I completely believe that the Phillies can win the World Series without Roy Halladay. They’ve got the best offensive second baseman since Joe Morgan, three All-Star outfielders, a former MVP at shortstop who’s coming around after a three-month-long slump and the best pure power hitter in baseball at first. As a team, the Phillies are leading the league in OPS, home runs, slugging percentage, total bases and, most importantly, runs scored.
Cole Hamels should have gone 5-0 last postseason. Still got him. Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ can give you six innings and three earned runs and both have been pitching quite well lately. With this offense, all you need from your pitcher is six innings and three earned runs. If Brett Myers or Pedro Martinez can come back and pitch effectively, you’ve got a solid, four-deep starting rotation. Apart from Hamels, none of the pitchers would scare anyone, but that’s not their job. That’s the offense’s.
This is the best offensive team in the NL, and among the best defensive teams. I truly believe that the Phillies, as currently constituted, can win another World Series. Do I believe they will? Not particularly. They’ve got, maybe, one chance in 10. I think the Dodgers are better, I think the Yankees are better, I think the Red Sox are better.
But if they get Roy Halladay, they go from a mortal lock to win the division and an underdog in the playoffs to the odds-on favorite to win it all. Look at those numbers. Those are some pretty god damn good numbers. Halladay can be had, says Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi, for a price. And therein lies the rub. The price is more than the Phillies are willing to pay.
Ricciardi is asking for the farm. And he is right to do so. Ricciardi is giving up that rarest of baseball commodities–the workhorse ace. Who, among Halladay’s contemporaries, has been better in the past 10 years? Beckett, Peavy and Dontrelle Willis in spurts, between injuries and inconsistency. Roy Oswalt and Hamels? Not quite as good. Tim Lincecum? Not for as long. In terms of this combination of durability and effectiveness, Halladay is only matched by Johan Santana and maybe Brandon Webb.
No GM in his right mind would give up such an asset without demanding a king’s ransom. But on the other hand, the Phillies would be crazy not to pay it. A friend of mine asked if I would give up Drabek, Happ, Drew Carpenter and Michael Taylor for Halladay. Absolutely I would. I would give up those four, plus Carlos Carrasco and Jason Donald. I’d throw in Victorino, take out a couple prospects and eat Vernon Wells’ contract. Anything it took, in terms of prospects.
Here are a few things that everyone needs to understand:
1) J.A. Happ is not an ace pitcher. He’s got the stats this year, and they are impressive. I like him a lot. I think he’s cool. I’d let him marry my daughter. But we’ve been over this. His season is not as good as his stats make it look, just like Hamels’ isn’t as bad as his stats make it look. Oh, and I’m sick of everyone calling him a prospect. It seems like no one, including journalists who cover the team, realize that he’ll be 27 by the time the World Series starts. He’s as good as he’ll ever get. He’s not an under-25 like Carrasco or Bastardo who is still improving. For my money, any trade for Halladay must include J.A. Happ. Not only will it save a prospect, it will clear a spot in the rotation.
2) The Phillies are there already. Everyone’s worried about this trade backfiring like the Johnson-to-Astros trade, the Colon-to-Expos trade or the Bedard-to-Mariners trade. Well, it won’t. Just about every time a team overpays for an ace and it backfires, they’re a fringe contender. They were never good enough to challenge for titles, and putting a new guy on the mound every 5 days won’t change anything.
But the Phillies are better than the 1998 Astros, the 2002 Expos or the 2008 Mariners. This is more like Beckett to the Red Sox, Clemens to the Yankees, or Schilling to the Diamondbacks (or Red Sox, for that matter). These Phillies are the kind of team that makes these trades and ends up with World Series titles.
In addition to the above examples, history is littered with good teams that needed one more starting pitcher to put them over the top. The 1992 Blue Jays with David Cone. So they gave up Jeff Kent to get him, but I’d say those two World Series were worth it. The 1998 Padres needed Kevin Brown to make the World Series. The Braves lost two straight World Series, signed Greg Maddux, then three years later won it all. This isn’t a shot in the dark, this is just the only way left for the team to improve itself.
3) Kyle Drabek’s Ceiling Is Roy Halladay. In the past 15 years, the Phillies’ farm system has produced, by my count, exactly three starting pitchers who were worth a crap for more than a couple flukey seasons: Randy Wolf, Brett Myers and Cole Hamels. I’m not one to badmouth farm systems, but prospects don’t always pay out. In fact, there’s no such thing as a can’t-miss prospect. Drabek might be the best homegrown pitcher the Phillies have had since Robin Roberts. Who knows? He could win 350 games in the majors. He could win 150. He could win 30. But what’s the absolute best-case scenario for this kid? Turning into a dominant, innings-eating right-handed ace. He could turn into the best pitcher in baseball someday and he still might not be as good as Halladay. So we’re afraid to give up someone who might be an ace for someone who is? It’s like these clowns calling into WIP and writing for the Inquirer don’t remember Tyler Green, Brandon Duckworth, Doug Nickle, Carlton Loewer, Mike Grace, Scott Mathieson (whatever happened to him, anyway?) and all the other “can’t-miss” Phillies pitching prospects who did.
I’d rather not give up Drabek, but with another season on Halladay’s contract, Ricciardi is in a position to dictate terms of a trade, and so if we want him, we’ve got to give up Drabek.
And let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that Drabek will be as good as advertised. It’s not like the Phillies don’t have a billion young arms in their farm system anyway. Pitching, for once, is a position of strength and depth in the Phillies’ minor league system right now. Let’s capitalize on it.
4) Mortgaging the future. Here’s something I discovered. Guess how many players on the Phillies’ roster are signed through 2012 or later. Go on. Guess. One. Chase Utley and no one else. Just about everyone worth having is signed through 2011, but no one is signed later than that. You see, the Phillies have done something truly remarkable.
Your indulgence, please. The best sex, the author Nick Hornby writes, is when you climax at the same time as your partner. I’ll take his word for it because he’s European. The climax of a baseball player’s career is between about age 27 or 28 and age 32. Well look at the Phillies’ nucleus. Utley, Rollins, Werth and Ruiz are all 30. Howard is 29. Madson, Victorino and Myers are all 28. Lidge is 32. Everyone is in his prime. The only outliers are the young (25) Hamels and the older (37) Ibanez. Everyone climaxes at the same time.
Now these players will continue to produce at or near their peak efficiencies until about 2011. After that, everyone will be in decline and require new contracts to boot. So let’s get the most out of this group, even if it means giving up Taylor and Drabek, because by the time they’re ready to contribute, the Phillies’ window will have shut.
So do the Phillies absolutely need Roy Halladay to win the World Series this year? No. But would he make all the difference in terms of getting the most out of Utley, Howard, Rollins, et al before they go their separate ways? Yes. The Phillies don’t need Halladay, but damn if he wouldn’t help.