Monday, January 4, 2010

The 2010 Phillies: Roy Halladay in; Cliff Lee Out

For my first post in the new year, I thought it would make sense to look at what the entity that will occupy more of my baseball time than any other, the Philadelphia Phillies, will look like in 2010. They've had an eventful offseason thus far to be sure. But is that a good thing?

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. took the reigns from Pat Gillick right after the 2008 season. Gillick is a longtime baseball man who was known to grow complacent with his teams, especially in-season, and thus earned the moniker 'Stand Pat.' This is one nickname that is unlikely to ever stick to Amaro.

Coming off a World Series title in 2008, Amaro let the longest tenured Phillie in Pat Burrell, the man who led the parade down Broad Street, walk away in free agency, opting for an older and lefthanded hitting Raul Ibanez. While some derided the move at the time, 2009 clearly showed Amaro to be in the right, getting much more production from Ibanez than Burrell gave Tampa Bay for roughly the equivalent salary of what Burrell would have commanded in Philadelphia.

While Burrell might have been a popular player with the Phillies, he was nowhere near as important to the team's success as Cliff Lee was in 2009. Lee was dominant in all three rounds of the playoffs, and won both of the Phillies triumphs in the World Series against the Yankees. So what did Amaro do? He traded his best pitcher away and brought in what is perhaps the best pitcher in baseball.

And I loved it. I loved it for no other reason than it took tremendous onions for Ruben Amaro to pull off a deal like this one. Maybe even a double order, if you'll engage my inner Bill Raftery. I loved it because Amaro saw a chance to make his already good team even better for the next four years. And I loved that it put the Phillies in the headlines in December, long after most of the ink on the 2009 season had been dried.

There was much consternation in the land at the Phillies losing Lee, and I understand that. There are a few factors at play here. First, Lee was the last thing any of us saw, so naturally a lot of people will associate that performance with Lee and grow a sentamentality to him. Secondly, the ace swap was actually two separate deals, with the Phillies giving up prospects to get Halladay and then trading Lee to get reasonably close prospects back. Many in the area squawked that the Phils should have kept Lee and Halladay, budget or not. At $140 million, the payroll is what it is. Those who tell you just hold onto Lee say 'well it's only $150 million then.' Ok, so then it's only $160 million, $185 million, or a government bailout of Wall Street. It's also pretty easy to say when its not your $140 million.

The other payroll point I've made to fans is this... do you like Ryan Howard? Shane Victorino? Jayson Werth? Cole Hamels? Well, they're not going to be here if all of your money is tied up in two pitchers.

Assuming the team could not financially afford to keep both pitchers long term, trading for Halladay and signing him for three more years is better than having Lee for one, and then watching helplessley as the Yankees throw the GDP of Luxembourg at him and he signs there as a free agent. I don't want to hear about getting draft picks to replace the lost prospects either. Hamels was drafted in 2002 and debuted in 2006. Utley was drafted in 2000 and became a full-time starter in '05. That doesn't help a team ready to win now and for the next 2-4 years.

Beyond all of these considerations, there is this... Roy Halladay is better than Cliff Lee. Period. End of story. For his career, Doc Halladay has a better ERA, winning percentage, ERA+, WHIP, and H/9 IP than Lee. Halladay has led the league in innings three times, and led in complete games five times. Lee's only significant league-leading statistic was ERA in his Cy Young winning 2008 season. Halladay has a Cy Young, too.

And don't forget, Halladay's numbers have been compiled pitching in the American League East, where in his career, Halladay has made the most starts against (in order) the Red Sox (41), the Yankees (37) and Rays (34). Lee's most common opponenets are the Royals (22), White Sox (21), and Tigers (20). Halladay's most frequent opponents represented the AL in the World Series seven times this decade, with Lee's representing the AL twice. (The only holdout being the 2002 Angels).

I'm not trying to disparage Cliff Lee. Not at all. He was phenomenal for the Phillies, and was a huge piece of them winning their second straight pennant for the first time ever. But let's be furrealfurreal (said "for real for real") for a second. Roy Halladay is better than Cliff Lee.

And because of that, the 2010 Phillies are set up to be better than the 2009 edition.

Coming up in my next post, I will examine the rest of the Phils' moves so far this offseason...

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