Happy Halladays. T'is the season for gift giving.
The Phils are close to acquiring Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay. Six months ago, that news would have made the fans grin gleefully. And why not? By all accounts, Halladay is a brilliant pitcher with a powerful arm. Even better, he's righthanded - a much-needed counterbalance for a Phillies rotation that's goes left(y) more than a NASCAR driver.
Halladay was the guy we all wanted the Fightin's to secure before the trade deadline, the hurler we obsessed over. He was the hot pickup discussed daily in the newspapers and on SportsCenter - the baseball equivalent of the high-end (and highly expensive) video-game system you begged your parents to get you for Christmas when you were a kid. And now the Fightin's are prepared to tuck him under the tree for you.
Joy to the world and all that. It's fantastic news. Honestly. But the Phils spoiled us with that championship and the attendant parade. Now, like the good brats we've become, some of us want more. We want what we want no matter how unfeasible or cost prohibitive or illogical.
If you had dreams of an unstoppable Fightin's rotation featuring Halladay and postseason monster Cliff Lee, the pending deal will likely dash those hopes. In order to put Halladay in Phillies pinstripes, it's believed general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will be forced to part with Lee. It's the lump of coal in an otherwise beautiful stocking.
Lee was unquestionably the team's best playoff pitcher after being paroled from his prison in Cleveland during the summer. If not for his ungodly stuff, it seems unlikely the Phils would have reached the World Series. Even if they had, they certainly wouldn't have given the Yankees the same sort of fight without Lee in the mix. His two Fall Classic outings - particularly Game 1 - were masterful, the kind of performances you shake your head about the next day because they were so good you couldn't be sure if they actually happened or if you imagined them.
Pairing Lee and Halladay at the front of the rotation would have made for a formidable starting staff. At the very least, it would have taken some pressure off Cole Hamels - if you've forgotten, he's the one who couldn't wait for the season to end - as he tries to fix whatever broke in 2009.
Amaro undoubtedly has his reasons for wanting to say hello to one ace and goodbye to another. If it was at all possible to keep both, he surely would have done it. ESPN's Jayson Stark reported that Lee wants to test free agency next year while Halladay was willing to sign a contract extension to remain in Philly. When one guy is a sure thing and the other isn't - when you can guarantee that one will be here for a while but you can't be sure the other will be here for beyond the 2010 season - that makes your decision a whole lot easier.
Amaro and the organization should be commended for pushing for another big trade. It clearly signals the club's deep commitment to winning the World Series again. And yet this is all sort of bittersweet. How do you fall madly in love when you're going through an unexpected divorce?
There's something else here. Something no one probably wants to discuss while all this is so fresh. What if the Phils still aren't good enough even after doing the deal? The Phils had a terrific season in '09, but when they reached the World Series it became obvious that they needed another starter (or two) if they wanted to vanquish the Evil Empire. Maybe Hamels returns to form and becomes that reliable 1-A option again. Maybe not.
In either case, it would be grand to have Lee around. Getting back to the World Series for a third straight year will be daunting. Beating the Yanks or Red Sox (who reportedly will sign John Lackey and be able to claim three of the best starters in baseball) or whichever team emerges from the brutal American League will be even tougher.
To repeat: If Halladay was willing to commit to the Phils long term and Lee wasn't, there really wasn't much of a choice for Amaro to make. He did the right thing. He spoiled us - again. We ought to thank him for that.
For decades the Phils were pitied members of baseball's grubby Have Nots. No longer. Amaro has assured the Phils place among the game's elite franchises. We ought to thank him for that, too.
But that's the thing about your team joining the Haves - even though you know it's indecent and unreasonable, you always want more. You get greedy.