(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


Not much to tell.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Early Halladay Season for Philadelphia

It's hard to move the Eagles off the front of the sports pages in Philadelphia in December, but the Phillies did.

By agreeing to trade prospects for Roy Halladay and receive prospects for Cliff Lee, the Phillies engineered the first-ever trade involving two Cy Young Award winners. They also made a smart deal, even if it doesn't give them a huge advantage over what they had on their roster before the trade (then again, most GMs don't make lopsided deals).

The deal is smart because the Phillies were facing the following predicament:

2010 Starting Pitchers

Cliff Lee

Cole Hamels

Joe Blanton

J.A. Happ

Jamie Moyer.

That's a pretty good staff, but, contractually, you have an ace who has said he'll test the free-agent market after the 2010 season, a former ace who you're hoping will return to form, a #3 starter who is arbitration eligible and could get very expensive in a hurry, and a #5 starter who is recovering from both surgery and a post-operative infection. Put differently, you don't think the #5 can last the season, the #3 might not be here after this season (especially if he has a good year and could vault himself to close to eight figures in next year's arbitration; this year he's expected to come in close to $7 million), and the #1 won't be here after this season because you're not going to give him the C.C. Sabathia-like contract he seeks. So, if you're GM Ruben Amaro, you're looking to win not just now, but next year and the year after because your nucleus of position players is strong (although you'll have challenges with staying within budget, particularly for the 2011 season -- after that, both Raul Ibanez's and Brad Lidge's contracts expire).

So, you hear that the Blue Jays are peddling Halladay, and you hear that he wants to come to Philadelphia (and possibly take less) because he likes the Phillies and his home is 5 minutes away from the training complex in Clearwater (note to file: the closest training complex to the Phillies' is the Blue Jays', which is about 20 minutes away in Dunedin). You also hear that he might take a shorter contract than he otherwise might command on the free-agent market. He's also better than Lee, despite Lee's great start with the Phillies mid-summer and his awesome post-season performance. And he's a righty, which gives you a great counterweight to Cole Hamels should Hamels return to 2008 form.

So now your rotation looks like this:

Roy Halladay (signed through 2013)

Cole Hamels

Joe Blanton

J.A. Happ

Jamie Moyer.

Sure, the issues with the next four still exist. Can Hamels return to form? How expensive will Blanton be? How good can Happ be? How effective will Moyer be? The key fact -- you have a preeminent pitcher for 4 more years instead of 1. The downside -- without your best pitching prospect, Kyle Drabek, you aren't sure who will step in should a starter get hurt or falter. You don't have a Happ to step in for an injured Brett Myers or an ineffective Chan Ho Park. Yes, there are plenty of Rodrigo Lopez's out there, but they're risky. There's also no guarantee, though, that Drabek is a sure thing. He certainly looks like one, but remember the trio of Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson? The Mets had 3 sure things, three potential #1 starters, only to have Isringhausen emerge as an outstanding pitcher -- as a reliever. Here's to wishing Drabek well, though.

So, it appears that the Phillies' starting pitching staff is better off this season and for the next several. Did they deplete their minor-league system by trading Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Jason Knapp, Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis D'Arnaud to get Lee and then Halladay (yes, they're getting 3 prospects in return, and while one is a future closer and all three have a good chance to get to the Majors, none is Taylor or Drabek)? To an extent, yes, but they still have their top OF prospect, Domonic Brown, they still have OF Anthony Gose (another exciting prospect whom the Blue Jays wanted last summer when they tried to trade Halladay to the Phillies), they have the three prospects they're getting from Seattle and a few others. Is it weaker? Yes. Can they pull off another "big" trade for a special player down the stretch in 2010 the way they acquired Lee in 2009? Probably not.

It's not easy keeping an outstanding team together. Most Phillies' fans thought it would be because they were taking $30 million off a $130 million payroll when Brett Myers' contract expired ($10 million), when they no longer had to pay Adam Eaton ($9 million) or Geoff Jenkins ($6 million) and when they no longer had to contribute to Jim Thome's salary ($4 million). But, other players get raises and 3 key ones -- Shane Victorino, Blanton and Carlos Ruiz -- are eligible for arbitration. They paid $18 million over 3 years for Placido Polanco, Jayson Werth gets a big raise pursuant to his contract, and you now have 2 $20 million players in Halladay and Ryan Howard and 3 $12 million ones in Ibanez, Lidge and Chase Utley. About 60% of the players command 85% of the payroll. Which means there isn't a whole lot left for three or four open slots in the bullpen.

Success does that to you -- your players become more valuable, and either you have the revenue to support the raises that the market suggests they should get or you build contingency plans. So, if the Phillies are committed to a $140 million payroll, they'll continue to have hard choices to make.

But, all in all, the Halladay trade is a wise move for the Phillies. The Mets will add some good players, but their pitching staff needs a lot of help and Johan Santana might not be the same guy he was when he signed his big contract a few years ago. David Wright has to figure out how to hit for power again, Jose Reyes needs to show he is healthy, and the team needs a catcher (perhaps Bengie Molina) and a first baseman. The Braves are active, and the Marlins are always tough. Nothing the Phillies have done diminishes their chances to win the NL East, and the unheralded moves to fortify the bench give them a stronger reserve corps.

The hot stove right now is very hot.

All typos are mine.


Blogger Michael said...

Am I the only on who's singing Halladay's name to Madonna's Holiday?

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Jane said...

Great analysis you have here. Thanks for sharing. Let's wait and see what they'll have to offer. By the way, these free coupons will surley make you better because you're one great sports fan!

9:47 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home