Phillies have other options beside Halladay
The Phillies are not just after Roy Halladay.
Asked Monday if the team was still pursuing Indians left-hander Cliff Lee, one club official responded, "We have many balls in the air. And we are still looking for top-of-the-rotation help."
Halladay, 32, has a better track record than Lee, who turns 31 on Aug. 30. But Lee represents an excellent alternative, and it's in the Phillies' interests to create the perception that they have other options.
The question is whether they actually do.
Early talks between the Phillies and Indians over Lee went nowhere. The availability — and durability — of Mariners lefty Erik Bedard remains in question. And the Phillies do not seem interested in second-tier starters such as Diamondbacks lefty Doug Davis.
In theory, the price in talent for Lee should not be as high as the price for Halladay. But Lee is owed about $11.5 million in salary through 2010, including a club option. Halladay is owed about twice that much, making him — in one important sense — less attractive.
The Indians, knowing they cannot compete next season if they move Lee, would consider moving him only for a knockout proposal. Such a proposal would need to start with a major-league ready starting pitcher such as the Red Sox's Clay Buchholz or Braves' Tommy Hanson.
The Phillies have such a pitcher — left-hander J.A. Happ, who is 7-0 with a 2.68 ERA. Adding Class AAA right-hander Carlos Carrasco and Class A outfielder Dominic Brown to the package surely would get the Indians' attention. But if the Phillies were to trade Happ and Brown, they probably would prefer Halladay, right?
Halladay is 11-3 with a 2.73 ERA this season, while Lee is 5-9 with a 3.31 ERA — and the fifth-worst run support in the American League. Lee also leads the league with 136 innings pitched, though Halladay has thrown only four fewer innings in two fewer starts.
Teams use sliding scales when determining the values of potential trade acquisitions: What players are they giving up? How much salary are they taking on? Thus, Lee would be more appealing than Halladay, if the overall price was right.
In any case, the Phillies would be wise to explore every option. They are the front-runners for Halladay because they possess the right combination of desire, prospects and financial flexibility. Teams such as the Red Sox and Yankees seem to lack desire. Teams such as the Dodgers and Angels seem to lack the right players.