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Bill Conlin: Two aces trump 10 prospects for Phillies right now

YOU KNOW all the cliches about baseball trades. The best trades are the ones that help both teams. They happen, but not all that often. Usually one team gets the bull and the other one gets the horn.

The Cliff Lee trade still stings for many Phillies fans. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)
The Cliff Lee trade still stings for many Phillies fans. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)Read more

YOU KNOW all the cliches about baseball trades.

The best trades are the ones that help both teams. They happen, but not all that often. Usually one team gets the bull and the other one gets the horn.

And in this era of the salary dumps of megabuck veterans being passed on to contenders for a package of untested minor league prospects, there is a two-way peril.

Sometimes, the veteran counted on to earn his inflated salary in return for pitching your team into the postseason, becomes an Inglorious Basterd. And the prospects surrendered actually give a decent return.

Unless it is too painful to contemplate the horrors of 2007, when the single victory that Freddy Garcia managed cost GM Pat Gillick $10 million large. It also cost him righthander Gavin Floyd, a No. 1 draft pick who signed for a $4.2 million bonus contract. Floyd was a flop here. But he has given the White Sox some bright moments. And wouldn't you know it, Floyd, who was 17-8 in 2008, and the resurrected Garcia, are in the same rotation. And wouldn't you know it Part II, Gio Gonzalez, a minor league lefthander (from the Jim Thome trade) is 6-4 for Oakland with a 3.79 ERA.

Sort of a case of not having your cake and not eating it, too.

With the suddenly impotent Phillies reeling on the ropes of mid-June, looking up in the wild-card standings and no longer masters of all they survey, the strident roar of the vox populi continues to protest what is perceived as the Great Cliff Lee Giveaway.

The party line is that the stunning Lee trade to Seattle for three lower-echelon minor leaguers named Pierre, Tyson and Juan Carlos - two Canadians and a Nicaraguan - was necessary to rebuild the suddenly punchless and pitchless farm system. To land Lee at the deadline last season, the Phillies expended pitcher Carlos Carrasco, catcher Lou Marson, infielder Jason Donald and pitching prospect Jason Knapp.

OK, that hardly goes into the "helped both teams" column. Lee pitched the Phillies into a World Series, end of story. A year later, Knapp is rehabbing from arm surgery, Carrasco is a decent 5-2 in Triple A but is far from the untouchable stud power arm he was as a teenager. Marson was sent back to Triple A by the Indians batting .191 to make room for superb catching prospect Carlos Santana. Only Donald is assured of an everlasting line in the rich trove of baseball trivia. Donald was on the beneficiary end of the blown call by umpire Jim Joyce that cost Tigers righthander Armando Galarraga a perfect game with two outs in the ninth.

So that phase of Lee was an overpowering success.

But, according to the ballclub, all those sparkling prospects given up for the superb lefthander who became an instant folk hero left the farm system depleted. With the varsity core group past the midpoint of its prime, it was time to start feeding some futures into the Double and Triple A vacuum.

The Roy Halladay blockbuster cost them No. 1 pitching prospect Kyle Drabek, deemed untouchable along with outfielder Domonic Brown last summer when they shopped for the Toronto ace. It cost them 6-6, hitting machine and corner outfielder Michael Taylor, who was coming off a superb season at Double and Triple A, who had hop-scotched five minor league levels in just two seasons. And it cost them yet another catching prospect, Travis D'Arnaud, a tall lad with a giant upside.

The Significant Seven . . .

Let's wind the Hindsight Machine back to present time.

Halladay has been every inch - with a perfect-game bonus - the pitcher the Phillies bargained for. Lee was unfortunately caught in the exhaust fumes of a sputtering Mariners team. But he is 4-3 with a flock of no-decisions, despite missing a month with an abdominal strain, going deep into games just as he did here.

Ah, but what about the incoming and outgoing traffic that whirled beneath the two superstars like the moons rotating around Jupiter?

Phillippe Aumont, a 6-7 righthander from Quebec, was so rank in Reading, the minor league staff had to ship a lad used to the coolness of Eastern Canada to the stifling heat of Clearwater. It was the kind of harsh demotion merited by the kid's numbers. One relief appearance into his return to Class A, Aumont's ERA approaches infinity. For the season, it is 8.23. He has walked 42 against 38 strikeouts. My suspicious nature impels me to suspect that when a pitcher implodes to that degree, he is either getting bad instruction or he is injured.

Off his energetic performance in spring training, fleet Tyson Gillies looked like the pick of the Lee package. He got off slowly at Reading, then blew a tire just as he was starting to hit. The jury is out. J.C. Ramirez is young and large. He throws hard and he has been OK at Clearwater. But the total package has been underwhelming.

Not that the Blue Jays can be giddy about the haul they got for Halladay. But their package at least has a pulse. Drabek's been solid in Double A, but hardly the next Strasburg at 7-5, 3.24 in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League. D'Arnaud has been solid at Class A Dunedin - .300 with modest power and solid receiving skills. He will play in The Show.

My guy, Michael Taylor, was handed off to Oakland for a third-base prospect. He battled shoulder soreness in winter ball and has had significant injury time at Sacramento in the PCL. The result has been the first downtick of his career, .227 with three homers and 27 RBI, batting mostly seventh. Not good for the big guy.

Take away consequences that might not loom any time soon, the megamoves fall solidly into the "Helped all teams" column. The Mariners at least got a pitcher to cheer every fifth day. The Phillies added their first real ace since Curt Schilling.

As for the scuffling minor leaguers involved, 10 of them, at least they have time on their side.

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