The text message received at 4:31 p.m. yesterday read: “Said Halladay is in Philly with his agent.” The missing subject of this fragment was irrelevant if it were true the Jays’ right-hander, like Santa, is coming to town. The 4:38 message read simply “Trading Lee to Mariners.” Both came from a former softball teammate and fellow Phillies fan. The missing subject of the second message was obviously the Fightin’s, and Lee wasn’t Sara, but the team’s ace, Cliff, who went 7-4 for the N.L. Champs last year after he joined them…or more accurately, 11-4, counting his brilliant post-season performance.
My reply was “WHAT?!”
As the story of Musical Chairs for Aces unfolded into the evening with rumors, wild salary figures, and deep disappointment on my daughter’s part (she sleeps in a Cliff Lee t-shirt), this much was clear: The Phillies were definitely willing to part with their left-handed ace if they could replace him with the consensus “best pitcher in baseball.” There would be spare parts all around, some of them likely high-level prospects, and the team seemed to be re-committing themselves to left-hander Cole Hamels, the enigmatic (read, petulant) sometime star, who is under a three-year contract.
The principal moving parts in this three-way swap would obviously be Halladay, who could sign a long-term extension contract worth somewhere between $60 and $100 million; Lee, who could be watching his fingers pucker in a Seattle drizzle; at least one high-level prospect each from Philly and Seattle, and maybe the Phillie Phanatic…depending. Where the prospects and other players mentioned by thousands of sources would actually end up is unclear, but nominal Phillies Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, Domonic Brown, J.A. Happ, and Joe Blanton might all be headed to the CVS today for a new shoe polish color. Rumor has it that Seattle’s Phillippe Aumont has already brought red and blue bottles, just in case.
Whatever finally happens, it probably won’t be quite as big a deal as Harry Frazee selling Babe Ruth so that he could produce No, No, Nanette, but this is a very big deal. Imagine a three-way swap involving, say, Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale, and a young Frank Robinson, given that none of the prospects mentioned is likely to quite reach Robinson’s level. Having personally seen Michael Taylor launch at least one ball into orbit over Williamsport, PA, I have to wonder, though.
However, the real question in Philadelphia this morning is: How do you feel about committing $60-100M to a guy who hasn’t won four post-season games in a single season, while letting the guy who has go – along with at least one of your best prospects? The corollary questions are:
1) Can you be “the best pitcher in baseball” if you’ve never been tested in the post-season? Lots of A.L. hitters, including Mark Teixeira, say, yep. (“All of his pitches start in the same place and end in a different place.”)
2) Can you see Cole Hamels finally developing a third pitch.
And 3), will somebody buy Cliff Lee a Phillies umbrella for his trip?
If…. That’s the operative word here. If Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr., pulls this off, and Halladay and Hamels both pitch well, then, presto, the Phillies are the N.L. Yankees. But, here in Philly we tend to look askance at “if.” We’ve used the word quite a bit. In other words, if this trade were translated into position players, would we trade Chase Utley for Michael Young of the Rangers because “everybody says” (and the numbers say) that Young is a better hitter?
My latest text message says, “Drabek gone.” Swell.
Martino, Andy. “Phillies close in on deal for pitching ace Halladay.” The Philadelphia Inquirer 15 December 2009: A1+.