MONDAY: Ok, I’m obviously wrong. I’m not going to delete this and pretend it never happened, so feel free to read and laugh with all of today’s developments in mind. Mea culpa, Ken Rosenthal. Mea culpa.
It seems obvious that the very core concept of making trades in Major League Baseball is for improvement, whether in the current season or a few down the line. Depending on a team’s state in its league or division, one approach is more appropriate than another. Easy stuff.
So when Ken Rosenthal starts pumping out articles like this one, wherein he believes Cliff Lee could be moved as part of a deal to bring Roy Halladay to the Phillies, well, I just can’t help but wonder why the Phillies would consider doing such a thing.
This article needs some dissecting. Let’s give Rosenthal the benefit of the doubt and at least look at his reasoning first.
I have no proof that the Phillies are trying to move left-hander Cliff Lee as part of a three- or four-team trade for Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay.
But I’ve got a hunch.
Not off to a great start, Kenneth. There are certain things you can do based on feel: reading Braille is one. Writing a column based on some whimsical food-for-thought that, on the surface, seems to be written only to inspire dumb knock-off articles like this one, is really a waste of valuable column inches and really isn’t one of those “feel” things.
So, here’s the deal: Lee goes somewhere for prospects. The Phillies include the prospects in their package for Halladay, maybe keep one or two for themselves. Halladay gets his extension, the Jays get a bounty of young players and some lucky team gets Lee for one year at his bargain salary of $9 million.
Here’s where things start to come apart. One of the main reasons why the Lee deal was so great in the first place was that he was under control for a season and a half at a great rate for his ability. Nine million dollars is easy money if we’re getting anything close to First Five Starts and Playoffs Lee for most of 2010. Swapping out that money – plus prospects! – to add Halladay’s considerably larger salary doesn’t make sense. More on that in a bit.
They obviously would stand a better chance of winning the World Series if they had both Lee and Halladay, even if Lee was all but certain to depart after next season. But trading right-hander Joe Blanton, who stands to make about $7 million in salary arbitration, might not provide enough of a benefit in dollars and players.
I agree the prospect package for Blanton would be lesser, but saying a team that just dished out 45 full playoff shares of nearly $250k apiece would have trouble minding the $2M gap is like saying Bill Gates would balk at ordering dessert following a lovely dinner at Le Bec Fin.
The 2009 season is the dinner, and Halladay is the dessert. A creme brulee or something. The Phils have the dough, and they’re obviously hungry. Get the damn pastry.
True, other teams might balk at acquiring Lee if they sensed that the Phillies were concerned about signing him long-term. But c’mon, we’re talking about Cliff Lee. The free-agent and trade markets are so thin in starting pitching, the idea of getting Lee at a below-market salary for one season surely would cause some club to jump — and maybe even jump high.
Rosenthal’s just talking in smoke by this point. He even mentions exactly why this deal doesn’t make sense for the Phillies. Lee is already signed affordably, and showed approximately sixty thousand flashes of brilliance in his short time in Philadelphia, compounded with an entire season of brilliance in 2008. Why would any team covet a guy who is 18 months older, making $6M+ more money and is worth exactly 0.9 more wins above replacement over the last two seasons than the guy currently on the roster?
Look, Halladay is awesome. I’m not hiding the fact that I’ve openly dreamt of this guy in red pinstripes for the last week or so. But what sense does it make to try to dump all this payroll and Cliff Lee for what looks like would amount to about half a win above replacement? Lee represented a huge upgrade when we traded for him in July. Halladay also represents a huge upgrade, but only over pitchers not named Lee or Hamels.
But again, saying the Phillies would balk at the $2M difference between Lee and Blanton in choosing who to deal is dumb. This team has raked in the money over the last two-plus years, gets an incredible amount of viewership on Comcast, sells merchandise at stupid rates and will probably sell out 75 home games this year. On what plane does $2M mean the breaking point between Halladay and Not Halladay?
The Dodgers would make sense; they long have coveted Lee. The Angels would make sense; they’re in the mix for Halladay. The Yankees and Red Sox forever loom as possibilities, and even a mid-revenue team such as the Brewers could afford Lee.
I’ve got an even better possibility, though — and again, I’m just going on a hunch.
This part of the article actually does make some sense. I’m sure the Mariners would be interested, and they do have some minor league talent, at least enough to trade for Lee, were he available. But that’s just it! Lee shouldn’t be available.
Two of the Mariners’ top prospects, outfielder Michael Saunders and right-hander Phillipe Aumont, are Canadian. How appropriate: Anthopoulos is Canadian, team president Paul Beeston is Canadian and the organization is re-emphasizing all things Canadian. A Dominican infielder, Carlos Triunfel, also would figure to be on the Jays’ wish list, along with an American catcher, Adam Moore.
Now we get weird again. I’m not sure why Toronto would feel the need to get all nationalistic in making its moves.
Anyway, Adam Moore isn’t going anywhere. Kenji Johjima opted out of his contract and returned to Japan earlier this offseason, so Seattle is in no rush to deal one of their best prospects for a starter, only to create a new void behind the plate with no truly appealing catchers on the free agent market. I just don’t see that.
The Jays would not land all of those players; they might get only two, with the Phillies providing the others. The Phils would be reluctant to put lefty J.A. Happ or minor-league right-hander Kyle Drabek in the same trade as Lee, but they could start their end of the deal with one of two minor-league outfielders, Domonic Brown or Michael Taylor, and go from there.
Let me just make sure I’ve got my Rosenthal Arithmetic down just right.
First, Cliff Lee is apparently only as valuable as J.A. Happ or Kyle Drabek (and those two are equally valuable, at that!), and including him in a deal STILL means that one of the top outfielders has to go. And, if Lee is going to the Mariners for – get this – a pitcher and an outfielder, as Rosenthal hypothesizes, how is that any different from what we’re currently offering? Pitchers and outfielders are the crux of our reported current offers for Halladay, involving some mix of Happ, Drabek, Brown and Taylor, with additions of guys like Gose, May and Cosart on the back burner.
The addition of Moore is probably nonsensical; the only piece the Phillies couldn’t match would be Carlos Triunfel, but Cliff Lee is worth more than a one-for-one swap (which is essentially what this boils down to, given that the Phillies have minor league talent in the outfield and on the mound already.
What is the point of this trade? We ship Lee off to Seattle so the Mariners can give Toronto some talent at positions that we’re already supposedly offering – only they’re Canadian! – and still send our top prospect (and more) to Toronto for Halladay. Maybe Toronto pays the $6M difference in salary between Halladay and Lee. I doubt it, considering their approach is as much about saving money as it is getting the appropriate talent in return, but maybe just saving $9M would be enough for them. Who knows?
From Toronto’s standpoint, this is a great deal. From Seattle’s, it makes sense if a deal can be swung without including Moore. For the Phillies, it makes the least sense. Adding Halladay in place of Lee doesn’t make them significantly better in 2010. Worse, that trade proposal doesn’t improve them to the point of justifying having to surrender top prospects and Cliff Lee.
Hunch or not, it’s not the right move for the Phillies.