Roy Halladay's voice was quiet and his eyes pointed toward the ground, but he spoke with firm conviction. It was five months ago. One of the best pitchers in baseball had arrived at a major life decision:
He wanted to be traded.
One day before the All-Star Game in St. Louis, Halladay stood at the center of a thick group of reporters, first expressing a desire that was finally fulfilled yesterday. "There's a point in your career where you just need to take the chance and win," the 32-year-old Cy Young Award winner said, pausing between every few words. "I think at this point, I'm ready to take the chance."
As clear as it was last summer that Halladay wanted to be a member of a team like the Phillies, it was still more obvious that the Phils wanted Toronto's ace. Yesterday, they consummated the belated deal.
The historic series of trades cost the Phillies their own former Cy Young Award winner, Cliff Lee, but the Phillies acquired Halladay and $6 million from the Toronto Blue Jays for prospects Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor (who was immediately traded to Oakland), and Travis d'Arnaud. They also signed Halladay to a three-year, $60-million contract extension that included a $20-million vesting option for a fourth season.
"He is a player we have coveted for a long time," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said yesterday of Halladay.
In a related move that the front office insisted was more about restocking its farm system than limiting the payroll, the Phils traded Lee to Seattle for minor-leaguers Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and Juan Ramirez.
Amaro and team president David Montgomery insisted yesterday that it was prospects, not payroll, that led him to trade Lee to the Mariners.
"We could have kept both of them [Lee and Halladay], but it was a baseball decision for me and our organization and the people in the organization," Amaro said. "We could not leave the cupboard bare. If we had just acquired Roy and not moved Lee, we would have lost seven of the best 10 prospects in our organization. That is not the way you do business in baseball."
Montgomery stuck to the same theme - that his team needed to receive prospects in order to justify the cost in talent required by Halladay.
"Why are we where we are today?" Montgomery said. "May I suggest Jimmy Rollins? May I suggest Chase Utley?"
Amaro added that, after meeting last week with Lee's agent, Darek Brauneker, he was unconvinced that he could sign the lefthander for a contract comparable to the one Halladay agreed to.
While describing the discussions as "very amiable," Amaro said that "at the end of the day I had a little discomfort that we would do the kind of deal we felt comfortable with."
Brauneker told The Inquirer on Monday that Lee had not in any way ruled out signing a long-term contract with the Phillies. But Lee would have every reason to expect more money, and more years, than Halladay agreed to with the Phillies. The team's new ace signed for significantly less money than he would have received on the free-agent market next winter because, after playing for 12 years and never tasting a postseason game, he was desperate to win.
"The longer you play in your career, the more important it becomes," he said yesterday. "I've been able to establish myself, achieve things. The more I play, the more I realize how important [reaching the postseason] is for me. . . believe me, I've had quite a few dreams about it."
Nearly every player emphasizes winning when introduced by a new team, but Halladay yesterday spoke with uncommon force on the subject. As in July, his voice was soft but clear - and not free of melancholy over leaving Toronto.
"There is so much excitement, but with that comes change," he said. "With Toronto, we just didn't have a chance [to win]. It got to the point where they needed to start over, and I needed to continue that pursuit" of reaching the World Series.
When it became clear that he would waste his prime years with a rebuilding team, Halladay's favored destination quickly became Philadelphia. He did not expect the Jays to trade within the American League East to the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. The Los Angeles Angels pursued him, but they hold spring training in Arizona, and Halladay preferred to remain with his wife and two sons during February and March. The family lives in Odessa, Fla., just a few miles from the Phils' spring complex in Clearwater.
For all those reasons, Halladay, who had a full no-trade clause, said yesterday, "This was my choice."
While the Phils lost a proven postseason ace in their former No. 34, statistics show that the new No. 34 is a superior pitcher. In 12 seasons, Halladay is 148-76, with a 3.43 ERA. Last season, he was 17-10, with a 2.79 ERA. He led the American League in complete games four times, and in every one of the last three seasons.
Lee's success has been more recent. In eight seasons, the lefthander is 90-52, with a 3.97 earned run average. He won the American League Cy Young Award in 2008, going 22-3 for Cleveland. Lee this year established himself as a playoff star, something Halladay has yet to accomplish. In the 2009 postseason, Lee went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA.
Ultimately, though, Lee became a casualty of the extended flirtation between Halladay and the Phillies.
"To feel like you have the chance of getting everything you want, it doesn't happen very often," Halladay said. "I'm overwhelmed by the opportunity and look forward to what could be."