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Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Blue Jays Blew It

I'll be the first to admit that Cliff Lee isn't Roy Halladay, but he's a darned good pitcher and the Phillies got Lee for a lesser group of good prospects than the Blue Jays demanded.

Yes, Baseball America rated Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 10th ranked prospects in the Phillies' organization (a few of last year's top 10 -- pitcher Josh Outman and SS Adrian Cardenas, went to Oakland in the Joe Blanton deal) going into the season. Last year, you could have argued that Carrasco was the Phillies' top pitching prospect and Donald the top position-playing prospect and won the argument. But a lot has changed in a year.

Carrasco, widely projected as a solid #3 starter with upside, lost his way at AAA Lehigh Valley this season. He's far from a suspect, but he's not the gilt-edged prospect he was a year ago. He might need a new start in the Cleveland organization, but he's a ways away from proving that he belongs in the bigs in any capacity, let alone as a high-ceiling starter. Marson is a good receiver and decent hitter, although he hasn't shown that much power. He's a major-league catcher, for sure, and the question is whether his bat can sustain him in a starter's role. Again, this season hasn't been as good as previous seasons. Donald had an amazing fall, playing among the best baseball in the Arizona Fall League. He's been hurt for part of the season at Lehigh Valley, but he has failed to build upon the stellar press clippings of a year ago. He could be a starting SS or 2B, has good power, and is a good player. Not sure if he is the next Ryne Sandberg, but you have to give up value to get it, and Donald is good. Knapp is a young kid who was on the DL at low-A Lakewood. Big kid, great fastball, potential closer, but a long way away. Bottom line: the first three aren't the sure things they were a year ago, and Knapp has a lot of upside. Decent deal for Cleveland, excellent one for the Phillies.

The Phillies got to keep starting pitcher J.A. Happ (whom I believe will be dealt for a closer before Friday afternoon, perhaps to Arizona for Chad Qualls or Baltimore for George Sherrill, for the simple reason that with Lee the Phillies have four lefty starters and six starting pitchers overall when you count Pedro Martinez), top hitting prospects Michael Taylor and Dominic Brown, and top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek. That's pretty good considering they added last year's AL Cy Young Award winner to their rotation. I still say that the bullpen is a big question mark, and that the Phillies need to make one more move to sure it up before Friday.

As for the Jays, well, they missed a golden opportunity with the team that was in the right place at the right time with the right resources. The Phillies are printing money, they can make a deep run, and they have lots of prospects. By starting with their "wish list" demand and refusing to back off, the Jays doomed themselves to failure. From a psychological standpoint, negotiation is all about give and take, and the Blue Jays failed to play into the dynamic by refusing to budge. Most people on the other side expect movement, so perhaps they should have asked for Happ, Drabek, Brown and Michael Taylor and let the Phillies counter. Perhaps they did, we don't know, but press reports suggest that they didn't. And, if they didn't, they didn't negotiate well.

Also, did they misjudge their bargaining power? Yes, they have arguably the best pitcher in the AL, but they couldn't auction him because apparently only one team (Philadelphia) was willing to come to the auction. It doesn't seem like the Angels, Rangers or Yankees were real players, and from reports on the ESPN ticker it didn't appear that the Red Sox had made an offer. If that's the case, they had much less leverage than they think. Check that -- the Phillies actually had more leverage because they were more successful in playing Toronto off against Cleveland than Toronto was in playing Philadelphia off against anyone. Because Toronto failed to see that, they're still holding onto Halladay and are likely to keep him through the end of the season. As a result, his trade value will drop.

Would it have been so bad for Toronto to have received Happ, Brown, Marson and Donald? That would have been a pretty good package. They would have gotten a #3 starter in Happ, the Phillies' top position-player prospect in Brown, a catcher in waiting in Marson and a replacement for Mario Scutaro at short (they could have sent Scutaro to the Phillies, who could have kept him and cut Eric Bruntlett, who is having a bad year). And they might have even been able to get one more prospect from lower in the minors, perhaps Knapp. Instead, it's unclear who their suitors will be in the off-season, especially if they don't want to trade within their division. And, as the clock ticks, so does Halladay's trade value diminish.

The Blue Jays misread the market for Roy Halladay and blundered big-time in the process.


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