- The Phillies nab the Killer:
Beyond the admission of a mistake is the act of taking steps to correct it.
A year ago, I unloaded on the Phillies for the lateral move of trading one of the best pitchers in baseball for another of the best pitchers in baseball due to specious reasons and self-justifying logic.
The idea that they were going to be all things at all times and field a championship level team while replenishing the farm system to keep the pipeline moving was theoretically and practically walking the tightrope without a balance pole or net. As I said at the time, there are two strategies for a club to take in the off-season if they have designs on contending for a championship----strengthen weaknesses or bolster strengths. In their trade of Cliff Lee to the Mariners to acquire prospects to replace those that were sent to the Blue Jays to get Roy Halladay, the Phillies accomplished neither.
Scoffed at for the assertion that the Phillies were going to struggle due to a lack of depth in the starting rotation, my prediction was proving to be eerily accurate as the shortness in pitching and rampant injuries had the Phillies stumbling at 48-46 on July 22nd; 7 games behind the Braves in the NL East and even trailing the reviled Mets.
Because his plan had gone so horribly awry, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr, was rightfully savaged by astute baseball analysts. In addition to a rickety construction, the championship team that had been built by Pat Gillick was put in greater jeopardy by the insane contract Ryan Howard received to preclude free agency after 2011.
The talk was that the Phillies were teetering on trading Jayson Werth and bagging the season.
But they didn't.
Ably assisted by fate as Shane Victorino's injury sabotaged the ability to trade Werth, the Phillies instead decided to go for it by acquiring Roy Oswalt. Truthfully, Oswalt fell into their laps because the Astros were desperate to move him; had a Philly-friendly GM in Ed Wade who was willing to take limited return for his ace righty; the Astros ate a chunk of Oswalt's contract; and Oswalt agreed to forgo a demand that his 2012 option be exercised as a precondition to waiving his no-trade clause.
They blazed through the rest of the season, won the NL East easily and dispatched the Reds in 3 straight games in the NLDS before losing to the Giants in the NLCS.
Now, as the questions swirled about how much money they had to spend and whether they'd be able to keep Werth, they made a perfunctory effort that they knew would fail to keep their right fielder; they saw him sign a deranged contract with the Nationals....and struck like lightning to nab Cliff Lee.
Amaro had been noticeably prickly in his responses to the continuous questions as to why he traded Halladay for Lee. "Wouldn't it have been better to have both?" "Are those prospects that good?" "Are you more concerned about winning or your legacy?"
The questions about the trade of Lee were viable and unanswered aside from the pat response that Amaro proffered when he made the deal in the first place. Lee wanted to explore free agency; Halladay wanted so desperately to get out of Toronto that he was willing to sign a long term extension for a far shorter duration than a pitcher of his stature would've gotten on the open market; the prospects are top tier; they saved money, guaranteed that they'd have an ace at the top of the rotation for 2010 and beyond and replenished the farm system. Blah, blah, blah.
But it wasn't working.
In addition to the prospects struggling on and off the field, the big league team was staggering as well with problems both on-field and off.
Amaro, to his credit, took steps to fix it. Rather than protect his own ego as more than one GM/owner would to preserve his initial assessment, he traded for Oswalt in July and now he swooped in and nabbed Lee.
It was brilliant in its stealthiness and quick-strike decision-making; it's placed the Phillies head-and-shoulders above the rest of the National League.
- Don't credit a guy for taking $120 million:
One thing I don't want to hear is how benevolent a soul Lee is for choosing to take the $120 million from the Phillies rather than the $160 million from the Yankees and whatever the Rangers offered.
This is nothing to credit him for.
How many more cars was he going to buy?
Priceless works of art?
It's utterly absurd to purse one's lips and nod approvingly because Lee eschewed being "rich" by going where his heart wanted to be. He's $120 million richer than he was yesterday.
Who knows what played into the decision? Did the Yankees fans treatment of his wife during the ALCS have an influence? Did his familiarity with the Phillies and a more stable climate lead him back to the team that traded him? Is he more comfortable in Philly? Did he not want to pitch in New York?
Does it matter?
The bottom line is that he chose to go to Philadelphia. Lee deserves credit for using his free agency as it was intended----to sign with the club in the city in which he wanted to play. The MLBPA has been notorious in trying to force players to go where the money is highest in a gesture of solidarity and trickle-down economics. Presumably Lee experienced this pressure. But he resisted and went back to the Phillies.
For that, he does deserve credit; but for taking "less" money? Please.
- Short-term blast, long-term questions:
Obviously Amaro has recognized that he needs to try and win now with a veteran roster and older, expensive players. Could it have been the issues the big league club and young acquisitions had that led to this realization?
It takes an intelligent and courageous man to accept a flaw in his strategy and correct it. Amaro did the right thing.
That said, the Phillies are highly expensive and very old. Aside from Cole Hamels, the rotation has logged a lot of innings and is making a lot of money; Lee has had injury problems in the past as have Hamels and Oswalt; they have to worry about lingering questions in their bullpen; they signed Howard to that prohibitive contract; don't appear to trust Domonic Brown as their everyday right fielder; and don't know what to expect from Jimmy Rollins.
But the team is loaded for at least 2011 and probably 2012. What happens in 2013 and beyond will happen, but for now they've created a team that is terrifying. Even if the offense isn't what it's been in recent years, they have a starting rotation that could win 90 games with the Padres popgun attack; with the Phillies offense?
It's the stuff that dreams are made of.
- And what of the Yankees?
I'm not going to start discussing the Rangers because they probably had a better back-up plan in mind if, as expected, Lee departed as a free agent. It's one thing to hope to sign the player as the Rangers did; it's another to expect to sign him as the Yankees did as early as spring training.
So what now for the Yankees?
One would assume that the Yankees had some things in mind if Lee decided to refuse their money. But if they think that getting Kevin Slowey will fix their old and questionable starting rotation, then they're in for a rude awakening.
Forget that the Phillies, right now, can easily be penciled in to win north of 100 games; the Yankees problem is that the Red Sox can reasonably have similar expectations.
The Yankees rotation is weak, period and not simply in comparison to that of the Red Sox.
Following a disappointing loss in the ALCS to Lee and the Rangers, this winter has been notoriously rough on the Yankees; in fact, it's bordering on disastrous. The ugly negotiations with Derek Jeter were a bad omen and now they're scrambling. Rather than spending money to get Lee, they're going to have to make a trade because the next "biggest" free agent pitcher is Carl Pavano.
Somehow, I don't see the Yankees going there.
So what's out there via trade to fill the hole for a top of the rotation starter? Zack Greinke wouldn't work in New York and would cost a fortune in prospects; Mark Buehrle was mentioned, but the White Sox aren't giving him away to the Yankees----Kenny Williams will want a ransom. A year from now, they could approach the Cardinals about Chris Carpenter, but today? No way. Matt Garza? Maybe. Chad Billingsley? Perhaps.
Regardless of the names that are going to be bandied about, the Yankees are going to have to gut their system to get one of them and teams that are willing to help the Yankees are almost non-existent. All that's left is for them to overpay for a top-tier pitcher or go after mediocrity like Slowey.
They're probably already begging Andy Pettitte to come back.
The Yankees don't always get what they can buy; nor do they get what they want just because they want it.
It's a positive day for baseball in every sense and an ominous off-season for the Yankees just got a whole lot worse.
- The Prince on the Podcast:
I'll be on with Sal at SportsFan Buzz tomorrow.Guess what I'll be talking about?