for an historic run at another World Series?

Only Ruben knows.

This time he should keep it that way.

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