Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Phillies Sign Their Own Death Warrant

    Let me preface this by saying that Roy Halladay is one of the guttiest and best pitchers of this era. Not only is he old-school on the field, but he's the same off the field. Never one to complain about the hopeless situations in which he pitched year-after-year, it took the sheer intransigence of former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi for Halladay to even ask out of Toronto.
    While pitchers who had neither Halladay's guts nor his resume were lapping him on the salary scale, Halladay never demanded to be dealt; nor did he insist on a renegotiation of his contract. The epitome of lunchpail greatness, the innings have gone up on an annual basis. He led on the field; he led off the field. What right did players like Gary Sheffield and Manny Ramirez, who caused trouble everywhere they went, have to wage battles with their respective front offices in trying to crowbar their way into a more lucrative contracts or trades when Halladay worked under his deal exhausting his reserves pitching for a club---the Blue Jays----in a division----the American League East----in which he had almost no chance of making the playoffs?
    He made his deal, he went to work. No complaints; no regrets. And he put up the numbers again and again with class, durability and sports-related heroism. When he'd finally had enough of the circus that the Blue Jays had become under the ringmaster, Ricciardi, Halladay quietly asked to be traded to a contender at mid-season 2009. Instead of responding to his ace's request with similar discretion, Ricciardi blew it up and did what he does best in running headfirst into a public relations disaster.
    Rather than stealthily let clubs know that Halladay was in play for a trade, Ricciardi turned it into a media circus putting Halladay in a position where he had to answer the questions day-after-day about where he wanted to play; why he wanted out; did the organization come to him or did he got to them, etc ad nauseam.
    The negotiations got so nasty with interested clubs; the Ricciardi demands so out of this world, that the most logical destinations like the Phillies threw their hands up in dismay and moved onto other options. That other option wound up being Cliff Lee.
    Ricciardi, while well within his rights to ask for the moon in trading one of the top three pitchers in baseball at mid-season----when his acquisition could've meant the difference between no making the playoffs at all or winning the World Series----put himself and his player in an unwinnable, unworkable situation. Once Halladay was on the block, he had to be traded both for the sake of the club and the player. Instead, Ricciardi didn't make any deal. Halladay was trapped in Toronto to deal with the fallout of his trade request and another winter of ambiguity in neither knowing the direction of the Blue Jays or himself.
    The botched negotiations was the final nail in Ricciardi's executive coffin; the final act in a pockmarked and sullied tenure that should've been mercifully euthanized three years ago. After Ricciardi's ouster, new Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopolous was faced with the same quandry of what to do with Halladay. Clearly the pitcher was going to get traded and the return would go a long way into determining the future of the 32-year-old GM and now Halladay was mad.
    There was something slightly different about Halladay after the trade deadline came and went. Whereas he had previously gone about his work in a professional and "do what must be done" manner, he had a different air about him as the season wound down. He looked exhausted mentally and physically as his emotionality of having reached his threshold in Toronto was taking its toll.
    He still gobbled innings; he still won more than he lost; but the way the Blue Jays quit on their season in August combined with the way his reasonable request to be moved was made to portray the strong, silent gunslinger known as Doc Halladay into man bailing from a sinking ship and was fumbled into a catastrophe by Ricciardi had crafted a mess that had to be rectifed one way or the other----and Halladay was going to play hardball this time.
    In what could be seen as Ricciardi's final act of self-immolation even two months after he was shown the door, the seeds he planted at mid-season bore fruit as Halladay told the club to get him the hell out of Toronto. Now.
    The rumblings out of Toronto began in earnest that Halladay wanted to be moved, no ifs ands or buts; and if the Blue Jays were going to mess around again, then Halladay was going to show the same dogged determination in the boardroom as he showed on the field. It wasn't about money; he wasn't demanding to be moved to a club that was going to pay him as well as C.C. Sabathia or Johan Santana, but he was going to be out of Toronto before it came time to report to spring training----or else.

