It would have been easier for the Phillies to keep Cliff Lee.
It would not have been better.
Admittedly, that's an about-face from what appeared in this space in recent weeks.
But now that Ruben Amaro Jr. has acquired righthander Roy Oswalt from the Houston Astros for lefthander J.A. Happ and a couple of single-A prospects, the assessment of the general manager's wheeling and dealing has changed for one obvious reason: Oswalt will still be around in 2011 and possibly in 2012.
Cliff Lee was not going to be in Philadelphia beyond this season.
For the remainder of this season and the entire following one, the Phillies have two Roys - Halladay and Oswalt - who are proven staff aces, and Cole Hamels, a solid No. 2 with the arm to become a No. 1.
The St. Louis Cardinals, with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and rookie Jaime Garcia, are the only team in the National League that can come close to matching the top three in the Phillies' rotation, a significant fact should the Phillies make a fourth straight postseason appearance.
It could be argued that the Phillies would have had Lee for three-plus months and this entire season if they had simply chosen to pay him $9 million, and that is true. Team officials, however, were convinced that they were not going to be able to keep the lefthander beyond 2010.
Lee and his agent, Darek Braunecker, denied that was the case, but watch how much the New York Yankees pay the lefthander when he becomes a free agent this offseason and then decide if you think the Phillies could have still had Lee in 2011.
If you want to argue that Lee is better than Oswalt and therefore would have given the Phillies a better chance to win this year, go ahead. The truth is, they are both among the top 10 pitchers in the game. You can put guys like Halladay, Oswalt, Wainwright, