The past day and a half has left the baseball world scratching its head. Personally I was reeling at the thought of trading Clifton Phiefer Lee for anything less than Cy Young reincarnated. I distinctively recall throwing a small object or two and stifling a few four-letter words from the ears of my co-workers when the rumor mill started churning. I went to bed in my #34 t-shirt and tried to dream it all away.
After having the chance to sleep on things and sort through about one hundred Twitter updates per hour I realized something very startling – I am totally and completely in love with the deal.
So you’re upset that Cliff Lee will no longer be a Philly. Understandable. He did great things for Philadelphia in the three months he was in town. I am not embarrassed to say the only game of the 2009 World Series that I downloaded on iTunes was game one just so I could watch him work his magic against the biggest empire in baseball over and over and over again. But run a Google search or two and you’ll see that Cliff Lee had made mention of wanting to test out the free agent market post-2010 long before this whirlwind began. And let us not forget that Cliff Lee was a back-up plan to begin with.
There are some reports out there in which Lee’s agent has implied Philly basically ran him out of town just to get their hands on Halladay after only discussing options for about an hour at the Winter Meetings. Even if that’s true you have to look at this from Amaro’s point of view. If Lee decided against signing an extension with the Phillies past 2010 (assuming he put up the same numbers he had the past two seasons) he could have potentially been picked up by another team anyway. If the Phillies never looked ahead and just relied on the farm system to produce a “like kind & quality” replacement the franchise have the potential to be left upside down in their investments and possibly have to scramble to fill the rotation back up again.
So you think we could have waited it out and gotten Doc after 2010 if Lee decided to walk. Understandable. Except it has already been reported that the Yankees & Red Sox have been spotted Halladay shopping. As we have all taken note of this week the Phillies have a strict $140 million payroll limit they have placed on themselves. If they wait until the Kings of the AL East start whipping out their checkbooks they put themselves in a sitting duck position. I mean lets all be honest with ourselves for a second – who wouldn’t want to be on the New York Yankees payroll? Amaro & crew would have been outbid on someone they could have gotten for much less had they made their move sooner.
“But Cliff Lee wanted $23 million per year and Roy is getting $60 million for three years plus vesting options – isn’t that practically the same thing?”
Now I’m not an MLB accountant (yet) but I’m pretty sure even when we’re talking in the millions that’s a pretty big gap. The deal to get Doc pretty much evens itself out to pay his $15.5 million for 2010 between the $6 million the Phillies get in “cash” and the money being freed up by sending Lee to the Mariners. It’s hard to argue that Moyer tying up $8 million of Philadelphia’s payroll is what kept them from having the ultimate starting rotation. Moyer signed a 2-year $13 million contract in December of 2008 which works out to $6.5 million each in 2009 (which has already been earned) & 2010. Lee was to receive an $8 million club option with a $1 million buy-out in 2010 bringing his paycheck to $9 million for the season. The $23 million per year that Lee wanted (and refused to discount) would have started in 2011, a year Moyer has not signed on for yet effectively washing out the entire theory past that season. Sure you could argue that if you kept Lee and signed Halladay with his money bags and didn’t forget to throw Moyer (or Blanton & his $7 million arbitration deal) into the mix the Phillies aren’t exactly blowing the lid off their salary cap – but that doesn’t make them any better than a certain well-to-do team we have all lamented over for their liberal check-stroking abilities. Looking at the numbers (and just the numbers) the move makes sense to free up enough payroll to pay for a comparable (better) player that is clearly (key-word) willing to stay for a while even if only for “slightly” less. That’s the technical explanation and I’m sticking to it.
“But we gave up all of our prospects!”
I was going to get technical with stats and analysis but I like how Shane Victorino said it on ESPN Radio this evening. First of all he said as a player he loves the deal, that he will miss having Lee in Philadelphia but will love playing behind Doc. He went on to note that he was never a “top prospect” like a Drabek, Brown, Taylor, etc. There were plenty of guys ahead of him that were glorified for their potential and plenty of them never got their call. In other words there are a lot of players in the minors that look great on paper but will never see Major League playing time and sometimes it’s better to make a move on proven rather than prospect. Besides that, who is to say the Phils will never see some of those players on their rosters again? Drabek wasn’t slated to start game one of the 2010 season and unless the franchise is forced to play musical chairs in their bullpen again he may not have even seen the inside of Citizens Bank Park (at least from a seat nestled between Chan Ho Park & Ryan Madson). The same goes for all the youngsters being shipped cross-continent both to AND from Philadelphia. Don’t ignore the fact that the Phillies are getting some top-notch prospects in return for their wheeling and dealing who also may or may not ever get face time on a 40-man roster.
“But Roy Halladay is only marginally better than Cliff Lee! What’s the point?”
I’ll keep this one short and sweet – Doc’s numbers are better and he did it against the AL East. Bring that kind of talent to the NL East, get the Phillies to a third consecutive World Series, and you have a serious advantage.
“But I love Cliff Lee!”
So do I. I guess we’ll be watching a lot more Mariners games this year.
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