    With most players empty threats are just that, empty. But with Halladay, one got the sense that he wasn't playing around when he said that the trade had to be completed before he got to Dunedin, Florida for Blue Jays spring training; once he reported, he was going to be a Blue Jay for 2010 and then go free agent; and if that happened, there was every likelihood that the Blue Jays would have to deal with the sight of their erstwhile superstar wearing a Red Sox or Yankees uniform for the next 5-7 years and see him four or five times a year firing his pitches at them as the club's remaining fans went bonkers.
    By that point, it was Halladay's show. He was going to tell the Blue Jays that he wanted to go to a contender; he preferred to join a club that had spring training in Florida; and one that played on the East Coast.
    The Blue Jays were basically screwed.
    Faced with the recent history of what happened to the Twins with Johan Santana, who held out and held out in the hopes that the Yankees and Red Sox bidding war would yield them prospects the likes of Clay Buchholz or Joba Chamberlain, they wrung their hands and waited, waited and waited----too long. With Santana, both the Yankees and Red Sox appeared more interested in keeping Santana away from the other guy than getting the pitcher for a chunk of their minor league system and then signing him to what would essentially be a free agent contract to boot. There's no doubt both clubs wanted Halladay, but not at that cost. The Twins got nothing for Santana and the Blue Jays couldn't risk a similar thing happening to them with Halladay.
    A deal had to get done before everyone pulled out and the lurking Mets were again the last team standing. The prospective clubs each had their own way of doing business and negatives to getting a Halladay trade done. The Dodgers might've been the perfect spot prior to Frank and Jamie McCourt's messy divorce. The Angels made an offer and are not a club that sits around and waits for their trading partners to shop around to see if they can find something better; it wasn't sitting around on the table forever. The Yankees and Red Sox were both wrestling with one another and making preparations to move forward without Halladay. Than left the Phillies and the Mets.
    If the Mets were going to get Halladay, the circumstances would have to play almost identically to what happened with Santana and if it had gone on longer, it would have. The Phillies had the prospects; they had the attractive destination with a contending club; and they had the money to sign Halladay.
    The Blue Jays had no choice and finally got something done before the divorce between Halladay and the club got to the proportions of the McCourts and former Padres owner John Moores----and presumably almost as expensive in a baseball sense.

    As for the trade itself, it ends up being a series of two-team trades, but is in reality a four team swap of stars and prospects. It breaks down like this with who and what ends up where:

Philadelphia Phillies get: RHP Roy Halladay (Blue Jays); RHP Philippe Aumont (Mariners); OF Tyson Gillies (Mariners); RHP Juan Ramirez (Mariners); $6 million from the Blue Jays.

Seattle Mariners get: LHP Cliff Lee (Phillies).

Toronto Blue Jays get: C Travis d'Arnaud (Phillies); RHP Kyle Drabek (Phillies); 1B/3B Brett Wallace (Athletics).

Oakland Athletics get: OF Michael Taylor (Phillies), traded to the Blue Jays and immediately to the Athletics.

    The Athletics insinuated themselves into this trade quite adeptly----one of Billy Beane's best skills is getting his name into the media by doing stuff like this; he's the Madonna of the baseball world when it comes to self-promotion.
    Wallace was the prize in the Matt Holliday trade to the Cardinals, but Beane turned around and traded him for Taylor. Wallace could be a viable replacement for Lyle Overbay at first base for the Blue Jays. Now that the Halladay business is done, the Blue Jays can move onto other matters and one would assume that includes moving Overbay who was discussed earlier in the off-season. A team can do worse than having the ultra-talented (and acid reflux carrier for his managers) Edwin Encarnacion at third and Wallace at first.
    The Blue Jays had their eye on Drabek in the summer during the initial trade talks for Halladay, but the Phillies steadfastly refused to give him up. It was only when they received what they felt was commensurate replacement talent and money to offset the Halladay contract extension that they acquiesced.
    Drabek is a contact pitcher like his father Doug was; and if he's got 75% of his dad's guts, he's going to be a big winner in the majors.

