December 15, 2009

Happy halladays.

I hate the fact that Philadelphia Phillies fans have to wait a year, maybe more, to determine the true worth of the Roy Halladay trade.

Truths: Roy Halladay is better than Cliff Lee. Roy Halladay is signing a reasonable (relatively speaking), short extension, something Cliff Lee would almost certainly not do. Roy Halladay is probably the best pitcher in baseball, and he's become that despite facing the potent Yankees and Red Sox lineups 15 times a year.

But what I keep coming back to is that we could have kept Cliff Lee. If the Phillies had offered Jamie Moyer arbitration (and a one-year contract) last year rather than a two-year deal...if the Phillies had non-tendered Joe Blanton last week, or traded him for peanuts (don't try and convince me no one would take Joe Blanton; they just wouldn't give us value back)...then the Cliff Lee salary dump (and trust me, the Mariners prospects may be decent, but they weren't their best; it was about losing $9 million from the payroll) might not have to happen.

But instead, we're paying Jamie Moyer around $8 million this year, and Joe Blanton will probably clock in about there, as well. Hindsight is 20/20, and it's easy to nitpick moves made in the past. And more specifically, its probably unreasonable to expect Ruben Amaro to cut ties with Joe Blanton with no Halladay deal right on the cusp. But moves like these, short-sighted decisions that ended up bloating our payroll, along with an openly professed desire for Halladay, allowed the Blue Jays and Mariners to rake us over the coals in the manner that they did.

The Jays might not have gotten a king's ransom for their ace, but they got two of our top three prospects and a solid catching prospect. And the Mariners got our postseason hero, a former Cy Young winner with World Series excellence added to his resume. And we had to trade that postseason hero because in 2010, we owe Moyer and Blanton together a Halladay-esque salary.

As a result of this trade, are we a better team in 2010? Probably in the regular season, as Halladay could easily win 20 games in the National League. But in the playoffs, Halladay can't start more than two, maybe three games a series. And Lee won the two games he started in the World Series. Unless Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge return to form, the Phillies probably won't win another title in 2010.

Are we a better team in 2011? That's the real question. Logic dicates that 2011 was the year Michael Taylor was going to take over for Jayson Werth and Kyle Drabek was going to fill a hole in our rotation left by Joe Blanton. But now, both of them play elsewhere, and the Phils may have to turn to more expensive free agents as an answer.

To be successful in baseball for an extended amount of time, you need to mix young, cheap talent with older, exorbitantly paid superstars. In Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay and Chase Utley, we certainly have the latter. But of the former...well, we're a bit limited. And that could cause a lot of issues down the line.

I will be the first to admit that once we see Roy Halladay take the mound on Opening Day, all this talk won't matter. And I also understand that prospects are not guaranteed to evolve into contributing major leaguers, which is why we shouldn't really lament the loss of Taylor and Drabek. But I think that, with some foresight and creative thinking, we could have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels leading the rotation in 2010, and near-Rookie of the Year J.A. Happ would be in the number four slot. That's a rotation that beats even what they're putting together in Boston, and it kills me that Rube didn't make it happen. Maybe I'm expecting too much from him after the "right-place, right-time" perfection of the Lee/Francisco trade.

That said, all we can do is adore Roy Halladay and hope one or two of Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez pan out. But I know that when I heard on Monday afternoon that we were trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners and then sending Mariners prospects (and Taylor) to the Blue Jays for Halladay, I loved it. I would miss Cliff Lee, but we were keeping Drabek, and we were trading Lee with a purpose. I could live with that. But once the Lee deal and the Halladay deal became separate entities, and the Lee deal began to look like a knee-jerk move made by a team suddenly lacking the upper hand, my enthusiasm turned into skepticism.

I love Roy Halladay, but he can only pitch once every five days. Whether Ruben Amaro can put good pitchers on the mound the other four days, not to mention eight solid players behind them, well, that's become the real question the Philadelphia Phillies will have to answer.

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