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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

February 24, 2010 at 7:33 PM

Cliff Lee’s presence still felt with Phillies, even in absentia


Don’t forget I’ll do a live blog today at 1 p.m. Seattle time.

Roy Halladay (pictured above earlier in camp) is the quiet, unassuming sort, but he still has a commanding presence in the Phillies’ clubhouse. That comes with being regarded by your peers as one of the top three pitchers in baseball, if not the top one. Halladay had a great comeback the other day when told that Johan Santana of the Mets had declared himself the best pitcher in the NL East: “I steer clear of that,” Halladay said. “I think it was a Lou Holtz quote, ‘Well done is always more important than well said.’ I’ve always tried to take that philosophy and I stay out of those things as much as possible.”

Turns out it was Ben Franklin, not Lou Holtz, but you get the point — Halladay lets his pitching do the boasting. What many Phillies fans still wonder is why the Phillies couldn’t have had Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels all together in the same monster rotation this year. After all, the “three-way” trade in mid-December involving Seattle, Toronto and Philadelphia that resulted in Lee going to Seattle, and Halladay to Toronto, was really a pair of two-way trades. Halladay went from Toronto to Philadelphia for prospects Kyle Drabek (RHP), Michael Taylor (OF) and Travis d’Arnaud (C) — the Jays promptly flipping Taylor to Oakland for third baseman Brett Wallace. The Jays also sent along $6 million in cash in the deal, while the Phillies almost immediately signed Halladay to a three-year, $60-million extension.

The Mariners’ portion of the deal involved sending pitchers Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez along with outfielder Tyson Gillies to Philadelphia for Lee.

Why couldn’t the Phillies have stopped after the Halladay trade, and kept a powerhouse rotation of Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ in pursuit of a third straight pennant and second World Series championship in three years? Even if Lee, a pending free agent, walked away after the season, isn’t it worth it to go for the glory?

“That’s been the question all winter,” Benny Looper, the Phillies’ assistant GM, said today. “I think the bottom line was, in ’08 they traded prospects to get Blanton. Last year, we traded four guys to get Cliff. To get Halladay was going to be three more prospects. All of a sudden, you’ve traded away nine prospects in a short period of time. You need to replenish that. It would have been great to have both, but looking long-term, we needed to get prospects back into the system.”

That’s one answer. Another was provided earlier this winter by Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro, who today declined to discuss the issue (“Cliff Lee’s now a Seattle Mariner. I’ve answered that question enough times.”)

Here’s what Amaro said back in early February, as quoted in the Delaware County Times: “I was talking to some people the other day, and I said, ‘I’m not a dummy. I know what Cliff Lee means to our rotation in addition to Halladay and Hamels. It’s a no-brainer.’ … Our goal is to be a contender every year. That’s really my job. As an executive of the club, it’s my job to do what I can to try to maintain that level of talent on the club and that hope from the fans. So, yes, I’d like to have a championship, but not at the cost of having our organization not be good for 10 years. Absolutely not. That’s not the goal. The goal is to be a contender every year. And once you get to the World Series or get to the playoffs, it’s really a matter of who’s playing the best baseball, who’s hottest, who has the karma.”

In the same blog post, Amaro said, “We cannot be the New York Yankees. We have to have people that we can bring to the big leagues from our system.”

My interpretation: Beyond the legitimate need to augment the farm system, the Phillies have to keep their payroll from jumping into the Red Sox/Yankee territory, despite huge attendance at Citizens Bank Park during this run of glory. As the Delaware paper points out, the Phillies’ payroll is nearing $140 million for 2010, and they have $131.25 million already committed to just 15 players for 2011, even with Jamie Moyer’s $8 million contract coming off the book. And with a roster teeming with superstars, a lot of huge contracts are going to be coming due, starting with Ryan Howard after 2011.

Lee was clearly stunned the night of the trade as he talked to Seattle reporters on a conference call, believing that he had been working toward an extension with Philadelphia. But the Phillies obviously decided that they couldn’t afford to bankrupt the farm system, and boost the payroll long-term, by adding Halladay without subtracting Lee for prospects.

Still, Lee made quite an impression during his three months with the Phillies — two months of the regular season after coming over from Cleveland on July 29 (7-4, 3.39 ERA, including a 5-0 record with a 0.68 ERA in his first five starts) and then a brilliant showing in the postseason (4-0, 1.56, including a complete-game win over the Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series in which he didn’t give up an earned run, struck out 10 and didn’t walk any).

“I was quite impressed,” Moyer said today of Lee. “He’s a great competitor, a very easy going guy, a very good teammate. The Mariners have gotten a great player. They made a great trade. I don’t know what they lost, as far as the youth they gave up. But as far as what they got in return, I think you’re going to see a pretty special player. We saw it here. Cliff came over at the trade deadline and was phenomenal for us. It was a shame to see him go, but it was a pleasure, also, to be on the same team with him and watch him work.

“I think the fans in Seattle, with he and Felix, if Bedard can get things straightened out — they have a chance to be a really nice team this year, a really nice team. They’ve made some nice additions, along with some guys who had really nice years. They can build off that. It seems like Don (Wakamatsu) has righted the ship and has guys going in the right direction and believing in the right things and working the right way.”

Added Moyer: “You trade a guy like Cliff and go, ‘Holy cow, how are we going to make up for that?’ But we trade for a guy the caliber of Roy Halladay, that’s pretty special, too. Both are very talented pitchers, both bring a lot of experience. Whether we still have Cliff, which we don’t, or have Roy, both come from the American League and had success in the American League. If we get back to the postseason and get back to the World Series, that’s a benefit for us.”

The ultimate evaluation of the Lee trade from the Phillies’ perspective will depend on the development of the youngsters they received. I delved into Aumont earlier today. Here’s what Amaro said today about Gillies and Ramirez:

On Gillies: “He’s a high-energy guy and a quality kid. We got a chance to get to know him with our Prospect Education Program. Obviously, he has some ability and athleticism. It’s nice to add this kind of high-ceiling guy to our stable of outfielders that we think is kind of a strength for us. A lot will depend on how he continues to develop, but certainly we project him to be a possible every day center fielder.

On Ramirez: “I really like the arm. He has great size, a nice delivery. He’s a guy who can project as a middle-of-the-rotation guy. We’ll see where it goes. It’s still kind of early to know what he’s going to be. But he’s another guy who came to our Prospect Education Program. He’s a good kid, looks like an intelligent kid. I’m looking forward to seeing how he’s going to develop.”

(Associated Press photo)



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