    D'Arnaud is a kid (21 in February) and is a catcher, so he could be on the fast track to the majors. He's put up good power numbers in the minors with limited strikeouts and his percentage of throwing out basestealers shows that he's got the arm to be a good defender.

    Given the catch-22 the Blue Jays were in because of Ricciardi's incompetence, they did quite well in the trade.  

    For the Athletics, Taylor is big (6'6", 250) and has put up massive numbers in the minors. Judging by their physicalities and numbers, I think Beane may have come up a big winner here. Taylor numbers indicate star potential.
    Beane's interloping may wind up being a massive win for the A's.

    The Mariners had a stroke of good fortune fall into their laps as the Phillies approached them about dealing for Lee to pave the way for getting Halladay.
    Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik continues to clear out the organization of most of the players accrued by the previous regime, and he's not done. Getting Lee to combine with Felix Hernandez at the top of the Mariners rotation makes them an immediate threat to the Angels for supremacy in the AL West. They still have work to do in beefing up their offense, but any team with Hernandez and Lee is dangerous.
    With both Lee and Hernandez singing for their suppers----Lee is a free agent after 2010; Hernandez is gearing for his first big contract as he's arbitration-eligible and a free agent after 2012----the Mariners will get big performances from both. The Mariners defense and big ballpark will put Lee into Cy Young Award contention. 

    Then we get to the Phillies.
    The prospects acquired from the Mariners were brought in to replenish the system after the trading of Drabek and Taylor.    
    Aumont is big (6'7", 220) righty who was the Mariners 1st round pick in 2007. He'll be 21 in January and has been a reliever with big strikeout numbers in the low minors. He'll presumably be in the minors for the next year-and-a-half at least.
    Gillies, 21, demolished the High A California League to the tune of a .341 average; a .430 OBP; and absurd across-the-board numbers.
    Ramirez, 21, has been a starter in the minors with results that are not impressive.

    Finally, we come to the bewildering move of essentially trading Lee for Halladay.
    Initially, the very idea of the Phillies acquiring Halladay was to combine him with Lee to put together a front of their rotation that wouldn't simply be intimidating; it wouldn't be dominant; it would be devastating. The thought struck fear into the entire National League at the prospect of having to compete with the Phillies offense along with Lee and Halladay two out of every five days...then came the word that they were trading Lee for Halladay.
    Even with the caveats, excuses and nonsensical alibis coming out of Philadelphia, this makes no sense. Point-by-point, excuse-by-excuse, here's the autopsy:

Halladay was willing to sign an extension; Lee wasn't:

    For a team like the Phillies, who are getting older, have such massive bullpen issues and have made some severely questionable decisions as recently as a month ago (Placido Polanco at third base?) there were two ways to go to move forward. They could: A) address their current issues like the bullpen and back of the starting rotation; or B) they could go for it all now, while Raul Ibanez still has something left; while Jimmy Rollins is looking for another payday; while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are still in their primes; and trade for Halladay while keeping Lee.
    To me, trading Lee for Halladay isn't a step up; nor is it a lateral move. If anything it's a step back.

The Phillies have a policy of not giving longer than 3-year extensions to their pitchers; Lee wants to explore free agency and get a C.C. Sabathia-type contract:

    Come again?
    With belt-tightening from the economy and the appreciation of undervalued talents based on stats and the increased intelligence of certain GMs, the days of finding players who will provided similar return to stars at a fraction of the cost is in a lull. Now, you get what you pay for. If you pay for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and C.C. Sabathia, you get Lee, Halladay and Sabathia.
    If you pay for Adam Eaton and Brett Myers (which the Phillies did----one would assume to their regret) you get Eaton and Myers. Would paying Cliff Lee whatever it cost to sign him to an extension have been a worse investment than throwing $55 million into the sewer for Eaton, Myers and Jamie Moyer? Is it better to pay moderate money for mediocrity and worse, or to give the money to a Cy Young Award winner in Lee who came up massively in the post-season?

