When the Philadelphia Phillies traded for Cliff Lee instead of Roy Halladay at the trade deadline last year, the Philly faithful were disappointed that they weren’t able to get the best pitcher in baseball.
After a spectacular postseason and a dominant World Series against the heavy-hitting Yankees, Phillies fans were disappointed the best pitcher in baseball was essentially traded away for Roy Halladay and top prospects from the Mariners.
The outcry initially was, “Why couldn't we have had both?” The Phillies fans were in an uproar about trading away Lee and not having what would have been the best one-two punch in all of baseball.
At first, all the reasons made sense for the Phillies in the Halladay/Lee trade:
They were getting new prospects to replace the ones that they had lost in the 2009 Lee trade, they had not been able to sign Lee for the long term once the 2010 season was over, and they were hoping that Cole Hamels would return to his World Series MVP form, allowing them to still have one of the best one-two punches in all of baseball.
However, looking at the recent signings by the Phillies to avoid arbitration with some of their players, I can’t help but wonder if things really make sense all that much anymore.
The Phillies traded away Cliff Lee who would have been making $9 million in the upcoming season and recently signed Joe Blanton to a three-year $24 million deal ($8 million per). Joe Blanton wasn’t nearly as effective as Lee was in the 2009 postseason, nor did he even make the starting rotation for much of the postseason. In short, Blanton is nowhere close to the level that Lee is.
So was signing Joe Blanton really the right move? Could they have kept Lee? Who could you have traded away if not Lee?
My answers—no, yes, and Jayson Werth.
Jayson Werth had a breakout year in 2009, hitting 35+ homers in the regular season and seven homers in the playoffs. He is set to become a free agent at the end of the 2010 season (just as Lee was) and, barring any disastrous injuries or major slumps, he will demand Matt Holliday/Jason Bay-esque money once free agency starts. Considering the Phillies insistence on sticking to a $140 million budget and the huge salaries already on the payroll, it is highly unlikely that Werth will be receiving his big paycheck from the Phillies come the start of the 2011 season.
While taking away 30+ homers away from any lineup can be detrimental, the Phillies happen to be one of the few teams in baseball with the likes of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins to still be able to sustain a potent offense in the NL even without a big bat like Werth’s.
But who would replace Werth in the outfield?
Phillies minor leaguer John Mayberry Jr., who played a few games with the Phillies last year, showed that he has a lot of upside to him. Though he would probably not come close to the production of Jayson Werth, a combination of Mayberry and a bench player might have been enough to fill some of the production.
My perfect scenario for the Phillies this offseason would have gone like this (with me playing the role of GM):
I would have still traded for Roy Halladay, but instead of trading away Lee, I would have traded Jayson Werth to a third team, not necessarily the Mariners, but a team looking for a big bat to help their offense and willing to trade away some prospects in order to do so. I would find it hard to believe that no team would be willing to give up some prospects for a player like Jayson Werth.
Subsequently, I would have let go of Joe Blanton and instead of having that $8 million per year going to him, I would have tried to negotiate an extension with Lee for $18-19 million per year for three years (I would add in a option for a fourth year if Lee wanted a longer contract, this would keep Lee in Philly for a possible total of five years starting with the 2010 season). The trade of Werth and the release of Blanton would have saved me about $15.5 million (factoring in Blanton’s 2010 salary of $8 million and Werth’s $7.5 million).
To simplify the calculation, taking out Blanton and Werth for 2010 with their current contracts would leave the Phillies about $3.5 million short of making a serious offer of $19 million per year to Cliff Lee. With free agency, trades, and releases, wiggling that $3.5 million out of somewhere in the team is really not that hard to do. Moreover, taking a $3.5 million hit for Lee, if no other financial scenario was available, would be well worth the payoff both on the field and off.
At the end of the day I would have had both Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee on my roster.
With the Phillies' current lineup and starting rotation (along with the $18-19 million), I have a hard time believing Lee would pass that up to go somewhere else. The choice would be making $20-21 million per year and playing on a mediocre or bad team, or making a million or two less and playing for a championship contender for the next couple of seasons. I think Lee would definitely have leaned towards the latter.
However, there are a couple of arguments that could be made against my scenario:
The first argument one could make is that the Phillies would not have gotten the same level of prospects for Werth as they did for Lee. The only problem with that logic is that prospects are never a sure thing. Just because you project someone to be something doesn’t mean they can always live up to the hype or pressure. I would rather gamble on a known commodity like Lee, than an unknown commodity (like prospects).
The second argument that could be posed is that you would be losing Joe Blanton. While I don’t think Joe is a bad pitcher and he was part of the 2008 championship run, he really is not anything more than a solid No. 3 starter. Losing him would not hurt the Phillies chances of winning it all as much as losing Lee did.
Consider the following rotation:
Roy Halladay—2003 AL Cy Young winner
Cliff Lee—2008 AL Cy Young winner
Cole Hamels—2008 World Series MVP
J.A. Happ—Runner-up for 2009 Rookie of the Year
Fifth Starter—Who cares! Did you read the pitchers names in the front of the rotation?
Last year, Lee proved that the way to beat the Yankees is to out-pitch them, because chances are, you are not going to be able to out-hit them. Considering what Halladay has done in the AL East and what Lee did to the Yankees in the World Series, four starts from those guys in a seven game series would be enough to send any team in the league shaking in their boots…errr…cleats.
If Cole Hamels gets it going (and by that I mean actually having a consistent third pitch) and Happ really comes into his own, the Phillies would be tough for anyone to beat. In the end, let us not forget that even without a guy like Jayson Werth, the Phillies would still have a guy that hits 40+ homers each year in Howard, a 30+ homers guy in Utley, along with Rollins and Ibanez, both of whom are gifted offensive players.
In my scenario, the Phillies would have arguably the best rotation along with the Red Sox (who know that pitching wins games) in all of baseball. Those bats, a murderer’s row for a rotation, and even a semi-good Brad Lidge would make them the favorites to win it all not only next year, but the several years after that (yes, even over the evil empire).