30 Teams in 30 Days: Philadelphia Phillies Roundtable

Phillies

Our guest bloggers is Matt Seybold from The Sporting Hippeaux, Max and Steve from Fire Eric Bruntlett, and Scott Butler from Phil’s Baseball.

Question 1 – Could the team have kept Cliff Lee once they acquired Roy Halladay?
Daniels: I’ve wondered about this. It seems like the $9M extra would be almost meaningless to essentially guarantee your team a trip to the World Series. That said, whoever was going to trade for Halladay was going to have to give up a huge piece to get him without taking on Vernon Wells’ contract. I don’t know if they could have made the trade happen at all without giving up Lee. Or, if not Lee, some other important piece of their team.

Eugene: The Phillies didn’t need the prospects from the Mariners to land Halladay; they were just used to replenish the system. I think it would have been possible to keep both. I know they thought they wouldn’t have been able to re-sign Lee after the season and wanted something more to show than the draft picks they would have received.

Steve: Ahhhhh the Cliff Lee issue, it just won’t go away. COULD the Phillies have kept Cliff Lee once they acquired Roy Halladay? The definitely could have. The real question here is should they have, and that’s all a matter of perspective and one’s philosophy on team building. Ruben Amaro Jr. made the right long term move and the one that made the most sense for him. He’s a young GM that wants to keep this team competitive for a long time coming, not just the next two years or so. A rotation consisting of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels would have been a phenomenal short term solution, but a problem for sustained success.

Daniels: Yeah, but it also almost guarantees you a trip to the World Series in 2010 with two pitchers who both own your likely opponent’s soul. Like, keeping J.A. Happ is worth that?

Steve: I agree that seeing that rotation would have been phenomenal but the farm system was dried up. I think a lot of this has to do with Amaro’s age and how long he’s had the position. I think Pat Gillick would have kept both Halladay and Lee.

Scott: Could they have/should they have? I was totally in the camp of YES THEY SHOULD HAVE! I figured that you pay $9 million for a Cy Young award winner. If you can’t re-sign him, you get two number one draft picks, so you’d be crazy to trade him, right.

BUT…the Phillies were ranked by most people as a top 10 farm system last year and now Keith Law from ESPN ranks the Phillies 24th and Fanhouse has them ranked 17th. And a thing about the draft picks. As Ken Rosenthal pointed out in an article, if they Phils don’t re-sign Lee, who do you think would sign him? Probably a team like the Yankees or Red Sox who will probably finish well, meaning we would get very low draft picks that wouldn’t pan out for a while anyway.

Max: Of course it was *possible* to keep Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, but whether or not it should have happened boils down to this: Would you sell your soul for as close to a guaranteed World Series as you can get? Would you sacrifice the rest of your team to make the top 2 starters (3, depending on what you believe) in your rotation some of the best in baseball? It’s not an easy decision for most people to take, and I’d have to say no. Sure, they could almost taken the trophy today if they kept both – although nothing is guaranteed – but the Phillies are now in a great position to be consistently successful for 4 or 5 years. They imposed a $140 million salary restriction on themselves – something the Yankees should learn how to do. They couldn’t just sign whoever they wanted to, which is where the problems with Lee came into play. Cliff Lee was demanding “Sabathia-range” money for only one year, while Ruben Amaro, Jr. knew that he could get a multi-year discount on Halladay, considering how much he wanted to play in Philadelphia. I don’t even want to think about who we would have had to trade had we kept both – possibly Cole Hamels, maybe Joe Blanton and Jay Happ, probably an offensive bat, too. I also shudder at the thought of the post-2010 Phillies, if Amaro kept them both.

Instead, we used the extra money to lock up other important players from other parts of the field – catcher Carlos Ruiz, outfielder Shane Victorino, and Blanton. Plus, the minor leagues would have been dead last, compared to the middle-of-the-pack system it is now.

