Should the Phillies Trade Halladay or Lee?
By John Stolnis
Let me start by making this very, very, VERY clear. I do NOT advocate trading Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels.
That being said, there is an idiom that seems to mirror what the Phillies front office is going through right now. Is it possible to have “too much of a good thing?” The implication is if you have too much of a good thing, something pleasant becomes unpleasant because you have too much of it.
Most of the time, this idiom is silly. How can too much of a good thing be bad? Who wants less rainbows? Who wants fewer vampire movies? Who says, “I think I’ll stop at just one Five Guys cheeseburger?”
Crazy people, right?
Of course, sometimes, that idiom is true. After a second Five Guys cheeseburger, your internal organs might start a rebellion from within your body that rivals the South at the Battle of Manassas. Puppies are a good thing, but too many in one place can leave an awful stain on the living room rug, unless your name is Cesar Milan.
In the case of the Phillies, their “good thing” is their wealth of starting pitching. And in the case of the Phillies, too many All-Star starting pitchers can create an awful strain on a budget.
The assumption by many is that the Phillies will not be able to afford three starting pitchers each of whom make more than $20 million a year. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are already at that magical $20 million mark, with Cole Hamels waiting in the wings to become the third.
And, make no mistake. He WILL be a $20 million man. Somewhere.
Will it be in Philadelphia? That’s the big question. By now, everyone knows Hamels isn’t going to sign for Jered Weaver money, and he’ll likely get more than Cliff Lee money on the open market next year, given a solid 2012. Hamels can reasonably expect to make $21-22 million beginning in 2013.
So, are three starting pitchers who make over $20 million a season a reality for the Phillies? Especially in light of Ryan Howard’s $20 million contract moving forward as well?
For the purpose of this argument, let’s say the answer is no. Let’s say the Phils are steadfast in avoiding the luxury tax and cannot afford to have over $60 million residing in three starting pitchers, especially if they want to have enough money left over to address an offense that will need some major rebuilding in the next few years. Victorino is a free agent after 2012, with Pence following him the year after. If you spend $20 million on a third starting pitcher, you have $20 million less with which to improve the offense.
The question then becomes, which two $20 million starting pitchers do you want to have on your team beginning in 2013?
Cole Hamels HAS to be one of them.
He enters 2012 at 28 years old, just entering his prime. With the exception of 2009, Hamels has been money in every playoff game he’s ever pitched. If the Phils were faced with an elimination game in the playoffs, who would you most trust to take the ball for that game? Most likely, the answer would be Halladay, but after him, I’d feel better with Hamels than Lee in that situation.
Also, if the Phillies signed Cole to a six-year deal, he would still only be 34 when the deal was finished. Halladay will be 35 in May. Lee will be 33. Both won’t be done pitching until their late 30s. Clearly, the youngest of the three pitchers would have the most value to the Phillies moving forward.
Logic then dictates either Halladay or Lee must be moved in order to make room for Hamels.
Now, I realize this is a crazy idea. The Phillies are all-in for perhaps one last serious run at a World Series title in 2012. This may be their last great opportunity, and if that is the mindset, trading ANY of their three aces would be a ludicrous idea. Halladay, Lee and Hamels are a trifecta that doesn’t come along very often, and the negative publicity involved in trading any of them would be so catastrophic, it would cause fans to storm Citizens Bank Park in mass protest, hanging Ruben Amaro in effigy.
However, if the Phils decide that they need to get something for one of their pitchers, trading Hamels should be absolutely out of the question.
So, who would have more value on the trade market, Halladay or Lee?
Halladay, even at 35, is still regarded as being perhaps the best pitcher in the game (with apologies to Justin Verlander, of course). Also, his contract is friendlier than Lee’s. Halladay’s contract runs for another two years (counting 2012), with an option for 2014. If Halladay played to the end of his deal in 2014, he’d be 37. Lee’s contract is guaranteed for another five years (counting 2012), which would make him 37 at the end of his deal.
So, a GM can either have Halladay for a maximum of three more years up to his 37th birthday, or Lee for another five years until his 37th birthday. Any GM worth his salt would prefer the player with the shorter contract, which means Halladay would probably be much easier to trade than Lee. Lee would be a tough needle to thread, probably an impossible contract to move in any case.
To be clear, trading any of these three guys would be a public relations nightmare so horrible, Robert Englund would get the shakes. The odds of Halladay or Lee getting traded are roughly the same as Ryan Howard hitting 50 HRs next year. It almost certainly isn’t happening.
But if the Phils are dispassionate and forward-thinking, and have decided they absolutely cannot go forward with three starters making more than $20 million a season, then trading one of their older veterans in order to re-sign the younger stud to a big-time deal has to at least be considered.
Of course, this is all moot if the idiom “too much of a good thing” doesn’t apply to the Phillies. In recent years, it hasn’t. Amaro could very well lock Hamels up to a six-year, $130 million deal by the end of spring training, keep Halladay and Lee, and everyone gets to eat pie.
However, sometimes “too much of a good thing” is true. And just maybe, Cole Hamels is one good thing the Phils cannot afford.