Sunday, December 20, 2009

Halladay-Lee Trade Breakdown

One of the last trades of the decade might just be the biggest, as the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays, sending Cliff Lee to the Mariners in a four-team bonanza that included seven prospects.

The incredible thing about the deal is that the Phillies, Mariners, Blue Jays and A’s all can walk away satisfied, though obviously Toronto must deal with the immediate gloom of losing its ace and not getting back any players with any major league experience.

But Toronto should be glad for a few reasons: first and foremost, new GM Alex Anthopoulos was able to do what predecessor J.P. Ricciardi could not, completing a Halladay trade and not letting him walk away as a free agent at the end of the 2010 season. And while Ricciardi could not get the Phillies to include top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek, son of former Cy Young winner Doug Drabek, Anthopoulos got a solid prospect package for his ace, adding Drabek, catcher Travis d’Arnaud and outfielder Michael Taylor, who was then sent along to Oakland for Brett Wallace.

Had the Blue Jays not been able to trade Halladay, they would have had to settle for two draft picks in 2011. Instead of running the risk of those picks turning out to be busts, and waiting several years for their arrival, Toronto gets three previous first-rounders who have already given signs of future success, with Wallace likely the first to pay dividends in the majors.

The immediate effect, of course, is that Toronto loses Halladay, the only pitcher in the American League to pitch at least 200 innings with 200 or more strikeouts and an ERA of 3.00 or better in each of the last two seasons. The only other pitcher in the majors with such numbers in both 2008 and 2009 is Tim Lincecum, and all he did was win the last two Cy Young Awards in the National League.

What will Halladay do in the National League? Consider this: over the last two years, Halladay has lost 21 games, and 13 of those losses have come against the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees. And if there’s a pitcher in the majors who is well suited to handle working in Philadelphia’s bandbox ballpark, it’s Halladay - among 57 pitchers who have worked at least 600 innings since 2006, only Brandon Webb (0.54), Adam Wainwright (0.67) and Derek Lowe (0.70) have given up fewer home runs per nine innings than Halladay (0.72).

Of course, Lee is pretty stingy in that regard as well, having allowed just seven home runs over 79.2 innings in his 12 regular-season starts with the Phillies, followed by five homer-free starts in the playoffs in which he went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA and likely would have been the World Series MVP had Philadelphia won it.

And after proving himself on a national stage in Philadelphia, Denver and the Bronx in the playoffs to show that his out-of-nowhere Cy Young in 2008 was no fluke, Lee’s reward is spending the next year in Seattle, one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the American League, and a place where the Mariners have emphasized defense to quickly build a contender in the AL West out of the ashes of their 101-loss 2008 season.

Lee and Felix Hernandez at the top of the rotation should be a treat for Seattle fans, and that 1-2 punch immediately makes the Mariners a team that nobody will want to face in the playoffs. It’s no guarantee of success, of course, especially seeing what happened to the Cardinals with Wainwright and Chris Carpenter in this year’s playoffs, but it’s hard not to like the team that GM Jack Zduriencik is putting together in the Pacific Northwest.

To get Lee, the Mariners had to give up three prospects: outfielder Tyson Gillies and righthanders Phillippe Aumont and Juan Ramirez.

Gillies’ best asset is his speed, but he needs some work - while he stole 44 bases this year, he was caught 19 times. Most encouraging for a potential future leadoff man is that Gillies walked 60 times in 593 plate appearances, and got down 16 sacrifice bunts. The Phillies’ hope has to be that Gillies can spend this year at Double-A and next year at Triple-A, then be ready for the majors in 2012, when Shane Victorino is eligible for free agency.

Ramirez was 8-10 with a 5.12 ERA for High Desert, and the 21-year-old Nicaraguan hasn’t had an ERA under 4.00 for any team since he made his pro debut with the Mariners’ Venezuelan Summer League team in 2006. Ramirez does have strikeout ability, having fanned 111 batters in 142.1 innings this year and 353 over 406.2 frames for his minor-league career.

