Home > MLB > Deal or No Deal: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee

Deal or No Deal: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee

The Philadelphia Phillies finally got their man, but at what cost?

By now you should be well aware of the blockbuster trade sending Roy Halladay to the Phillies, Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners and a slew of prospects to both the Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays.

The deal is a head scratcher for many experts, who question the point of trading a proven commodity (Lee) for the sole purpose of “upgrading” to an older model (Halladay). After all, it was Lee, not Halladay, who led the Phillies through a demolition derby of the National League, and continuing his reign of terror against the Yanks in the World Series. Lee did go 4-0 in the postseason with an ERA of 1.56 in a shade over 41 innings pitched.

Hey, it’s not his fault the Phillies couldn’t close the deal.

But a deal like this is clearly more complicated than a simple tit-for-tat. And how and why did the Mariners get involved in all of this anyway? You know, other than because they get the lights-out lefty to pair with ace Felix Hernandez they thought they were getting when they dealt for Erik Bedard two years ago.

Trading for a Left-handed Ace to Pair with the King: Scene One – Take Two.

This transaction has more layers than the Frank and Jamie McCourt divorce.

Before we delve any further, let’s cover the bounties.

Philly Gets:

-Roy Halladay (from TOR)

-Phillipe Aumont (from SEA)

-Tyson Gillies (from SEA)

-Juan Ramirez (from SEA)

-$6-million (from TOR)

Seattle Gets:

-Cliff Lee (from PHI)

Toronto Gets:

-Kyle Drabek (from PHI)

-Michael Taylor (from PHI)

-Travis d’Arnaud (from PHI)

But the goodness doesn’t end there. In actuality, as it turns out, this is a four team swap, with Taylor going to Oakland for infielder Brett Wallace. You may remember Wallace as the key component from the Matt Holliday to St. Louis trade last summer. A wonderfully blessed hitter, who happens to be a below average third baseman. So… he’s a first baseman in the making.

So why did this deal get made? Other than idea that Philly has been near-retraining order obsessed with Halladay for a couple of years now.

From the Phillies standpoint, they have been looking for a bona-fide ace to pair with on-again-off-again Cole Hamels. They now have one. While many would point to the acquisition of Lee as that certifiable stud, the Phillies viewed him more as a one-year fix. With rumors swirling of Lee’s asking price – who was under contract only for the 2010 season, at $8-million – of a Sabathia-esq deal (7-years/$161-million), the Phillies got scared of that kind of financial committment.

So they looked back to Halladay, who is on the hook this year for $15.75-million. And once the deal was in place, they negotiated a three-year extension for $20-million per. They also were able to squeeze the Jays for $6-million, thus reducing their committment to Halladay.

Seattle is counting on Cliff Lee to drop the deuce on the rest of the AL West this season.

Seattle is counting on Cliff Lee to drop the deuce on the rest of the AL West this season.

As you can probably guess, Philly liked the idea of four years of Halladay at a total price of $69.75-million better than seven-eight more years of Lee at between $145-170-million. It’s less of a risk.

Oh and the age factor? Halladay’s is severely misinterpreted. We think of Doc as an old wily veteran, with minimal miles left on his tread. He’s 32. At the end of his new extension, he will be 36. And likely a dependable 36 at that. Halladay has pitched in less than 31 games only twice since 2002, making 31 starts or more each of the past four years.

As for Lee’s youth? The guy is 31, only a year younger than Halladay. At the end of his potential free-agent deal, Lee would be 38 or 39 depending on whether or not he is able to get that seventh year. While Lee has been reliable in terms of the number of starts he has made – 31 or more in five of his last six seasons – he hasn’t been in terms of production. Since 2004 Lee has posted an ERA under 4.40 only three times.

So all in all, Philly feels like they were able to obtain a better, more reliable pitcher, for less annual dollars and with a shorter contract committment.

Unfortunately, getting their guy meant getting rid of Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor, two players they balked at dealing as recently as last summer. It was rumored for a while that instead of Drabek, the Phils may have been able to convince the Jays to take J.A. Happ and or the enigma that is Cole Hamels. Clearly, if that was ever on the table, it wasn’t tempting enough. But personally, I have my doubts the name Hamels ever came up, seriously anyway.

Some wonder out loud why Philly conceded to give up Drabek and Taylor now, when they could have done the same in July, without relinquishing additional prospects, like they had to give to Cleveland to get less than a year of Lee.

But come on, let’s not kid ourselves. Philly only had to give up Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Lou Marson and Jason Donald to get Lee.

That’s like saying I shouldn’t trade you a warm piece of poop on a stick for a meat lover’s pizza. Get real.

We have covered Philly. Now what about Toronto?

Their perspective is quite simple.

They can’t compete in the AL East – against the likes of New York, Boston and Tampa – with Halladay, and they can’t afford to resign him in 2011, so the time to cash him in for as many chips as possible was now.

Mission accomplished. Drabek is a decent prospect even if he wasn’t ranked in the top 100 by Baseball America last April. Travis d’Arnaud is a kid with a live arm but a balky hip from Seattle. The jury is still out on whether or not he can become a starting pitcher again. Finally, they deal Taylor for an excellent young hitter in Brett Wallace. Wallace will probably have to move from third to first base, but who cares if he can continue hitting?

Whether or not you any of us think getting Drabek, Wallace and D’Arnaud is worth dealing Halliday, is irrelevant. They had to deal him and this was the best deal they could get. And for the record, I think it’s a great haul for Toronto.

Seattle definitely has the most interesting side of this deal, as it seems like they came from nowhere, to swoop in and snag an ace.

