Having Lee and Halladay too much to ask

BY Ken Rosenthal • December 15, 2009

Why don’t the Phillies just keep Cliff Lee?

Follow the money. And the prospects.

Yes, the Phillies are trading only their own players for Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay, proving they had the talent to land him without involving a third team.

Yes, the Phillies could have had Halladay and Lee in the same glorious rotation, then tried to re-sign one or the other before both became free agents at the end of next season.

But the Phils simply could not afford both at once.

Not in money. Not in prospects.

The Phillies will receive $6 million from the Jays in the pending three-team trade, then subtract $9 million by sending Lee to the Mariners. Their net of $15 million will nearly cover Halladay’s $15.75
million salary for 2010 -- a near-wash.

Perhaps a team coming off back-to-back World Series should be in better position to budget for both former Cy Young Award winners. But the Phillies’ owners stretched the payroll for ‘09 by extending the contracts of several of their own stars, signing free-agent left fielder Raul Ibanez and adding Lee at the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

There is a limit, particularly when the team still needs bullpen help.

The Phillies traded four prospects for Lee. They will trade three for Halladay. Those seven players -- if the names in our report are accurate -- all ranked among their top 10 prospects a year ago,
according to Baseball America. In fact, they were Nos. 2 through 7, plus No. 10.

While the Phillies will keep their No. 1 prospect, outfielder Domonic Brown, their farm system would need years to recover if they lost that many young players without receiving any in return.

That’s the other reason why the Phillies need to trade Lee to get Halladay -– they need the three prospects coming back from the Mariners.

One, sources say, is right-hander Phillippe Aumont, the Mariners’ No. 3 prospect a year ago according to Baseball America. Another is outfielder Tyson Gillies, the No. 20 prospect. The third reportedly is right-hander Juan Ramirez, who was No. 5.

All are quite familiar, however, to Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper, who previously was the Mariners’ vice-president of player personnel.

So, are the Phillies doing the right thing?

We need to know all of the details, including the amount of Halladay’s extension, before passing initial judgment. But their motivation -- to get an ace signed long-term -- is clear. They obviously were not confident that they could lock up Lee.

Their upgrade for next season -- the exchange of Halladay for Lee -- will be marginal at best. And the prospects they are getting for Lee probably are not as good as the ones they are trading for Halladay -- right-hander Doug Drabek, outfielder Michael Taylor and catcher Travis D’Arnaud, according to sources.

At least, they shouldn’t be.

Remember, the Jays are sending the Phillies $6 million. The idea of including such a sum, from the Jays’ perspective, is to buy better players. The Phillies were not receiving any money last July when they refused to part with either Drabek or Brown for Halladay.

In fact, for Halladay plus $6 million, the Jays’ return had better be good. Taylor would figure to step into their outfield almost immediately. Drabek projects as at least a No. 3 starter. D’Arnaud is not as highly regarded.

From the Mariners’ perspective, the trade is more straight-forward -- three players for one year of Lee. That’s a deal that too many teams have grown reluctant to make; heaven forbid they trade their precious prospects.

The M’s can recoup two high draft picks if they offer Lee salary arbitration and fail to retain him as a free agent. Or, they can sign both Lee and right-hander Felix Hernandez long-term to front a
potentially dominant rotation.

So, there you have it -- a true blockbuster, one that will be debated for years, but at a first blurry glance appears to make sense for each club.

It could not make sense without Cliff Lee.

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