Halladay and Lee Through a Santana Prism

Aaron Gleeman, of his self-titled website and Hardball Talk and Rotoworld fame, has a guest column up at Baseball Prospectus today. As a Twins fan, he looks back on the Johan Santana trade that sent the then-premier southpaw to the New York Mets in exchange for a handful of prospects including Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey, and Philip Humber. Gleeman wrote:

There’s a tendency to declare an immediate “winner” in every trade, and even when taking a long-term view of a blockbuster deal involving a superstar in his prime being swapped for a multi-prospect package, it’s usually fairly easy to determine who benefited most. When it comes to this trade, however, the question is more like who suffered least. And even that’s tough to say, because everyone involved went bust.

Four years into their six-year, $137.5 million investment in Santana, the Mets have gotten just 88 starts of ace-caliber pitching and an uncertain future. And for their in-his-prime ace, the Twins ended up with 1.5 seasons of a replacement-level Gomez and a year of Hardy that they later squandered, 1.5 seasons of Rauch by way of Mulvey, nothing from Humber, and whatever hope still remains that Guerra can turn into a useful reliever.

Naturally, I thought about the recent trades the Phillies have made to acquire Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee (the first time), and Roy Oswalt. In all three transactions, the Phillies held on to their jewel, outfielder Domonic Brown. For Halladay, though, the Phillies relinquished Travis d’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, and Michael Taylor. Taylor was quickly flipped to the Oakland Athletics for Brett Wallace, who was later traded to the Houston Astros. Drabek had a forgettable start to his Major League career, posting a 6.06 ERA in 157 innings last year. d’Arnaud, however, ranked as one the Jays’ #1 prospect, a five-star player, according to Kevin Goldstein of BPro. About d’Arnaud, Goldstein wrote:

The Good: d’Arnaud has all the tools to be a star player. He has a quick bat, outstanding hand-eye coordination, the ability to hit .280-.300, and the strength to add 25-plus home runs annually. He’s very athletic for a catcher with a plus arm, and he moves well behind the plate. He is a 40 runner.

The Bad: d’Arnaud has the potential to be a plus defender, but he still needs to improve his receiving skills and the quickness of his release. He’s made some strides in his plate discipline, but it could still use refinement.

The Phillies acquired Lee from the Cleveland Indians for four prospects: pitchers Jason Knapp and Carlos Carrasco, infielder Jason Donald, and catcher Lou Marson. Carrasco has been more or less replacement-level in his 192 big-league innings while Knapp accrued only 28 innings in 2010 and missed all of 2011, causing him to be left out of Goldstein’s rankings for Indians prospects. Donald posted decent numbers in 143 plate appearances last year, but it was fueled by an unsustainable .423 BABIP and he has no other skills aside from making contact. Marson was slightly above replacement-level but only because he played decent defense — his .271 wOBA was less than acceptable.

Finally, Oswalt came to the Phillies from the Houston Astros for lefty starter J.A. Happ, shortstop Jonathan Villar, and outfielder Anthony Gose. The Astros sent Gose to the Jays for first baseman Brett Wallace, a deal that has thus far worked out well for them. In 385 innings with the ‘stros, Happ has been awful, posting a 5.05 ERA. Villar showed improvement with Single-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi, earning him a #5 spot on Goldstein’s Astros prospect rankings. Goldstein wrote about Villar:

The Good: There are top-100 prospects who don’t have Villar’s upside, but he’s very far from it. He’s a 60-65 runner, good for 30-plus stolen bases, plus range at shortstop, and a very strong arm. He added a power element to his game in 2011 with 14 home runs, and has at least average raw power.

The Bad: Villar’s game might be best described as “out of control.” His newfound power led to plenty of bad habits at the plate; he became pull-conscious, adding to a strikeout rate that was already a considerable concern. He also has a history of making weak contact. As capable as he is of spectacular plays at shortstop, he’s just as likely to boot a routine play, and scouts question his concentration on both sides of the ball.

It’s safe to say that, so far, the Phillies look like bandits with these trades. Only one player has the potential to provide any real surplus value (d’Arnaud) while most of the others have floundered. The Phillies got three aces in their own right: Lee led the Phillies to the 2009 World Series and then was used to bring three prospects to Philadelphia in a trade with the Seattle Mariners (pitchers Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez, and outfielder Tyson Gillies); Halladay was the ace of the 2010-11 rotations, tossing both a perfect game and a post-season no-hitter in 2010; and Oswalt was by far the best #3 starter in baseball for the Phillies in 2010-11.

It makes one wonder, though, given Santana’s fall from grace. In 2008, Santana posted a 2.53 ERA in 34 starts and finished third in Cy Young voting. The next year, he made 25 starts with a 3.13 ERA. In 2010, he made 29 starts with a 2.98 ERA. And then… nothing. Santana missed all of 2011 with a left shoulder injury and portends to miss at least the start of the 2012 season. The Mets still owe Santana $55 million and paid him $22.5 million last year for exactly zero innings. Needless to say, it is an albatross of a contract and, given the recent financial issues surrounding the Mets franchise, a heavy burden.

