Post hoc ergo propter hoc.
For all of you who don't own a classics degree or obsessively watch The West Wing , this Latin phrase roughly translates to "after it, therefore because of it."
It means one thing follows the other, therefore it was caused by the other. It's a generality, and it's not always true, but it outlines the intricate relationship between baseball transactions.
Casualty weighs heavily on the minds of baseball general managers this time of year.
The moves some of them made during the off-season have positioned these men as shoppers, scouring the market for bullpen help and left-handed bats to bolster their lineups for the stretch run.
But for others, their mistakes haunt their depth charts and define every single thought that's popped in their brain between July 1st and now. And between now and Saturday, their respective ears will be glued to their Blackberrys trying to undo the ill-conceived waiver claims and free agent signings of last fall.
Today, Ruben Amaro corrected his greatest mistake.
The Phillies general manager traded popular lefty J.A. Happ and two prospects, outfielder Anthony Gose and shortstop Jonathan Villar for the Houston Astros' staff ace Roy Oswalt.
Which pitcher would you rather have pitching for the Phillies down the stretch?
Oswalt comes to Philadelphia after spending his entire career in the Astros' organization. He boasts a career record of 143-82, with a 3.24 earned run average and 1,590 career strikeouts.
On the season Oswalt holds a pedestrian 6-12 record through largely no fault of his own. The Mississippi native still owns a 3.42 ERA for the year, despite ghastly run support including a grand total of two runs scored in his last five starts.
The Phillies move signaled to the rest of the NL this team still considers itself a contender.
"We're trying to do what we can to get back to the World Series and win it," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. told ESPN's Jayson Stark.
Sitting 3 and 1/2 games back of the NL East leading Atlanta Braves, Amaro pulled the trigger while the Phils are riding a seven game win streak and gathering steam for the stretch run.
Jayson Werth is probably staying put and, for now, seems content. World-beater prospect Dominic Brown debuted with two hits in Shane Victorino's place. Victorino, second baseman Chase Utley, and the ageless Jamie Moyer will eventually come off the disabled list. And now Oswalt will team with Roy Halladay to form Roy Squared—the top pitching duo in the NL.
There is no question Amaro made the right call with this deal.
He saw a need and relentlessly hawked Houston Astros GM Ed Wade and and managed to pickpocket $11 million from Astros owner Drayton McClane in the process. He somehow kept prized minor league masher Jonathan Singleton. He shook the Braves' playoff hopes to their core, and Bobby Cox's crew must now fire a return volley and maybe do something not so smart in the process.
All in all, Amaro traded a much loved but over-appreciated young pitcher with No. 2 potential and two unknown quantities for a bonafide stud.
But still, looming over all of this, Cliff Lee's specter taunts the Philadelphia faithful with questions of what-if and sentiments of regret.
There is no question Oswalt will be good in Philadelphia.
The Phillies have the NL's third-highest scoring offense. Oswalt's slider is tailored for pitching against NL East teams. He is striking out batters at a career high rate. He brings a dominate fastball and a plus curveball that will befuddle hitters time and time again.
Amaro's move, however, only rectifies the abysmal shipping out of Lee.
The Phillies traded Cliff Lee for what's looking more and more like 45 cents on the dollar to preempt paying through the nose for him come this off-season. Yes, Lee will command more money than David Montgomery is required to pay Oswalt over the next two years but the Phils must now pay eight players $112 million in 2012.
Unless owner David Montgomery is contemplating opening up the payroll, the financial situation two years from now is untenable.
Ignoring the winter rebuilding plan Amaro just aborted, and the money issue, this decision stings.
The Phillies opened the off-season by winning the Roy Halladay sweepstakes, at the time, putting together a remarkable one-two combination of Halladay and Lee, a complete game accumulating machine with experience against their inevitable World Series foe—the Yankees.
The Phillies were a baseball superpower prepared to kill everyone and conquer the world like Charlemagne.
Then, all went awry and Amaro unceremoniously ushered Lee out of Philadelphia, stranding him in the baseball wasteland also known as Seattle.
They went from downright scary to merely formidable.
So now, Roy Oswalt is to effect as Cliff Lee is to cause. Oswalt is a the Phillies' tender sent out into the storm to repair a gash in the hull that's slowly been sinking this team's title hopes all year.
You can't blame Amaro for trying to correct his mistake. What you can blame him for is his lack of foresight and his wavering vision of this team. In one moment, he saw his team as a contender but one that desperately needed to restock a depleted farm system, rein in its spending, and hedge its bets. Now, Amaro has revised his message—this team is putting everything into winning—a message that runs counter to everything he did since the Halladay deal.
If you lose, you lose. But if you waste opportunity, if you don't do everything you can to win, then you don't deserve to play the game.
Maybe the presence of Cliff Lee on the 2010 Phillies eliminates the need to trade for Roy Oswalt. Still everyone east of the Allegheny can't help but shout, "We could have had all three!"
And it would have been so easy.