Specifically, there are five angles in which to view Seattle’s busy winter:

1.) The M’s Have Quietly Pushed Most of their Chips to the Center of the Table

Are they over-playing their hand, trading for a year of Lee and inking Chone Figgins to a four-year deal? Who knows. But one thing is for certain, Seattle clearly believes that with the two-pair-combo of King Felix/ Lee and Figgins/ Ichiro, they can win the West and maybe more.

And they might be right.

In a “you heard it here first,” if the M’s were smart they would hit Figgins first, center fielder Franklin Gutierrez second and Ichiro third (ala Tony Gwynn late in his career) rather than Ichiro leadoff and Figgins second like they are expected to do.

Your best hitter should always hit third. Always. Especially when you have another on-base machine (Figgins) whom you can bat first.

2.) The Small Market Syndrome/ No Money Mariners Fallacy

Because the M’s have stunk for a while now and the Sonics recently left town for Oklahoma’s greener pastures, Seattle has lulled folks into thinking they don’t have the money to make major acquisitions.


They may not have New York or Chicago money, but as something like the eleventh largest market in America, Seattle has a deep enough bank account to make the occasional splash or two. Signing Figgins and dealing for Lee is proof.

3.) Winning a Felix Discount

The theory is, despite having some spare change hiding in the executive’s cushions, the M’s will fall just short of having the capacity to lock King Felix up long-term once they lose control of his rights after the 2011 season. That is, unless they can start winning.

If they take the West this year and potentially win a series or two, perhaps Felix will be enticed into an enormous contract extension at the beginning of the 2011 season, rather than wait to become a free agent at the end of it, netting a ridiculously enormous contract then.

Hmm, interesting. Except it’s missing one thing.

Win or lose this next season, Seattle will have a decision to make regarding Lee’s impending free agency once the season ends.

Tiger Woods has a better chance of pitching Viagra than Felix agreeing to an extension before Lee signs.

Can Seattle possibly afford to sign them both long-term? The smart money is on “no.” If that is the case, it leads us to this…

4.) The Felix Contingency Plan

What if trading for Lee is more of a, “Well, hopefully we can compete, but if not, let’s re-sign Lee and deal the King for more assets than anyone in the history of baseball.” contingency plan?

It seems plausible doesn’t it? After all, the Mariners are an organization that once traded Ken Griffey Jr. and the Unit.

We already know (even though they swear it isn’t true) that they intently listened to an insanely large offer from Boston last year for Felix, before the Sox apparently pulled the plug. We also know that when you bank on two starters, all it takes is an injury to one of them to prevent a team from ascending to the Promised Land.

Under this scenario, the M’s would ultimately fall short this year, and then trade Felix either mid-season or in the offseason and re-sign Lee.

So they would have Lee and enough high young quality athletes to build a new Seattle Sonics team. Or maybe just retool their farm system, making them better, in the long run. It’s one or the other. Can’t be both.

5.) Trick-or-Treating Fans

This one is the most interesting for me. What if trading for Lee to make a run at the West (and beyond) is a one-year plan?  What if Seattle plans on going for all that they can in 2010, just to soothe the tension from fans who are tired of rooting for and spending money on mediocrity?

Would one year of contention be enough to calm the Seattle appetites until the kids grow up? The kids, of course being the boat-load of prospects the M’s would fetch when trading Felix.

One year of Lee. One more year of Felix. Lee moves on, signing with whichever team showers him in gold and Felix moving to, well, probably Boston, in a trade.

I’m not sure. But if this is the case, it’s one sneaky strategy.

All of that said, the Mariners end up with one of the few uber-elite starters in baseball, in Lee. What, you don’t think Lee is “elite?” Think back to the postseason last year. He reached that rare Sabathia Level from the season before. The Phillies weren’t losing a Lee pitched game. It just wasn’t going happen. Now that’s what I call uber-elite.

Again, the only acceptable knock on Lee is that he hasn’t always been able to carry his electricity over, from season to season. And yeah, that has been an issue. Certainly affects his dependability. But Lee seemed to reach down deep and find stuff last season that was just filthy. And he had excellent control of the filth. Usually when a guy can put stuff as nasty as Lee had, wherever they want it, consistency doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.

The crazy part is, something tells me the M’s aren’t done yet. They have been tied to Jason Bay this winter and while it’s widely presumed the Mets have him all but locked up, would it shock you if Seattle swoops in and snags him next week? It shouldn’t after pilfering Figgins and Lee from the rest of the league. And if not Bay, why not Bengie Molina, Vladimir Guerrero or both?

So who wins the trade? Clearly the Mariners.

But you can’t say the Phillies didn’t do just as well, if not better.

And how can you fault Toronto for getting all that they could, for a guy walking their plank? You can’t.

So all three are winners, in their own way. Each team got what they wanted, without giving up so much that their losses will cripple them. If anything, each team got stronger. Yes, even Toronto.

I, for one am just thrilled to have baseball back on the main stage. Keep bringing the major transactions. I’m ready for spring.


  1. Dan Miller
    December 16, 2009 at 10:44 AM

    While Figgins/Gutierrez/Ichiro makes the most sense – will Ichiro do it?

  2. scottmcgrath47
    December 16, 2009 at 1:14 PM

    “Some wonder out loud why Philly conceded to give up Drabek and Taylor now, when they could have done the same in July, without relinquishing additional prospects, like they had to give to Cleveland to get less than a year of Lee.”

    Probably because of what you mentioned: that they could sign Halladay long-term where they couldn’t with Lee. On top of that, they’re getting cash from Toronto and good prospects from Seattle as well, variables that wouldn’t have existed in the summer negotiations. A great deal for Philly.

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