Aumont, who turns 21 in January, was Mariners’ top pitching prospect coming into 2009, but may have had that distinction taken away by lefthander Mauricio Robles, whom Seattle acquired from the Tigers in the Jarrod Washburn trade in July.

With Robles, Liddi and Dustin Ackley all emerging as hot prospects in 2009, Seattle was able to make this trade without leaving its farm system barren, a necessity when giving up three promising players for a pitcher who, while providing a chance for a division title and much more, is a free agent after the season.

For the Phillies, these prospects help to replenish a farm system that was heavily mined in order to first acquire Lee from the Indians - Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Jason Knapp and Lou Marson went to Cleveland in that deal - and then to get Halladay.

Drabek, who had Tommy John surgery in 2007, came back strong in the lower levels of the minors in 2008, then was brilliant this year between Single-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading, going 12-3 with a 3.19 ERA and 150 strikeouts in 158 innings, giving up just nine homers among 141 hits.

Philadelphia also gave up a top slugging prospect in Taylor, who hit .320 with 20 homers and 21 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A this year - the Blue Jays, with Travis Snider and Adam Lind figuring to be cornerstones of their outfield for years to come, were comfortable flipping him to Oakland for Wallace, who can play either corner of the infield and batted .293 with 20 homers and 63 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A in the Cardinals and A’s organizations during a year in which he was part of another big trade, St. Louis’ acquisition of Matt Holliday.

The last piece of this trade’s puzzle was d’Arnaud, who showed promising power in batting .255 with 13 homers and 71 RBI, as well as 38 doubles for Single-A Lakewood this year, though he needs some work behind the plate after catching just 40 of 172 base-stealers while committing nine passed balls. Toronto has high hopes for J.P. Arencibia, who hit 21 homers in Triple-A this year, so it would not be surprising to see d’Arnaud change positions at some point, or be spun off in another trade as the Blue Jays rebuild toward challenging the AL East’s elite again.

And that’s what this trade was about for Toronto. The Blue Jays weren’t going to catch the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays with Halladay and the rest of the roster as currently constituted, and couldn’t afford to let him go and hope that the compensatory draft picks panned out. Anthopoulos had to do something, and he gave new direction to the organization with a good haul of prospects for his ace.

As with the Orioles, these are bleak times for the Blue Jays, and the plan has to be to follow the Rays’ plan of stockpiling young talent and hoping to make things work, because they can’t compete financially with the perennial heavyweights of their division. It took Baltimore and Toronto a while to figure that out, but both are now on the right track.

For the Phillies, Halladay is in place as their ace for the next four years, plus an option for 2014, and this trade was made with that eye on the future amid doubt that Lee could be signed to an extension. While the top levels of their farm system have been stripped of elite prospects, the Phillies do have organizational depth, and the return for Lee was key to ensuring that. Such a major move is rare for a team with the recent success that the Phillies have had, but it’s not unprecedented - after trading away David Wells and prospects for Roger Clemens after the 1998 season, the Yankees won the next two World Series. The Phillies remain well-equipped to chase a second championship in three years with their slugging lineup and a rotation headed by Halladay and Cole Hamels, potentially right there with Hernandez and Lee as a 1-2 righty-lefty punch.

The pairing of Hernandez and Lee gives Seattle its best chance ever to go to a World Series - something that only the Mariners, Rangers and Nationals have not done in their histories. Taking away Chone Figgins from the Angels, who have also lost John Lackey, the AL West is ripe for the taking, and having two dominant starters in the playoffs is a recipe for success. It’s a gamble, but a well-plotted one by Zduriencik, who maintains a talent-rich farm system while taking his best shot at bringing a winner to Seattle.

This trade even makes sense for the A’s, who were unsure of a position for Wallace, and added a dimension of speed with Taylor that Wallace doesn’t have. Additionally, Wallace has played 106 games at Triple-A, while Taylor has played 30 - it makes more sense for the A’s to have a player who’s just a little bit further away from the majors, as 2010 looks like it’s going to be a rumble in the AL West between the Mariners, Angels and Rangers. If Taylor can get some major league experience toward the end of the year, and other prospects grow throughout the year, Oakland will be able to issue a fresh challenge in 2011.

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