While the Phillies have most likely seen the last of Oswalt, they still owe Halladay at least $40 million through 2013 (and his 2014 $20 million option is guaranteed with good health). Lee is owed at least $109 million through 2015 (includes a $12.5 million buyout for 2016). Halladay and Lee could just as easily succumb to a career-threatening or even career-ending injury. Given that the two were acquired strictly for the purposes of winning a World Series, an unapproached goal as of now, such a scenario would crush the Phillies. Remember, Santana was 32 last year; Lee was 32 as well and Halladay was 34. Fortunately, both pitchers have steered clear of arm injuries over the past five years, something Santana did not do prior to 2010.

In their respective two years with the Phillies, Halladay and Lee have been nothing short of terrific. However, the Santana case shows just how a trade that looks fantastic at the time can go sour very quickly. Such is the risk teams take when they go into “win now” mode.

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26 comments

  1. Rob

    February 07, 2012 11:14 AM

    Anthony Gose also looks like a valuable prospect, but yeah, all three trades look great for the phils.

  2. Dan K.

    February 07, 2012 11:21 AM

    Point taken, but the Lee portion of the Lee deals is now over. Lee is in Philadelphia now, bot because of the trade but because of free agency. The only factors left to determining who “won” those trades are the future performances of the prospects we gave up and the prospects we received. If we get anything from the trio of prospects we got from Seattle, I think we can all agree we won that trade (because Lee did not do particularly well at all for the Mariners/Rangers, outside of that godly K/BB ratio). And, unless one or more of the prospects we gave to the Indians comes out of nowhere and becomes a superstar, I’d say that trade is a wash at least.

    As far as the Halladay trade, I would love to still have Travis. He looks to be a beast. But we have Valle on the way, and we’ve have two years of #1 starter in baseball out of Halladay, so Travis will have to do an awful lot in his career for us to lose that trade (assuming Drabek doesn’t turn into Halladay on us). And even if Halladay has a career-ending injury, 2 years $40m dollars hurts, but is not an albatross. Our risk now mainly lies in the money we gave to Lee in free agency (and, of course, Howard).

    In English world:
    “The Astros sent Gose to the Jays for first baseman Brett Wallace, a deal that has thus far worked out good for them.”

    “Good” should be “well.”

    Glad to see a full article, though. Any chance at a write-up about Brown in the near future? Not particularly sure what about, but I heard recently he gained 25 pounds, and then I saw a picture and it is absolutely 100% muscle. With his recovery from that hamate injury now on schedule to return his power, I wonder if we might be seeing some monstrous bombs from him in Philly in the not-so-distant future.

  3. Santos

    February 07, 2012 11:36 AM

    Cliff Lee 2010

    Mariners – 2.34 ERA, 2.16 FIP, 3.02 xFIP, 3.9 fWAR

    Rangers – 3.98 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 3.10 xFIP, 3.2 fWAR

    For a total of 3.18 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 3.06 xFIP, 7.2 fWAR.

    I wouldn’t classify that as “Lee did not do particularly well at all for the Mariners/Rangers”.

  4. Phillie697

    February 07, 2012 11:58 AM

    For all of the shortcomings of RAJ on the FA/extension side of being a GM, I have to say he’s generally been quite shrewd on the trading side. I can’t even quibble over the Hunter Pence trade. Was it a hefty price? Yes. Was it a bad trade? No. And we still have our “jewel.”

    Maybe RAJ should stick to being the trade master and hire someone else to do the money thing. Perhaps the great Joe Banner can crunch the numbers for him, LOL. He’s certainly done wonders for the Eagles.

  5. awh

    February 07, 2012 12:20 PM

    Wasn’t Michael Taylor hurt (shoulder) right after he got traded to the A’s. Seems to me this is a ‘make or break’ season for him.

  6. awh

    February 07, 2012 12:31 PM

    Regarding the Halladay trade, d’Arnaud may indeed turn out to be something special, and, as Rob points out, Gose may turn out well for the Jays, but it’s too early to tell. So, the Jays have Drabek, d’Arnaud and Gose as their final haul for Halladay. Drabek, who was thought to be the ‘untouchable’ centerpiece of the deal at the time, may wind up giving the Jays less value than d’Arnaud and Taylor(who’s trade eventually yielded Gose).

    On the Phils side, Halladay may very well have been the best SP in MLB the last 2 years, and if not, he’s certainly in the top 5. If he gives them 3 more years of top 10 – 15 perfomance (assuming his ’14 option kicks in), I don’t know how anyone could say the Phillies were losers in that trade no matter how good d’Arnaud/Drabek/Gose become – barring an multiple All Star or HOF career from one of them.

  7. awh

    February 07, 2012 12:33 PM

    Bill, quick question:

    You mention “surplus value” in your post above. Could you please define it? Thanks.

  8. Dan K.

    February 07, 2012 12:47 PM

    @Santos,

    As per the Mariners, the results were there, but he made relatively few starts for them (due to minor injury and that suspension in the beginning of the season, and then being traded), and then the results weren’t there for the Rangers (bad luck, yes, but results are results).

    In the end, the Mariners’ true value from Lee comes from what they got from the Rangers which, as of now, isn’t much.

