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With Roy Halladay officially joining the Phillies, the trade could have plusses and minuses

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So I’ve waited the past few days as all the details were sorted out. But now that I’ve just seen some of the press conference announcing Roy Halladay as the newest member of the Phillies, here are my thoughts on “The Trade”: Roy Halladay at his Phillies introductory press conference

The context of the situation aka: Pre-Halladay

1) The Phillies repeated as National League Champions, largely in part to the efforts of Clifton Phifer Lee, who some of this group were disappointed to get at the trade deadline last summer (I’m looking at you, Vallee. And I admit I felt like it was a slight letdown at the time, too. However, I felt better knowing that we basically got Lee without sacrificing any of our “A” list prospects.). No one can dispute Lee’s contribution to last season – I think it’s likely the Phillies would have been bounced from the playoffs early on without him. With him, they came within two wins of repeating as WFC (I think you know what that means....).

2) Ruben Amaro’s off-season wishlist included a third baseman, two to three bench pieces, two to three bullpen pieces, and possibly some starting pitching depth.

a. Third base has been upgraded - Just as he decisively centered on Raul Ibanez last year, Amaro went out and reacquired Placido Polanco. In doing so, he may have overpaid slightly (3 years/$18M). Either way, we saw that the other options are (or will be) even more expensive – Chone Figgins signs a 5-yr deal with Seattle, Adrian Beltre’s seeking $8-10 million a year. Hell, even Pedro Feliz got $4 million from good ol’ Ed Wade in Placido PolancoHouston. All things considered, Amaro made out just fine in this deal, and the team upgraded third base for the next couple of years. I don’t mind the third year for Polanco since the Phils have zero third base prospects in the system right now.

b. The bench has been upgraded – Almost anyone can be an upgrade on Eric Bruntlett, and though Juan Castro isn’t anyone’s idea of a solid bench player, he can capably defend multiple infield positions which is key for since Rollins/Utley/Howard need more rest throughout the year (Chase in particular). Polanco’s Gold Glove-caliber second base defense should also allow more starts for Greg Dobbs at third, which should keep him sharp. Getting Ross Gload  as another lefty option on the bench to fill Matt Stairs' role was a good move (the Phillies now own the best pinch hitters from the last two seasons) and I couldn’t be happier about Brian Schneider as our backup catcher. Schneider's knowledge of NL East hitters will be key, particularly for newcomers like Halladay.

c. Multiple arms in the pen are needed and that will cost some money. Ideally we get someone with closing experience as a plan B for Brad Lidge (or someone with closer-like stuff) and a seventh inning/higher leverage situation guy. Dealings with Scott Eyre and Chan Ho Park haven't really progressed and there might be some new faces in the pen this year, along with a couple of kids (Scott Mathieson, Antonio Bastardo, etc.) worked in throughout the year.

d. Starter depth is fairly thin– Late last year, the Phillies had an embarrassment of riches in the starting department. However, chances are slim that Pedro Martinez returns and now Kyle Kendrick/Jamie Moyer will fight it out for the fifth starters slot. The loser will probably be the long man out of the pen. If someone (uh, Moyer) can’t start the season due to injury or goes down at some point during the year, the Phillies really don’t have much to fall back on. I’ve heard the John Smoltz rumors, but I don’t see that happening (although in theory he’s a good fit if he’s healthy/effective, due to his ability to perform as a starter or reliever). Who will Amaro get as insurance? Will they ride the current group until injury or ineffectiveness arrives, and seek a mid-season acquisition?

3) Looking ahead to 2011, Amaro saw that three fifths of the starting rotation would be lost to free agency (Lee, Blanton, and Moyer) unless he took steps to mitigate that issue ahead of time. He reached out to Lee’s agent in the past couple of weeks and (for better or worse, truth or not) got the impression that Lee wouldn’t agree to sign long-term at any type of discount. I don’t begrudge Lee for wanting to maximize his earning potential via free agency – he’s a late bloomer and hasn’t made (relatively speaking) the mega-bucks that others of his caliber have pocketed in the past. The problem is, the uncertainty of Amaro losing his ace after this year could create a gaping hole to fill going into 2011, compounded by the need for other starting pitching pieces and potential new deals for Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz, Werth etc.

Why “The Trade” is good for the Phillies:

1) Don’t let anyone tell you that Halladay and Lee are equals – it’s just not true. The same reasons we were all slightly disappointed at the Cliff Lee will be missedtrade deadline last year still hold true. Lee has been great for two years now and is a top 10-15 pitcher in all of baseball. However, Halladay is a top five starter across the league and has been so for nearly a decade. The most telling stat: Three of Lee’s twelve regular season starts for the Phillies last year resulted in him giving up five or more runs in six innings or less. Halladay had only one last year, and only three in the last five years. That type of consistency is just unheard of. Even if Halladay's not dominant, he’ll rarely give you a clunker.

2) The team now has an ace for the next four-plus years at less than market value. Those bemoaning the “$20 million a year isn’t a discount” haven’t really looked at the totality of the deal, particularly in light of recent free-agent pitching contracts. C.C. Sabathia is getting $23 million for seven years – all guaranteed money. Johan Santana’s got the same yearly average over the life of his current deal. Tim Lincecum may ask for the same in arbitration, just to make a point. These are Doc’s peers. Don’t try to tell me that John Lackey, A.J. Burnett, etc. (with $17-$18M a year) are the same. They simply don’t even come close to Doc’s value in an open market.