Matt: I certainly wouldn’t have blamed the Phillies for sticking with Lee merely for the purposes of cementing this five or six-year stretch as the best in franchise history. Lee certainly would’ve increased their chances of going to the World Series and winning it again. Most franchises go through boom and bust cycles. The key is turning the flush times into division titles, pennants, and championships, which so far the Phils have done quite well.

I can also understand the logic of rejuvenating the farm system. If the Phils were good enough to go to the World Series last year with half-a-season of Cliff Lee, they are probably good enough to return this season with a full year of Roy Halladay.

My problem with the Lee trade is not the decision to trade him. I think either philosophy has validity. My problem is what they got in return. The central prospect was Phillippe Aumont. Aumont is a top-flight talent, an 11th overall pick, but his major-league role is not nearly as certain as, say, Kyle Drabek. The Mariners converted Aumont to a reliever in order to protect his arm from a violent delivery. Now the Phillies are going to convert him back. It is very hard to predict how this process will go and what role Aumont will eventually be able to assume at the major-league level. Tyson Gillies, the outfielder in the deal, had a good year at high-A in ’09, but how he progresses through the high minors is hard to predict.

In my opinion, when you trade away a superior talent like Lee, you want to get at least one prospect in return who is very close to major-league ready. When the Athletics traded Holliday, they got Brett Wallace. When Toronto traded Halladay they got Drabek and Michael Taylor. When Cleveland traded Sabathia they got Matt LaPorta. Prospects that are further off are just less valuable because their development is so uncertain.

Daniels: Why should the Yankees impose an imaginary salary cap on themselves? So the Steinbrenners can pocket a bigger chunk of the obscene-millions from YES? In no world would the Blue Jays, who aren’t planning on contending this season, have received 3 major-league ready pitchers and an offensive bat for a player with one season left on his contract. Lee’s contract demands in 2011 are not relevant to the $9M he would have made next year. In retrospect, if I asked you “would you rather have J.A. Happ or the 2010 pennant?” — your answer is really J.A. Happ? Really?

Russ: The offseason was the only time they could have traded Lee. If they knew they would not resign Lee, they had to trade him now. How could they trade him July 31 with the stretch run ahead of them?

They had an idea what they wanted for him and felt they had enough to win without him. Does anyone think that if they kept both, they would have had an attendance/merchandise increase that would equal $9 million per year?

Question 2 – Will the Philles regret the Polanco deal by the time the contract expires?
Steve: I can’t see into the future but I don’t think they will be. Polanco’s been a solid and consistent player for years now and I don’t think that’s going to suddenly change. They just need to make sure they don’t look at his head without a hat on it for too long and they should be fine.

Steve: I don’t think they will regret the Polanco deal. I asked myself the same question when they signed Polanco because I have the feeling he will be nowhere near his .300 career average towards the end of this contract. But with his type of hitting, there shouldn’t be a dramatic drop off if there is one. I think the Phillies signed Polanco not so much for his .300 average rather than for the intangibles he brings like few strikeouts, good ball control, and the ability to hit-and-run. Even if he hits for a lower average, he will still bring all of those intangibles to the table.

Young children should be warned of what they might see when his helmet comes off.

Matt: The deal is really not that big or that long, considering the fourth year is an option. Worst-case scenario Polanco becomes the Phils utilityman a couple seasons from now. Even as he declines, he should be a solid defender who can provide good professional at-bats off the bench (ala Omar Vizquel). There are certainly worse ways to spend $5-$6 Million.

Max: I’m not at all worried. Polanco will be 38 in the playoffs of the third year of his contract, and Raul Ibanez proved last year that older guys can still perform as well or better as they have their entire careers. In Ibanez’s case, he *only* achieved a career high in home runs, as well as a first-half that put him very much in MVP considerations. Last year, Polanco had a career low batting average, at .285. (Wouldn’t you, hitting around Brandon Inge, Gerald Laird, Adam Everett, and Carlos Guillen? They all hit .242 or lower.) But he also had his best power outputs (10 homers, 72 RBIs) since 2004. This year, he’s moving to a better line-up and a better ballpark, so I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t at least average 12 HRs, 80 RBIs, and a .300 average.

Daniels: I doubt they’ll regret the Polanco deal. The Phillies get a lot of power from non-traditional power spots. They signed Polanco to be a solid defender at 3B. Any offensive production is just kind of gravy. Defense tends to degrade slower with age than offense, so I think Polanco will be covering 3B with the best of them even if his average falls precipitously by 2012. Besides, it’s a $5M/year contract at a premium position. It’s a great deal for them.

Question 3 – How long will it take for people to question Brad Lidge as closer?
Matt: Obviously, it’s already happening. I fully believe that Lidge’s disastrous ’09 campaign was mainly the result of trying to pitch through a knee injury, which is, hopefully, fully healed to begin 2010. I don’t necessarily expect Lidge to be perfect, like his was in ’08, but I think he’ll keep a solid hold on his job.

That said, however, Lidge will not be given as much leash as he got last year. If he blows three or four games in the first six weeks of the season, I expect we’ll start seeing Danys Baez or Ryan Madson in the ninth inning, at least temporarily.

Eugene: It’ll be a question all season. I agree that his leash will be short, but I don’t see Madson or Baez being a factor in closing – Madson hasn’t done well in the past and it’s been a long time since Baez was a closer. I really wouldn’t feel good with anyone in that bullpen stepping in as closer.

Daniels: Not long. Brad Lidge is insane. Nobody has any idea what they’re going to get from him from year to year. He might rattle off 10 consecutive saves to start the season, but two consecutive blown saves will be enough to get the fans rattled. The problem is, as was evidenced last season, it’s not like the Phillies have a good Plan B. Lidge is the guy. If he fails, it’s a bunch of guys who aren’t as good in the 9th inning as Lidge.

Max: Phillies fans already are questioning Brad Lidge, and they have been since April of last year. Philly fans as a whole are quck to write something extraordinary if something terrible follows it. Best example is Lidge’s perfect season in 2008, when he closed all 48 of his save opportunities. That was followed by last year’s abysmal 31-for-42 season, with a 7.21 ERA and a 1.81 WHIP. The question, of course, is “Which Lidge is real, and which is the fluke?” Obviously, he won’t be quite as good as he was in 2008, or quite as bad as 2009, but I think 2010 will be closer to his good side than his bad. He has been battling some knee and elbow injuries so far in spring training, which, on the surface, doesn’t seem to help. But, think about it — why would the team bring him back before he’s 100% healthy, after seeing what happened last season, when he allegedly had injury troubles all season, and why would he come back before he’s completely ready? It’s in the best interest of both parties to wait until he’s as close to his 2008 self as possible, and if Madson, Baez, or whoever need to fill in for a couple weeks at the beginning of the season, so be it. The team would be better in the long run for it.

Daniels: As a Met fan, I’m all for Danys Baez filling in for as long as possible.

Question 4 – How will the Phillies finish the season?
Matt: First with a bullet in the NL East, with 100+ wins. It’s hard to talk about the playoff picture in March, but I don’t see how the Phillies aren’t heavily favored to win their third consecutive NL pennant.

Eugene: Easily first. The Mets, Braves, and Marlins will be fighting for second place

Daniels: I’d like to say that the Phillies won’t be in the playoff race this season, but I can’t do it with a straight face. They are the most loaded, durable team in the NL East. Should their injury luck hold, there’s nothing (other than their bullpen) to prevent them from a huge 2010. I don’t know if I’d go 100+ wins because their division is a little harder this year and, for whatever reason, they have a terrible time in Interleague play — which includes six games against the Red Sox this season. Interleague record could actually turn out to be pretty huge in the division this year.

Max: I’ll predict a 97-65 record winning them the NL East by a good 10 or so games, as well as earning them the #1 seed in the playoffs in the National League.

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