Saturday, December 19, 2009

Happy Halladay

Just six weeks have passed since the New York Yankees extended their baseball dynasty with a 27th World Series championship by dethroning our own Phillies in six games. With the change from fall to winter have also come changes to the Fightin' Phils roster.

In the last few weeks, and as the Christmas holiday fast approaches, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and his management team have shown that they are not at all satisfied having won the 2008 title and nearly won a second.

Early this week the Phillies successfully concluded what was a 4-month pursuit of the acknowledged top pitcher in baseball when they completed a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays that brought Roy Halladay to town.

The cost for Halladay was significant. He gets a 3-year deal that likely flips to 4 years at a salary of about $20 million per year. The cost also includes the package of prospects sent to the Jays led by pitcher Kyle Drabek and outfielder Michael Taylor. Both are considered future major league regulars by most baseball observers, with Drabek a potential future rotation ace.

Also dealt to Toronto was catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud, meaning that the Phils have now dealt away their top two catching prospects in the last few months. The other was Lou Marson, sent away to Cleveland back at the 2009 trade deadline as part of the Cliff Lee deal which also included pitching prospects Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp.

Perhaps the one annoying part of the deal for some Phillies fans was the linked trade of Lee to Seattle in exchange for prospects. Some of the fan base thought the Phils could have kept both Halladay and Lee, giving them one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball next year with Halladay, Lee, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, and J.A. Happ.

However, Amaro knows his business. With the boatload of prospects lost by the Phillies minor league system in the two deals with Cleveland and Toronto over the past few months, that system was seriously depleted of top level talent. When Seattle was willing to part with a former #1 draft pick and highly regarded prospect arm in Phillipe Aumont, the Phils jumped to send Lee back to the American League.

Looking at the overall totality of the deals, the Phils got 3+ strong pitching months from Lee, performances without which the team likely doesn't return to the World Series, all for marginal or far-off prospects from Cleveland. Then they basically recouped the talent level on those prospects in flipping Lee to Seattle this week.

While the club theoretically could have kept both Halladay and Lee for this coming year, there was little likelihood that they could have met Lee's salary demands beyond 2010. So they jumped on a deal being offered right now that included strong prospects coming back to them.

Just yesterday the Phillies announced that they were excercising their 2011 contract option on shortstop and team leader Jimmy Rollins. This means that the club has contracts in place with 7 of their 8 position players through that season at least, with only Jayson Werth likely to test the free agent waters after the coming season.

The salary certainty with Halladay as an ace now in place, the Phillies can turn their attention to decisions and negotiations involving Werth next year and players like Rollins, Ryan Howard, Ryan Madson and others in the following year. The big Halladay deal was not the only move that the Phillies have made to improve this off-season.

Another key for management was rebuilding the team's bench, which seemed to become exposed as a bit of a liability in the post-season. To that end the club signed veteran Phillie-killer Brian Schneider to be the backup catcher, Juan Castro as a slick-fielding defensive infielder, and Ross Gload as a veteran pinch-hitter. Along with returnee Greg Dobbs, they will make up the majority of the Phils bench in the coming season.

Finally, the Phils have replaced the slick-fielding but offensively inconsistent and one-dimensional Pedro Feliz with returning veteran Placido Polanco at third base. There are not many better glovemen at the hot corner than Feliz, but Polanco is a vast improvement as a hitter who should bring greater flexibility and patience to a batting order that can use both at times. Although he won a Gold Glove as a 2nd baseman, he has the experience and athleticism to succeed at 3rd.

Amaro still has a little bit of work to do in finalizing the shape of the 2010 bullpen. Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, and Chad Durbin should continue to have prime roles there. The team will have decisions to make on possibly adding or bringing back 2-3 other bullpen arms. Veteran Jamey Moyer will likely battle young Kyle Kendrick for the 5th starter role.

Phillies fans can now relax and enjoy a team in both 2010 and 2011 that will include Halladay fronting a rotation with Hamels and J.A. Happ both years, and with a lineup including Howard, Utley, Rollins, Victorino, Polanco, Ibanez, and Ruiz both years. All the while, prospects will develop and players will come and go around them, but health-allowing, the team will be a contender both years.

With back to back World Series appearances, one world championship in the bank already, three consecutive N.L. East titles, one of the most beautiful ballparks in the game, and a mostly set and talented lineup and rotation, the Phillies and their fans can truly sit back now and enjoy a happy holiday season with a happy Halladay on hand. Merry Christmas, Phillies fans!

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