If reports are true, Phillies are making huge mistake

OK…most baseball fans are aware of the reportedly impending trade of Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies and the reported companion trade (right now, this does not appear to be a 3-team deal) of Phillies ace Cliff Lee to Seattle.

While I love Lee and appreciate what he did for the Phillies in his short time with them, I understood that the Phillies needed to a) create payroll space to fit Halladay’s contract, and b) acquire prospects from another team to fulfill Toronto’s trade demands.

Also, it sounds like the Phillies were not confident Lee would sign a contract extension. Lee is good friends with CC Sabathia, who signed a 7-year, $161 million contract with the New York Yankees last offseason, and he was quoted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer in August that he was looking to enter free agent market after the 2010 season.

So I was OK with the “Trade Lee” scenario if it meant getting Halladay and signing him to an extension while leaving the Phillies’ top prospects (P Kyle Drabek, OF Michael Taylor, C Travis D’Arnaud) safely down on the farm.

Keep in mind, back in July 2009, when the Phillies pursued Halladay the first time, Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. kept saying Drabek and Taylor were “untouchable.” So instead of giving in to Toronto’s demands, Amaro turned around and traded for Lee by sending second-tier prospects (P Jason Knapp, P Carlos Carrasco, C Lou Marson and SS Jason Donald) to the Cleveland Indians.

Lee went on to be a stud for the Phillies in the playoffs and World Series while Halladay remained untraded in Toronto.

Everyone knew the Phillies would stay in the hunt for Halladay during the offseason, so it doesn’t surprise me that a deal is apparently in the works. But when FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal mused a few days ago that he had a hunch the Phillies might trade Lee in order to create the payroll space to add Halladay, I was among many who didn’t think it made any sense. In the World Series against the Yankees, what hurt the Phillies was not having a clear No. 2 pitcher behind Lee. I assumed the objective was to have Halladay AND Lee in 2010.

But the more I thought about it, the more I was OK with trading Lee…ONLY if it meant the Phillies would be sending the prospects acquired in a Lee trade to Toronto as part of a package for Halladay. I could even support sending Taylor or D’Arnaud as part of such a package.

However, as more and more sportswriters started reporting what they were hearing about the Halladay deal, which started coming to light Monday afternoon, it became apparent that this blockbuster is not shaping up to be a three-team trade. It was starting to become much more evident that the Phillies had worked out a separate deal with Seattle that would send Lee to the Mariners for second-tier prospects in order to cut payroll.

The latest reports indicate the Phillies are still going to be trading either Drabek or J.A. Happ, Taylor, and D’Arnaud to the Blue Jays in exchange for Halladay, who appears likely to sign an extension with the Phillies reported to be in the 3-year, $60 million range.

Now, I’m ecstatic about the Phils getting Halladay and that kind of contract for one of the best pitchers in baseball is awesome.

But if the Phillies were going to wind up trading Drabek et al for Halladay now when they were “untouchable” in July, my question is…why didn’t the Phillies get both Lee and Halladay last July? If the Phillies had made both moves, I’m pretty sure there would be a good chance the Phillies would be two-time defending World Series champions right now.

And they would probably be in the position they are in right now…signing one of the aces to a long-term deal while trading away the other one. But the Phillies would have had a few months with both Lee and Halladay, and likely would have had another ring to show for it. It would have made losing the prospects more palatable.

But now? What’s the point? The Phillies appear to still be selling the farm for Halladay and sending Lee to Seattle in what is a thinly disguised salary dump. Sure, Amaro may say something like, “The Blue Jays were adamant in their demands so I made the best deal possible with Lee to replenish the farm system and make the deal with Toronto.”

But here’s the thing…the Lee trade — as it appears right now — does not replenish the farm system. The Phillies will be getting second-tier prospects back for their ace while trading their top-shelf prospects for Halladay. I mean, if the Seattle prospects were close to the value of Drabek, Taylor and D’Arnaud, why aren’t any of them going to the Blue Jays? The answer is Toronto doesn’t want them.

The quality of prospects mentioned coming over to Philly from Seattle — reportedly pitcher Phillipe Aumont, outfielder Tyson Gillies (“Gillies the Phillies” must have appealed to Amaro?), and possibly pitcher Juan Ramirez — is not even close to what the Phils’ farm would be losing.

Essentially, if this all goes down the way it is being reported right now, it means the Phils will have given up Drabek (or Happ), Taylor, D’Arnaud, Knapp, Carrasco, Marson, Donald — and CLIFF LEE — for Roy Halladay (through 2013) and two or three second-tier prospects (and cash and payroll flexibility).

That is an awful, awful deal. And the timing makes it even worse.

Again, I would have been OK with trading Lee in a true three-team deal that would have lightened the Phillies’ cost in terms of prospects going to Toronto. But if Halladay is going to cost the Phillies their top prospects anyway, I say just keep Cliff Lee, bite the bullet on payroll in 2010 and beat the freakin’ Yankees in October.

UPDATE: It’s becoming obvious that Amaro is misreading the value of these two deals because he’s not factoring Lee into what is becoming a staggering price to pay for Halladay in terms of prospects. While trading away the farm is never a good idea, keeping Lee while obtaining Halladay is the most beneficial scenario for the Phillies — except from a payroll standpoint. So if that’s the case, why didn’t Amaro simply non-tender Joe Blanton — whose 2010 salary is basically equal to Lee’s — or trade him for a bag of baseballs to create the payroll space needed to keep Halladay and Lee in the Phillies’ rotation in 2010? Maybe the problem is that Amaro is caught between trying to do what Phillies ownership want (keep payroll in line with the budget) and what’s best for the organization (keep the farm system stocked). He’s trying to do both and that might not be the best thing to do. He should be looking at these deals as what would be the best value for the Phillies…and, at this point, acquiring Halladay and keeping Lee for 2010 provides the best value.

Also, Jayson Stark said on ESPN Radio this morning that the Phillies are getting the Mariners’ top two pitching prospects (Aumont, Ramirez) and an outfielder similar to Taylor (Gillies). Well, I saw video of Aumont last night and his mechanics have all the hallmarks of Tommy John surgery in a year or two. Ramirez is supposedly the better of the two pitchers, and Gillies comparable to Taylor? I have seen Michael Taylor play and the kid is a stud so that’s a lot to live up to for Gillies.