In one fell swoop, the Philadelphia Phillies handed the Seattle Mariners the A.L. West title while giving the Toronto Blue Jays the kick in the pants their rebuilding phase needed.
The particulars first: Philadelphia receives SP Roy Halladay and $6 million from Toronto in exchange for prospects in P Kyle Drabek, OF Michael Taylor and C Travis D’Arnaud. Seattle takes Cliff Lee from the Phillies for RP Phillippe Aumont, OF Tyson Gillies, P Juan Ramirez, all prospects. The Jays then flipped Taylor to the Oakland Athletics for 3B Brett Wallace.
On Philadelphia’s end, I completely understand the logic behind the deal. The Phillies were able to get the pitcher they originally wanted and immediately lock him up through 2014 (three years, $60 million is the reported figure along with two club/vesting options). Halladay is an absolute workhorse who should carve up National League hitters, and is a better bet to hold up down the line than Cliff Lee is. Of course, if Lee was willing to sign a three-year extension like Halladay was, this blockbuster likely never happens. It’s the three-year deal — very club-friendly — that makes this a significant upgrade from Lee when isolated in a vacuum. Sure, the upgrade could be neutral in 2010, but you’ve got to be forward-thinking in your deals, and the odds that Lee left Philadelphia after 2010 were looking rather high.
The Phillies overextended themselves financially last year and are trying to keep payroll steady (the $6 million they’re receiving in the deal helps tremendously). In addition, the prospects back to Philadelphia help to replenish a farm system gutted by the Lee and Halladay trades. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, I don’t think they’re receiving anything more than midlevel prospects who are a long shot to have long-term value in town. They all look like eventual major leaguers, but are they anything more than replacement level? We can’t answer that definitively. I do credit GM Ruben Amaro, however, for recognizing the need to replenish the farm system.
The Seattle Mariners made a tremendous move acquiring Cliff Lee for three prospects that don’t rank as even guaranteed future major leaguers. Any time you can get a top five pitcher in that scenario, you have to strike. Lee is also very affordable for 2010, as he will pull in $9 million. Of course, he’s a free agent the following year and is reportedly looking for a deal around $20 million annually. I’d be surprised if he gets it, but $18 million should be a lock. I do wonder about Lee’s long-term potential: after all, it was only 2007 that he was demoted to the minor leagues.
What transformed Lee from a midrotation starter to one of the best pitchers in the game was an increased ground ball rate, improved command and a couple of ticks on his fastball velocity. When Lee signs his eventual long-term contract, I’ll worry about deteriorating command and a fall-off from his fastball. It remains to be seen if Seattle will be that team to commit five or more years to Lee.
Putting aside any long-term valuation of Lee, this deal is still tremendous when looking through the lens of 2010. Lee will be a Cy Young candidate… acquired without giving up any of their top three prospects.
Onto Toronto. Toronto had no chance of holding onto Halladay long-term and even through all their blustering, I don’t think anyone (at least, anyone not a Blue Jays fan) truly felt the team was being serious about letting Halladay play the string out. They had to deal him this year — even with the two compensatory draft picks they could have gained, having prospects with minor league track records is much more valuable.
If former GM JP Ricciardi had been willing to allow Roy Halladay to talk contract extension with the Phillies this past July, I bet they could have gotten an extra piece out of the Phillies. Other than that, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was the exact trade that would have gone down in July. Toronto made out extremely well, netting a high-upside pitcher in Kyle Drabek that they don’t have anywhere in the system. Toronto has solid rotation depth, especially in the major leagues, but no one you can give the ball to on Opening Day and expect to win. Drabek can be that guy.
Travis D’Arnaud has been coveted by Toronto ever since he was selected a pick ahead of the Jays in 2007. The Blue Jays have J.P. Arencibia in their farm system, but there are questions about his ability to stay behind the plate, and D’Arnaud is the better value anyways. Michael Taylor was a Blue Jay for only the briefest of moments, as he was immediately shipped to Oakland for Brett Wallace.
While Taylor might evolve into a 20/20 player and provide good overall value out of the outfield, Wallace is the type of hitter Toronto needs in its next wave of youngsters. Toronto absolutely needs the upside that Wallace brings with the bat and can afford to worry about defense later. Assuming Wallace can’t stick at third (which is not a done deal just yet), he has the options of moving to first or designated hitter, with no one blocking him at either position.
Toronto has put themselves in great position to field a young, competitive club as soon as 2012. That’s all they could have asked for in a trade of Halladay. Seattle has two aces atop their rotation, but put themselves in a tough financial position in terms of extending both aces. Philadelphia remain the favorites to win the NL pennant in 2010, although their settling of prospects from Seattle’s end could greatly compromise their long-term future.