Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Hate A Fair Deal

Like many Phillies’ fans, I am a little nonplussed by the Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay trade. Two straight World Series appearances will not mollify Frank Helps You Think It All Out one bit.

For ease of consideration, let’s stipulate two things. Halladay is a somewhat more than marginal upgrade than Lee on paper. Two, the seven prospects the Phillies shipped out in the two trades- the one that brought Lee here, and the subsequent deal that shipped him out- trump the three the Phillies got back from Seattle. (ed. note: Ben Francisco is more than a mere throw in- he is a serviceable platoon starter and bench asset)

So, the Phillies must have sacrificed that excess future talent for something more than a mere upgrade in the number one pitcher.

Well, for one thing, Halladay comes with a very sane contract (for baseball terms).
Put it together, and the Phillies are yoked to the guy for a mere four years at a slightly below market price: $75-ish million? That super classy number one veteran starter- Sabbathia, Santana- normally comes with $20M commitments for a fifth, sixth, even seventh year. There is real value in getting out from under those guaranteed contract out years of a player in his late thirties.

The only teams that can afford that extra multi-year commitment are New York, Boston, Los Angeles/California based clubs (maybe Chicago)- the Phillies’ current chief rivals. And this keeps Halladay out of their clutches. Note, the Phillies are not a big enough revenue club to offer that sixth year to top pitching free agents- and yet they got one anyway. Shrewd- but it costs something.

Second, the six or so million dollars cash the Phillies get back gives them flexibility to go and “rent” a top pitcher/player over the summer without busting their $140M ceiling.

So, Philadelphia paid a premium to get an elite player upgrade for a below market contract, keep him away from rivals and get some cash to fortify the club over the summer. Seems fair to me. All clubs got a fair return. I can’t point to an outright steal and all clubs advanced their organizational agendas.

To me, that is what makes it curious. In a baseball sense, I don’t like fair deals. And I think, in baseball’s current economic climate, you don’t need to make fair deals.

Just like last summer, the Lee deal shook at out at a bargain price because of economic pressures facing the Indians. I cannot believe with the three excellent prospects the Phillies had, and the economic capacity to rent a player, the Phillies could not have swung another bargain deal this summer. The sort of deal where they held another weaker outfit up- rather than pay a fair price.

The worst that could have happened was Lee played out his last year, probably with the gusto associated with last contract years, on a zero-risk low-dollar contract and the Phillies pocketed two first round drafts when he left. Again at worst. All while keeping their top prospects looking for an opportunity to source this season’s top pitching rental. I know that the top pitching spot would be open for 2011 and forward- but with the Phillies willing, obviously, to spend $74 million for four years for Halladay- that problem would probably have solved itself over the next two years.

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