THE DREAM DIES hard - and please pardon those among us who are not quite ready to let it go. Because you can acknowledge, on the one hand, that acquiring Roy Halladay was a wonderful move for the Phillies and still recognize, on the other hand, that Halladay combined with Cliff Lee at the top of the Phillies' rotation would have provided 2010 with the underpinnings of unforgettable.

The question: what price glory?

Phillies president David Montgomery swears that money is not the reason that Lee and his $9 million salary are not here. He says that if the organization had not felt so strapped by trading away what general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said were seven of its Top 10 prospects, that money would not have stood in the way of keeping Lee. He said that even though the club is up against its self-imposed salary constraints, it would have gone over the total if it had made sense.

"For a year? Sure," Montgomery said. "But you'd be back here saying the next year, 'What are you doing, dismantling your club?' "

The Phillies are not a public company. Their books are their business. They are going to spend $140 million on payroll this season, a very big number. They have been to the World Series twice in a row and won one. We are well past the point of wondering about their commitment to the product on the field.

But as you shake this whole business around in your head, trying to decide why the dream rotation has spun off of its axis - all the way out to Seattle, where the Phillies shipped Lee, which is as far away as they could send him, unless the late Brett Myers really could have rigged a trade to Japan - it is only natural to wonder about the cashish.

The more you think about it, though, the more obvious it becomes that Montgomery is right. You might not agree with the organizational philosophy, but it

really isn't about the money. Instead, it is about this fixation upon The Future.

I mean, think about it. The Phillies could have lopped about $7 million off of their payroll last week with the stroke of a pen - by not tendering Joe Blanton. If they really wanted to make the dream come true in 2010, if they really wanted to put Halladay and Lee together, and if Lee's $9 million was really the impediment, most of the solution was right there. The difference in salaries at that point, while not quite a rounding error in the budget, would not have been a barrier to anything.

But they didn't do it. Letting go of Blanton would have been neat, clean and simple, and it would have neutralized the money argument - but the Phillies didn't do it. Which means that it wasn't the money.

It was The Future.

(Also known as The Damn Future.)

It was the realization, Montgomery said, that the price the Blue Jays required for Halladay was steep, "And to satisfy them, we were going to be pretty hamstrung as far as what we would have left to fill a need during the season. We thought, 'We just can't leave ourselves in that position.' When we filled needs the last couple of years, it's been because we had attractive farm system players to do it. Cliff could bring people back . . .

"People see a situation and say, 'Why isn't this team pursuing so-and-so?' Well, they don't have any prospects so nobody is going to talk to them about so-and-so. You can say, 'What a marvelous 2010 it would be.' But then 2011 comes and we're faced with how many guys whose contracts end?"

Ryan Howard. Jimmy Rollins. Shane Victorino. Raul Ibanez. Ryan Madson. J.C. Romero. Greg Dobbs. Et cetera. (And Jayson Werth is up after the 2010 season.) The Phillies simply believed they wouldn't be able to re-sign all of them and that they needed more inventory to keep this thing together.

And, well, we all get it. For all we know, one of the prospects from Seattle - righthander Phillippe Aumont, outfielder Tyson Gillies and righthander Juan Ramirez - will be part of the deal that gets them the bullpen piece at the trade deadline that puts the Phillies over the top in 2011. It is just that, well, Halladay and Lee were a once-in-a-lifetime notion - and once-in-a-lifetime is hard to watch walk away.

The Halladay part of the deal is great. The reason the Phillies were willing to do it now as opposed to in July is that Domonic Brown and J.A. Happ weren't being required by the Blue Jays now, and because Halladay was willing to talk about a 3-year extension with an option for a fourth year, as opposed to something longer. There is no question that they are marginally better in 2010 than they would have been with Lee, and much better in 2011, 2012, 2013 and maybe 2014. There is no argument, as in none.

But 2010 could have been magnificent, no?

"We still think we can have a magnificent 2010 and we think we can do it with what we have," David Montgomery said. *