Monday, December 14, 2009

Trading Aces: Phils To Swap Lee For Halladay

According to a report from, the Phillies are close to acquiring Roy Halladay in a 3-team trade that will send Cliff Lee to Seattle. It's unclear at the moment who else will be involved in the trade; presumably Seattle will be sending prospects to Toronto and possibly to the Phillies as well, but all that's come out so far is Lee is heading to the Mariners and Halladay to the Phillies.

This comes as an initial shock, as the Phillies seem to be accomplishing little by swapping aces, especially after Lee was so dominant in October. But the deal is contingent upon Halladay signing a contract extension, so this is not merely a rental. The Phillies had tried to work out an extension with Lee but had not made any headway, so after the 2010 season they would have either lost him to free agency, or had his price driven up in a bidding war.

It's difficult to see Lee go after witnessing his brilliance in a Phillies uniform, but ultimately Ruben Amaro has to be commended for this trade. Halladay, after all, was the Phillies' initial target when they sought an ace to bolster their rotation last season, but the price was too high. There's no question that if they could have gotten Halladay for the package that landed them Lee, they would have done so in a heartbeat. And now, several months later, they have effectively done just that.

As good as Lee was, Halladay should be a better fit. He is an excellent groundball pitcher and he also generates more strikeouts than Lee; both of which make him a better fit in Citizens Bank Park. He's also a right-handed pitcher, which should help balance out the rotation a bit. Not to mention his superior track record to Lee, who has had a few outstanding seasons, but his overall resume pales in comparison to that of Halladay. Based on last season's stats there appears to be minimal difference between the two, but on a career level, Halladay is clearly superior.

Just look at their pages on Cliff Lee's Hall of Fame statistics give him a Hall of Fame monitor score of 39 (the average Hall of Famer finishes with a score of about 100). Meanwhile Roy Halladay's Hall of Fame monitor score is 80, meaning that he's got a legitimate shot at the Hall if he finishes his career strong. The similarity scores are also worth noting. Out of the top ten pitchers who compare the best to Lee through age 30, there are some quality names: Denny Neagle, Mark Mulder, Chris Carpenter. But Halladay's top comparisons through age 32 are a bit more impressive: Mike Mussina, Dizzy Dean, Don Newcombe, Andy Pettitte, Jim Bunning. So debate all you want who was better last year, but Halladay's track record is far superior, and thus a better indicator of future success.

The ultimate question, however, is just how much better (if at all) does this make the Phillies? Halladay is a slightly better pitcher right now, but he'll have even more pressure on him than Lee did, seeing as he'll be expected to mirror or even top Lee's 2009 output. We'll have to see how the trade shakes out before making final analysis; if the Phillies score a nice prospect or two in the deal, for example, that would solidify this as a wise decision. Ultimately, however, this move wasn't made for 2010 as much as it was for the next several years. The Phillies are in win-now mode, but that doesn't mean they are sacrificing the future.

While this seems like an intelligent trade on the whole, the Phillies still have some work to be done. The bullpen needs upgrading (John Smoltz wouldn't be a terrible option if they are looking for a bargain) and another quality starter would be nice. As it stands, our rotation will feature Halladay, Hamels, Happ, Blanton, and an unknown fifth starter (probably either Kendrick, Moyer, or perhaps even Kyle Drabek). Hamels and Blanton weren't able to get the job done last October (though one has to hope Hamels can turn things around in 2010), but perhaps having Happ in there over Pedro will improve things.

There is still tweaking to be done, but the 2010 Phillies have a chance to be even better than the 2009 edition. Of course, that was the case before this trade, figuring that a full season of Lee would be a major upgrade, but now things are looking up for the 2011 Phillies as well; something we could not have said yesterday.

1 comment:

Charles Berman said...

Halladay was the big-news prize that every team seemed to be after this offseason. Even when rumors started about the Phillies acquiring him I was wary, especially after hearing the exorbitant demands Toronto made of the Yankees in exchange for his services. Now that the deal is essentially done, though, I am coming to think it's a very intelligent move. I'm very happy that acquiring him didn't mean depleting our farm system.

As you say it's difficult to watch Cliff Lee go away after the very thrilling partial season he gave us, but between the two Cy Young winners (and we should never forget how lucky we are to be choosing between Cy Young winners) his numbers, impressive as they have been, have been noticeably less impressive. They're surely vary for both pitchers next season, but we're definitely not downgrading at this point.

So while getting Halladay might be a somewhat lateral move in some people's eyes -- that's only for next season. Reports are that Lee did not want to sign a contract extension with the Phillies past next season and wanted to become a free agent, while Halladay is negotiating to play for Philadelphia as late as 2015. So we could stick with Lee for a year (in which I'm confident he'd be excellent), or lock down a pitcher theoretically just as good for a few years down the road. Look at that way it seems like a very simple decision.

If Halladay pitches for us all year, Polanco is the offensive upgrade of Feliz that he promises to be, and Hamels returns to something like his 2008 form, the 2010 Phillies have the potential to be much better than the team that won the pennant in 2009.

That said, I too am worried about the bullpen, and I think we need to pickup some players for it before our chances dry up. I'd be very much for picking up another Cy Young winner (albeit the 1996 Cy Young winner) in John Smoltz to try as a setup man. If he's anything like he was a closer a few years ago it will be a bargain, but if he's washed up (as last year's number indicate we should consider) we could drop him without losing too much of our investment.