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Halladay may have wanted Phillies more than they wanted him

AT THE podium, surrounded by reporters, staring into the bright lights of the television cameras, doing radio interviews on his cell phone. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. patiently made his points over and over.

Cliff Lee called being traded to Philadelphia a "spectacular" turn of events. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)
Cliff Lee called being traded to Philadelphia a "spectacular" turn of events. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)Read more

AT THE podium, surrounded by reporters, staring into the bright lights of the television cameras, doing radio interviews on his cell phone. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. patiently made his points over and over.

He didn't want to trade Cliff Lee. He hated to part with top prospects like righthander Kyle Drabek, outfielder Michael Taylor and catcher Travis d'Arnaud. He recognized that there was a large element of risk in the blockbuster trade involving three teams, two former Cy Young Award winners, a pair of recent No. 1 draft choices and several million dollars.

But, dadgummit, the Phillies now had Roy Halladay, 32, one of the very best pitchers in baseball. And that made it all worthwhile.

After a lengthy gestation period and a dizzying whirlwind of rumors over the previous 96 hours, the Phillies were finally able to officially announce at Citizens Bank Park late yesterday afternoon that they had captured the pitcher they long coveted.

To offset the prospects they had lost, they got righthanders Phillippe Aumont and Juan Ramirez, and outfielder Tyson Gillies from the Mariners. To help balance the books, they sent Lee's $9 million salary to Seattle and also received $6 million from the Blue Jays.

Here's the kicker, though: As badly as the Phillies wanted Halladay, he may have wanted them even more.

"This is where we wanted to be," he declared right at the top as his family looked on. "That was the bottom line for us. Once the opportunity came up to be a part of this, it was something I couldn't pass up."

He said he was "thrilled" and called it a "spectacular" turn of events.

Later, asked how many teams he actually would have been willing to accept a trade to, he shrugged. "That I really would have been happy about? Here," he said. "The way it worked out is kind of surreal, to feel like you have a chance to get everything you want doesn't happen very often. I'm kind of floored that it worked out the way it did."

What about the Yankees, a team that also seemed to fulfill his desire to play for a World Series contender and train near his Tampa area home? "Toronto wasn't going to trade me to the [AL East rival] Yankees," he said with a smile.

That would also seem to leave out the Red Sox. The Dodgers and Angels train in Arizona. So, really, where else could he have gone?

"This was my choice," he said. "I was holding out hope that this would happen and I didn't want to let it get away."

All of which raises the issue of whether the Phillies might have given up more than they had to. After all, Toronto wasn't in a strong bargaining position. They had to trade Halladay now or watch him walk away at the end of the season. And with his no-trade clause, he could pretty much direct where he'd end up.

"The fact of the matter is, you just don't have any idea. It's one of those things, like when you're in the free-agent period and you don't have any idea what the other teams are offering," Amaro said.

"And when you're talking about one of the best pitchers in baseball, you're going to have to step up and make it hurt. And it hurt, because these are quality kids that we're giving up. But we also felt that being able to lock him up meant that it didn't hurt enough so that we should not make this move."

The fact that Halladay was willing to take a 3-year, $60 million extension with a $20 million vesting option for 2014 is a pretty good indication of how badly he wanted to come to the Phillies. He almost certainly could have commanded more on the open market next offseason.

Of course, by the time the discussions reached that stage, the players involved had already been agreed on. The Phillies demanded a 72-hour window last Sunday in which to negotiate the extension and, after that was done, he took and passed a physical on Tuesday.

At that point, all that could be done was wait while the other players involved received medical clearance. There was the chance for a glitch yesterday morning when medical personnel expressed some concern about the shoulder of Oakland infielder Brett Wallace, who then was sent to Toronto in return for Taylor. But the Jays decided to proceed with the deal anyway.

Since the beginning of the 2002 season, Halladay has led all major league pitchers in wins (130), complete games (46) and shutouts (13) and has the second-best winning percentage (.688).

He was also immensely popular in Toronto. There was no way he would have been traded if he hadn't forced the issue by telling the Jays at the end of the season that he wouldn't consider allowing a trade once spring training started. He said he didn't want to go through another season of dealing with trade rumors, which is understandable, but also made it clear that he was 32 and wanted to go to a team where he had a chance to win. He has never pitched in the postseason.

That news reverberated throughout baseball, and it certainly got the Phillies' attention.

When the general managers found themselves cloistered in Chicago's O'Hare Hilton just days after the World Series ended, Amaro made a point of seeking out first-year Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos.

"We made some inquiries about what it might take and then things kind of moved from there," Amaro said.

At first, the Phillies hesitated because what it would take was a lot.

"Frankly, I was very pessimistic we would even go there and be able to get something done because of the players they wanted and the package they wanted was really too debilitating for us," Amaro said. "But as we thought about it and assessed it and discussed it internally, we decided that maybe this was something to pursue."

The deal continued to come together at the winter meetings in Indianapolis. After concluding that trading Joe Blanton wouldn't bring the needed return, they let it be known that Lee was available. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik was enthusiastic about making a deal even though Lee can be a free agent next winter.

"When you have the opportunity to acquire a pitcher of Cliff's caliber, immediate effects are [obvious]. Did a think we'd be getting a guy of this caliber? You always set your sights high," he told reporters in Seattle. "We're really glad it came to fruition."

Halladay conceded he was disappointed that Lee was traded to the Phillies instead of him before the deadline last July, that he was envious of watching the lefthander pitch in the postseason, and that he dreamed that it could have been him.

It took a while, but he finally got his wish yesterday. The Phillies are ecstatic to have him. And Halladay might just be even happier than they are about how it all worked out.