Halladay could have easily received a 5-6 year deal worth $22-25 million annually in guaranteed money. Instead, he is getting $20 million for only three years. However he’ll get a fourth and possibly a fifth year in vesting options for the same price (permitting performance). If you factor in the $6 million Toronto gave to the Phillies to defray Doc’s salary this year, he is only guaranteed an average of $17.44 million annually over the next 4 years ($9.75 million/1-yr and 3 years at $20 million)… how is that not below market value for one of the best pitchers in baseball? If he completely breaks down, (which is unlikely since he’s a fitness freak and has a low-stress array of pitches) it doesn’t become a long-term albatross like Barry Zito’s contract (or Sabathia's, since he’s a big boy whose physique would be more pre-disposed to trouble down the road). There’s zero chance that Lee would have taken those years for that amount of money per year. And yet again, Doc is better than Lee over a longer timespan.

3) Technically, the Phillies gave up “B” prospects to get Lee, and got similar-caliber prospects in return when the team dealt him this week. It’s unfair to compare Kyle Drabek/Michael Taylor/Travis D’Arnaud to Phillippe Aumont/J.C. Ramirez/Tyson Gillies – those are two separate deals. Compare the latter group to Carlos Carrasco/Lou Marson/Jason Donald/Jason Knapp for a better comp. Yes, Cleveland’s haul may be better, but the Phillies got 1.5 years of Lee (at the time) while Seattle basically gets a 1-year rental. The return is appropriate. Maybe not great, but solid. Prospects are always a crapshoot and it’s human nature for fans to over-value their hometown minor leaguers and de-value the prospects of other teams in evaluating trades. Unfortunately it’s going to take prospects like Taylor and Drabek to give you a top pitcher for multiple years. Had we kept Lee for this year and went “all in” for 2010, the Fightins might steam roll over the competition, but then there would be nothing for the future except two draft picks when Lee would walk next year. And perhaps most importantly, the Phillies we’re able to maintain financial flexibility for needed bullpen and starting depth pieces this year without exceeding the ~$140 million payroll budget.

Why “The Trade” might blow up in the faces of the Phillies:

1) The Phillies' farm system isn’t as stocked as it was five months ago. They've lost seven of our top 10-15 prospects and gained three guys that probably fall somewhere between a ranking between 5-15 in our system now. Guys expected to contribute as early as this year (Drabek in a possible bullpen or fifth starter role later this year; Michael Taylor as a bench player this year) are gone. They have now traded away all of their minor league catching prospects except Sebastian Valle. None of the Seattle prospects will in all likelihood be ready for 2-3 years.

2) The team traded a guy who almost single-handedly led them to the World Series 6 weeks ago. It’s natural to develop an emotional connection with ballplayers (particularly when they’re as awesome as Cliff Lee was in the post-season). But baseball isn’t just a game, it’s a business. The Phils felt that it would be cost-prohibitive to re-sign Lee long-term, saw an opportunity to acquire a better replacement in Doc, and went for it. Lee was the unfortunate odd man out in this scenario whether he truly would’ve played hardball on salary talks with the team or not. The reason why I and many fans feel conflicted about the trade is because we like to believe in loyalty, even in spite of the facts. We didn’t like to see Pat Burrell go, but knew deep down that it was the right baseball move. I hope that Doc turns out to be the right baseball move as well. Otherwise, I’ll feel even worse about this trade. I wish Cliff Lee all the best – he’s a class act. I hope that he doesn’t harbor ill will towards us, but I can’t say I’d blame him if he did.

3) The Phillies STILL don’t have all the weapons we need to seriously challenge the Yankees, Red Sox, etc. Halladay can’t be expected to do any better than Lee did in the playoffs in ’09. The real difference will be the rest of our starters stepping up and delivering in a short series (Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ). The bullpen is in serious flux. Halladay might be able to pitch complete games in October, but no one else will.

Ultimately, it comes down to this:

1) We all know that this window of opportunity doesn't last forever. Rather than put all of your bets on 2010, the Phillies extended the window beyond that by securing Doc long-term. If Hamels bounces back to form this year and beyond, we still have a rather formidable top of the rotation. If Dominic Brown ends up as a suitable replacement for either Werth or Ibanez in a couple of years, we have one of our prospects delivering important offensive production in the outfield. Yes, this are some big ifs, but what team doesn’t have these issues?

2) I’m sure that 25- plus other teams’ fans would LOVE to have our “worries” about this trade.

3) The 2010 Phillies are shaping up to be better than the ‘08/’09 versions on paper:

a. Hamels is due to rebound.

b. Lidge can’t possibly be worse in 2010.

c. The starting eight is still in their prime and playing together well.

d. The Phils get Doc for a full season (rather than Lee’s ½ year appearance last year).

e. Ben Francisco is the team's fourth outfielder for a full year.

f. Their third baseman won’t ground out weakly to the left side all the time, on the first pitch.

g. Their lefty pinch-hitting threat that can actually play defense and run the bases if needed to keep him in the game.

h. The team's backup catcher will hit for a higher average than his weight.

Happy Halladays!

Jeff Gyomber is a Case Manager for Rosenthal & Company LLC  in Novato, California.  He is a 2000 Graduate of Saint Joseph's University and a life long Phillies fan.  Jeff can be reached at jeffreyg@rosenthalco.com

 

photo: www.thegoodphight.com