The Phillies, exhibiting no hint of complacency, aiming high for their fourth consecutive National League East title and third successive National League championship, have, in effect, chosen Halladay over Lee. Like the vast majority of the moves Philadelphia has made to reach its current lofty status, this one is not a mistake.
This three-way trade sends Halladay to Philadelphia and Lee to Seattle. The Phillies get three legitimate prospects from the Mariners and Toronto receives three legitimate prospects from the Phillies. The Blue Jays will pay $6 million of Halladay's 2010 salary of $15.75 million. To retain Halladay's services beyond next season, the Phillies, will sign him to a three-year extension, worth a reported $60 million or more.
A helpful financial component to the deal for the Phillies is that while they take on Halladay's salary, they drop Lee's $9 million salary. Between that and the $6 million they get from Toronto, this trade will translate into a payroll increase of only $750,000 for 2010.
That's nice but the point is, the Phillies wouldn't have gone to all the trouble in the first place if they hadn't believed that Halladay was better than Lee. They are trading aces here, in the belief that the new ace is even better than the old one. The margin is not huge in this swap, but they are not wrong.
It is difficult to trade a man who played a major role in a club's success as recently as six weeks ago. In addition to solidifying the Philadelphia rotation after being obtained in a trade with Cleveland, Lee had a brilliant postseason. He was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts. The two games won by the Phillies in the World Series were both decisions that went to Lee. This was his first postseason work, but it was the work of an ace.
So, Lee was a large part of the Phillies' 2009 success. But when leaving no stone unturned in trying to continually improve a team, there is no room for sentiment.
What is the difference between Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, apart from left-hander/right-hander? Halladay is 32; Lee is 31. Halladay is a significantly larger man than the slender Lee, and Halladay throws harder. But the real difference is in the body of work.
Over the course of his career, Lee has given up more than 1,200 hits while pitching fewer than 1,200 innings. Those totals are not all the results of struggles early in his career. His hits allowed were greater than innings pitched in 2009.
Lee's career has had more bounces than Halladay's. In 2007, when the Indians tied for the best regular-season record in baseball and advanced to within one victory of the World Series, Lee had been demoted to the Minors, and even after returning did not pitch in the postseason. True, he went on to the brilliant 22-3 season in 2008 season in which he won the American League Cy Young Award, and completed a rare double by also winning the AL Comeback Player of the Year.
As good as Lee was over the past two seasons, in six Major League seasons, he has been an above average pitcher in only three of them.
Halladay has had more success. He had major struggles in the early portion of his career, but since 2002, he has gone a remarkable 130-59. Halladay missed time due to injuries in '04 and '05, but in the four seasons since then, he has gone 69-33. And he was pitching for decent, but not great, Toronto teams in the AL East, where the Yankees are Red Sox were frequent opponents. His accomplishments have come against a high degree of difficulty.
Better still, from the standpoint of his new employers, in the past two seasons he has been as good as ever, winning 37 games, compiling a 2.78 ERA. He was a workhorse, pitching 485 innings. In those 485 innings, he walked only 74 batters, while striking out 414.
Those are just a sampling of his eye-popping numbers. Halladay at this point in his career has both power and precision. He is a man in command of his craft. In recent seasons, there was only one pitcher whose work was comparable in its consistent excellence. That would be Johan Santana of the New York Mets. There will be compelling matchups ahead in the NL East's summer of 2010.
None of this diminishes the value of Cliff Lee's work. But objectively, Roy Halladay has the edge. This is why the Phillies have taken the time and trouble to push for this three-way deal.
They were helped in this effort by the fact that two of the usual competitors for expensive pitching help, the Red Sox and the Yankees, were in the Blue Jays' division. Toronto couldn't spend enough to keep Halladay beyond the 2010 season, but it could trade him to another league, where his presence would not be a daily dose of distress for them.
And the Phillies were helped by their own belief that as good as Lee is, Halladay still represents an upgrade. It is this kind of judgment and will that separates a winning organization from an organization that merely wants to win.