Bodley: Dreaming of two aces in Philly
Trading lefty to Seattle leaves some wondering 'what if?'
In Seattle, there's a sense of euphoria among Mariners fans. General manager Jack Zduriencik, with a flurry of solid offseason moves, has made the team as strong as any in the American League West. Obtaining 2008 Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee from the Phillies was enormous.
In Philadelphia, there's an empty feeling among Phillies fans. They're elated that Roy Halladay is aboard, but how could second-year GM Ruben Amaro Jr. part with Lee for a handful of less-than-premier prospects? Did he really have to?
Phillies fans -- those fans who helped sell out 73 of the 81 home games at Citizens Bank Park last season -- are still fantasizing what it would have been like to have Halladay and Lee at the top of the rotation. Even for just one year.
Becoming the first National League team to play in three consecutive World Series since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals was much more than a strong possibility.
Lee is gone. It doesn't make sense.
"At first, I didn't believe it," Lee said of the trade. "I thought we were working out an extension with the Phillies. I thought I would spend the rest of my career there." Phillies president David Montgomery and Amaro have said they would not have traded for Halladay if they could not deal Lee. It was Halladay or Lee, but sadly, not both.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland told me the other day without question Halladay is the best pitcher in the AL. The Phillies coveted him prior to last July's Trade Deadline, but had to settle for Lee, which turned out to be a magnificent move for Amaro.
Lee was 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts. He had never pitched in the postseason before, but went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts. Without him, the Phillies wouldn't have made it to their second straight World Series. But with Halladay replacing Lee at the top of Philadelphia's rotation this coming season, it might be only slightly better than it was when it lost to the Yankees in six games. After Halladay, it's Cole Hamels, J. A. Happ, Joe Blanton.
There's a huge drop-off after Halladay as it was in the World Series last year with Lee -- a key reason why the Yankees prevailed.
No matter how good he is, Halladay can only pitch every fifth day. When Amaro signed Blanton to a three-year, $24 million contract last week, it raised the question even more: why did Lee have to go?
If they were going to give Blanton that much money, why couldn't they have kept Lee for one year?
Give Amaro credit for his shrewd dealing since succeeding Pat Gillick, one of the best GMs in baseball history. Signing free-agent Placido Polanco to play third base for the coming season makes the Phillies better. Just as landing left fielder Raul Ibanez did last year.
And give Amaro even more credit for finally wresting Halladay from Toronto even though it cost him prospects Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis d'Arnaud.
Last July, Amaro refused to include Drabek, the franchise's No. 1 prospect, in the deal.
But part of December's three-team blockbuster deal was shipping Lee, sensational for Philadelphia after arriving from Cleveland in the July trade, off to Seattle.
This is all about money and restocking the Phillies' farm system, not just about the 2010 season.
The trades for Lee and Halladay cost Amaro seven of the franchise's top 10 prospects.
Lee's salary for 2010 is $9 million. Halladay makes $15.75 million, but part of the deal was a check for $6 million from the Blue Jays. That means if the Phillies had kept Lee, the price for both pitchers would have been $18.75 million.
Lee can be a free agent after the World Series and all indications are that the Phillies would not have been able to meet his demands on the open market.
The Phillies were able to sign Halladay to a four-year extension for about $20 million a season through 2013 with an option for 2014.
Plus, and this is important to the organization: Halladay, Hamels, Happ and Blanton are under contract through 2012. Even though Amaro and the Phillies have set a ceiling of somewhere around $140 million for their 2010 payroll -- highest in team history -- wouldn't it have been worth the extra money to have such an awesome rotation?
Think back: Koufax and Drysdale, Spahn and Burdette, Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz, and Halladay and Lee.
The core of this Philadelphia team, best in the NL, is in its prime: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, et al.
Seldom does a franchise have such an elite group. It could be decades before it happens again. For this reason, I'm convinced those who run the Phillies should have seized the opportunity to complement this great nucleus with two of the best pitchers in baseball.
"Obviously, having both those guys [Halladay and Lee] atop our rotation makes us a very, very formidable club," Amaro told MLB.com's Todd Zolecki last week. "But it also doesn't guarantee anything. ... You have to look at this in its entirety. You literally leave your organization with no prospects -- other than Domonic Brown. We don't have any prospects who we would consider super high-ceiling guys."
Amaro went on to say Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J. C. Ramirez, obtained in the Lee deal, provides the organization with that type of prospect.
If the Phillies had kept Lee for 2010 and he walked as a free agent, they would have received two high Draft picks as compensation.
Now, that's the same scenario the aggressive Zduriencik faces in Seattle. Just the other day he signed staff ace Felix Hernandez to a five-year, $78 million extension. That would, on the surface, indicate Lee might be with the Mariners for just one season. Like the Phillies with Halladay, they might not be able to afford the multiyear contract Lee is expected to demand.
But for 2010, the Mariners have a one-two punch of Hernandez and Lee, which is about as good as it gets. And if Seattle gets to the World Series, it will be worth the gamble for one great season.
Baseball payrolls keep going up, reaching absurd levels.
I commend Montgomery and Amaro for their restraint, but I wish for 2010 they'd thrown their conservatism to the wind.
And for one brief shining moment (year), the Phillies and their fans could have lived the dream of Camelot.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.