After acquiring Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays last December, the Phillies had the chance to feature the best 1-2 punch in baseball. Instead, General Manager Ruben Amaro opted to trade Cliff Lee to the Mariners, citing both a concern over Lee’s impending free agency as well as the organization’s need to replenish its farm system. That line of reasoning was severely flawed at the time, but has since been proven to be even more short sighted.
If we had just acquired Roy and not moved Lee, we would have been in position to have lost seven of the best 10 prospects in our organization. That is not the way you do business in baseball.” – Phillies GM Rueben Amaro, quoted on ESPN.com
To get Cliff Lee from Cleveland, the Phillies parted with a quartet of prospects, including Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Lou Marson and Jason Donald. When they subsequently traded him to the Mariners, however, they received a lighter package of Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gilles and Juan Ramirez. Still, assuming Amaro was really under a mandate to acquire prospects and trim payroll, you could justify the downgrade in talent as a necessary evil of getting Halladay as well as the cost of reaching the 2009 World Series. Unfortunately for Amaro, when Lee was traded yet again, it further exposed the foolishness of his earlier decision.
When Texas acquired Lee from the Mariners just before the All Star break, they parted with highly touted 1B Justin Smoak. What’s more, they also had their pick of another top prospect, the Yankees’ Jesus Montero. In other words, in the three deals involving Cliff Lee in one calendar year, the Phillies brought back the smallest return.
As you can see, it’s one thing to replenish the farm with quantity, but quality is what really matters. Besides, a veteran team like the Phillies should be concerned about winning now, not trying to cultivate middle-level prospects. After getting off to a slow start this season, Amaro finally came to that conclusion and pulled the trigger on a deal for Roy Oswalt. This time, the cost was J.A. Happ and prospects Anthony Gose (later traded by the Astros to the Blue Jays for Brett Wallace) and Jonathan Villar.
So, after an eventful seven months, the Phillies are back to where they started: a formidable 1-2 punch atop their rotation (really1-2-3 with Cole Hamels resurgence). To get there, however, they had to endure a bumpy road. What’s more, they are now on the hook for an additional $14 million in guaranteed money owed to Oswalt, and likely will not be in a position to offer him arbitration when he departs after 2011, meaning they will not recoup two draft picks, as they would have done with Lee.
The bottom line for the Phillies is they simply should have held onto Lee. Had they made that decision, they’d have wound up with a better pitcher (and a lefty at that), less of a financial commitment, potentially better prospects in their farm system, two draft picks in the 2011 draft and perhaps a lead, instead of a deficit, in the NL East. By anyone’s math, Amaro’s decision backfired, so now he has to hope Oswalt can help balance the equation.
Balancing the Ledger: The Net Cost/Benefit of the Phillies’ Lee and Oswalt Trades
From the Phillies:
- Cliff Lee (Could have traded for Justin Smoak , Jesus Montero )
- J.A. Happ
- Anthony Gose (Could have traded for Brett Wallace )
- Jonathan Villar
- Loss of 2011 draft picks
- Lee’s guaranteed $9 million salary removed from payroll
To the Phillies:
- Roy Oswalt
- Phillippe Aumont
- Tyson Gilles
- Juan Ramirez
- Oswalt’s guaranteed $14 million salary added to 2010-11 payroll
Note: Number in brackets is Keith Law’s Top-100 Preseason Prospect Ranking