    So that’s where that comment came from.

  9. nik

    February 07, 2012 12:50 PM

    11 days to P&C. I can almost smell the fresh cut grass.

  10. JC

    February 07, 2012 01:26 PM

    The Mariners did get Smoak…he could still become a solid player.

  11. topherstarr

    February 07, 2012 01:50 PM

    Regarding Halladay vs. Santana comparisons: Using Fangraphs calculations, the Phillies are almost out of the woods in terms of value, even if he would suffer a serious injury. In 65 starts as a Phillie, Fangraphs has Halladay as worth $63.1 million. At this rate, he will have earned the guaranteed portion of his contract by the end of May.

  12. Phillie697

    February 07, 2012 04:08 PM

    @topherstarr,

    That just justifies his contract. How is that relevant to a discussion of whether the trade was good or bad?

  13. Pat

    February 07, 2012 04:59 PM

    It’s very relevant. Part of the equation is whether Halladay justifies the contract. If Halladay had been injured over the past 2 seasons, the trade is a disaster from the Phils perspective, even if none of the prospects reach the majors.

  14. Richard

    February 07, 2012 09:09 PM

    Dan K., you’re really reaching. Lee pitched phenomenally well for Seattle. And then, yes, his results suffered some for Texas, when his back was bothering him, after which he pitched great in the post-season, outside of game one of the World Series.

  15. Bill Baer

    February 08, 2012 04:26 AM

    @ awh

    Replacement-level players have innate value in that they are on your roster and aren’t actively detracting (this ignores scarcity). A lot of the players the Phillies gave up have turned into replacement-level players, more or less. D’Arnaud and Gose appear to be the only ones who have a good shot at being anything better than RL.

  16. hk

    February 08, 2012 09:31 AM

    Bill,

    As a 24 year old, Carrasco was worth 1.4 fWAR and 0.6 rWAR in 124.3 IP. Isn’t it a little early to write him off as not having a good shot at being anything better than RL?

  17. hk

    February 08, 2012 09:36 AM

    FWIW, Carrasco has only pitched 191.7 innings, not 316.

  18. Bill Baer

    February 08, 2012 09:38 AM

    I would say it’s not the most likely scenario, but certainly not improbable. However, ZiPS sees him putting up a 4.95 ERA this year and I can’t imagine it gets any sunnier. I haven’t seen his PECOTA yet, so maybe there is some disagreement in projecting him.

    EDIT: Not sure where I got 316 innings from. Thanks for the catch.

  19. Phillie697

    February 08, 2012 09:53 AM

    @Pat,

    The point of bringing up Santana’s contract was because even tho the Twins got NOTHING for trading him, what they DID get is not having to sign him to a huge contract that he is extremely unlikely to justify at this point, even if you count those three productive years. Halladay has already provided value, but the Jays also got some sweet prospects in return whose future value is still to be determined. To compare the two scenarios IMO is to compare apples to oranges; one situation you already know pretty much how it’s going to turn out (Santana), the other there are so many unknowns at this point any comparison would be pure speculation (Halladay).

    @BB,

    I agree with hk; I don’t like to write off 24 year olds, LOL. His WAR, and hence value, will go up just purely by him pitching more innings as he matures, even if he doesn’t improve his underlying skills.

  20. hk

    February 08, 2012 11:58 AM

    Bill,

    His SIERA was 4.16, his FIP was 4.28 and his xFIP was 4.07, so I’m not sure from where the 4.95 ERA projections come although I am admittedly very naive when it comes to the methodology behind the projections. In your opinion, does it seem like a disconnect that his ZiPS projected ERA is so much greater than his DIPS from last year?

  21. SJHaack

    February 08, 2012 05:05 PM

    There IS a value in having players on your roster that are not actively detracting from your team (which I know you know). If all these trades had been made directly to the Astros, their 2012 team would probably be better than the one they’re projecting to field right now.

    That said, since the Phillies were willing to pay the money to have these players… uh, sort of in Cliff Lee’s case, and they have provided tangible value to the club in the form of wins that we can at least attempt to measure, the Phillies have generally come out winners in these trades.

    I do disagree that winning the world series has been an “unapproached” goal. If you make it to the playoffs, you have approached that goal pretty well. The Phillies did win 2 games in the NLCS in 2010 as well. We all know the playoffs have a big ol’ chunk of luck in them.

    You know what trade we can really get a feel on total valuation for? Lidge for Bourn. Yikes.

  22. derekcarstairs

    February 08, 2012 07:17 PM

    Bill – I noticed in your write-up about Ed Delahanty he was identified as one of only two men to hit .400 three times. You left out Ty Cobb, who was first and foremost in that group. You may have overlooked 1922, when Cobb batted .401, but did not win the batting title.

  23. Bill Baer

    February 08, 2012 11:55 PM

    Hmm, I wonder how I missed that. Seems like such an obvious one that it wouldn’t have been omitted from any BR search. o_o

  24. jonny

    February 10, 2012 10:44 AM

    Great article Bill. I read the Gleeman article prior to this and it sparked some of the same thoughts in me. Thanks for the detail I’d have missed.

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