Four Years Later: Halladay/Lee Day
Four years ago today – December 16, 2009 – the Phillies made one of the strangest pairs of deals in club history when they acquired Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays, and subsequently dealt Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners.
The Halladay deal was immediately celebrated as the great acquisition it was: bringing in one of the absolute best pitchers in the game (and then getting him to sign a three-year, $60 million extension that was probably below market value) for three highly-regarded prospects. Travis d’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor, ranked by Baseball America as the seventh-, fifth- and sixth-best prospects in the organization prior to the 2009 season, and fourth-, second- and third- best that November, following the trade to acquire Lee midseason. The only one of the three with more optimism than pessimism remaining surrounding his big league future is d’Arnaud.
Lee, in a stunning move, was then flipped out to Seattle for a package of prospects that was underwhelming then and looks downright pathetic now. Lee was under contract for just $9 million in 2010, a club option that was a bargain following a Cy Young Award-winning campaign for Cleveland in 2008 and a strong follow-up between the Indians and Phillies in ’09. The ESPN wire story at the time quoted Amaro’s rationale behind dealing Lee after acquiring Halladay as follows:
“If I had my druthers, I’d love to have both of them on the club,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.
Amaro said he didn’t keep Lee, who has one year and $9 million remaining on his contract, for two reasons. He felt Lee wanted to test the free-agent market next winter and couldn’t afford to keep him and lose him for nothing. And he needed prospects to replenish the ones lost in both the Lee-from-Cleveland trade and the Halladay deal.
“I had a little discomfort that we’d be able to do the type of deal that I’d feel comfortable with,” Amaro said.
Apparently, whether it was Amaro whose comfort level changed or ownership’s, Lee was brought back the following winter on a five-year, $120 million free agent deal. Of the prospects acquired from Seattle for Lee – Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez – little optimism remains. Aumont has flashed excellent stuff, but command problems and clashes with coaches and management have his future in doubt; Gillies has dealt with numerous injuries and had a fairly serious brush with the law (charges later dropped), and his hold on a 40-man roster spot is tenuous; Ramirez was not retained this winter and has signed with the Indians, contributing little while he was around.
Two fascinating deals, separate yet corresponding, helped set the tone for most of Ruben Amaro’s tenure to date: a mix of confusion and excitement, and a lingering sense of never knowing just what’s coming next.