Dealing Aces: Amaro’s Shrewd Trade

This afternoon Roy Halladay officially became a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. When the dust settled the Phillies sent one Cy Young Award winner packing (Cliff Lee) and brought in another (Halladay).

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The general manager of the Phillies, Ruben Amaro Jr, put together an excellent two trade combo. Here are the details:

Trade 1

Phillies send pitcher Cliff Lee to Seattle for three prospects (pitcher Phillippe Aumont, pitcher J.C. Ramirez, outfielder Tyson Gillies). This deal was done to free the Phillies of Lee’s salary so they could bring in Halladay. The three prospects are solid, and quite comparable to the prospects the Phillies gave up in Trade 2.

Trade 2

Phillies send three prospects (pitcher Kyle Drabek, outfielder Michael Taylor, and catcher Travis d’Arnaud) to Toronto for pitcher Roy Halladay and $6 million.

Here is why I think Amaro made the right move:

Halladay was willing to sign a three year extension. Roy Halladay signed a three year deal with the Phlis, while their former ace (Cliff Lee) wanted to test free agency. After next season he is bound to be offered a long term franchise-crippling offer from some team (Barry Zito, Johan Santana, or C.C. Sabathia type money and length). The Phillies are very, very reluctant to give a pitcher more than a three year deal, so their odds of signing Lee were minuscule. So the choice was Lee for one year or Halladay for four.

The Phillies have an unofficial $140 million salary cap. While salary caps do not exist in baseball, the organization has established $140 million as their limit for this season. This is why the team chose not to keep Lee in addition to acquiring Halladay. At this point the Jamie Moyer contract looks brutal, for that could be Cliff Lee’s salary. Of course, had Amaro played hardball with Moyer last year and let him walk the fallout would have been dramatic. I suspect fans (and some baseball people) would blame the struggles of Cole Hamels in 2009 partially on losing his mentor. Amaro would have been hated by fans for driving away a fan-favorite (Moyer) and sabotaging the development of an ace (Hamels). Amaro did a wonderful job improving the Phillies starting pitching over the next few years without causing long-term salary problems.

The farm system was not totally depleted. The Phillies aren’t looking to make a one year run, this team is planning to be a force in the NL for years. Drabek and Taylor were two of the most prized prospects in the farm system. However, outfielder Domonic Brown is viewed as the number one prospect and he was not included in the deal. All three of the Seattle prospects obtained in the Lee deal are legitimate. While it hurts to lose Drabek, Aumont is a very similar prospect, so the pain is dampened.

What the Phillies did not give up. I already mentioned that Domonic Brown was not lost. In addition the Phillies held on to J.A. Happ. Happ is a valuable member of the rotation, and his salary is still quite low. It would very difficult to find someone able to contribute as much as he does for a lower price tag.

My only reservations about the acquisition of Halladay are due to my sympathy for Toronto. I hate to see a player leave the team that developed him. That’s why I love the fact that so many of the Phillies’ stars are home grown. Sadly, losing players to free agency and being forced into lopsided trades is just reality in baseball right now. So I’ll set aside my ideals and enjoy the ride.

Ruben Amaro has demonstrated over the past year that he is a very capable GM. He has had some tough decisions to make. His job promises to be difficult in the future too, especially in the next few years when he needs to determine which offensive stars to retain and which ones to let go. I see this two-part transaction as a winner.

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