Comparing Halladay and Lee:

    This is not to diminish Halladay's already-acknowledged greatness, but things have to be examined realistically in all their aspects.
    Halladay signed an extension for $60 million through 2013 on top of the $15.75 million he's getting in 2010. There's also a $20 million club option with a contract kicker that goes into effect if Halladay reaches certain innings limits. Lee would've cost at least $140 million to stay in Philadelphia after 2010. So what we're talking about is a significant difference in the bottom line of at least $40 or so million, but are the Phillies going to get more from Halladay over the life of the cotnract than they would've gotten from Lee?
     All due respect to Halladay, but the wear on his arm is substantially heavier than that of Lee. Halladay is a year older and has logged 2046 innings for Halladay in comparison to 1196 for Lee is not nothing. It's not negligible as it would be in the case of a pitcher who'd thrown 200 or so fewer innings. The Phillies are going to be paying Halladay and banking on his durability being maintained at an age where pitchers----no matter how tough----start to break down both in performance and durability. Lee has been used and abused far less than Halladay.
     Examining a pitcher's motion is a slippery slope in determining his future health. It was size and motion that led the Mariners to select Brandon Morrow over Tim Lincecum, so you never know; but in looking at the way Halladay and Lee go about their mound business, Lee would be a better bet to live up to his contract.
    Halladay has a stiff-legged and mechanical motion; whereas Lee is free, easy, smooth and repeatable. Halladay is a piston-driver like John Henry (the steel-driving man, not the Red Sox owner); Lee is effortless simplicty and deftness like James Bond.
    If I had to choose between the two as to which one was more probable to be healthy and productive for the duration of the contract, it would have to be Lee; and the point is, no matter how it's spun, the Phillies didn't have to choose between the two pitchers----they could've and should've had both.
    This does nothing to improve the Phillies; in fact, there's a possibility that it makes them worse in 2010 and definitely beyond. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro had a club that made it to the World Series in his first year at the helm as he ran the show with surreptitious hand-holding from former GM Pat Gillick. Now it's his show. He signed Polanco in a move that can only be classified and bewildering; he has yet to handle the Phillies bullpen issues; and now he's done this with the furtive and floating explanation of keeping organizational depth by replenishing the lost prospects with the players and money they got along with Halladay.
    This one decision will be seen as the latest in errors by the Phillies. They took another step over the cliff. The Braves and Mets, who were watching with barely-concealed panic at the very terrifying thought of a Phillies club with both Lee and Halladay, watched with confusion as the Phillies pulled off this complicated series of trades, shrugged and had a glass of champagne because this was the signing of the Phillies death warrant as championship contenders and if the Mets and Braves make a couple of smart, under-the-radar signings and stay healthy, the Phillies aren't simply going to miss the playoffs next year, they're going to fall to third in the NL East.
    This one ill-thought-out decision to improve is the latest step in the downfall of the Phillies. The spiral is beginning and they can't regain control now. The damage has been done. The Phillies are going down.


Jeff said...

I'm going to be keeping an eye on who becomes the better player: Wallace or Taylor. I think this will be the piece of the trade we bring up years from now.

She-Fan said...

Having Halladay and Lee would have been devastating to the competition. As a Mets fan you must be especially glad they didn't go that route.

Anonymous said...

Keep wishing "Prince".

Sal Cartusciello said...

Good analyst.

We spoke a little about this concerning his head around the trade talks, but he had a solid September after a miserable (by his standards) August.

Think you are being a little too hard on the Phillies. While I would have kept Lee for 2010 and "see what happens" later, I don't think this trade starts their downfall. They have other problems (Rollins, who we spoke about, and other pitching questions) that need to addressed that if ignored we cause the plunge.

Look forward to having you on again. Let's plan for maybe late January when the FA dust settles.

Anonymous said...

So, if youre the sit back and let Halladay get traded elsewhere, you keep Lee for the final year of his contract, and then in the winter when he searches for a contract he likes, he walks to a team with deep pockets, and then the phillies lose out on Halladay, and this what you would have done?

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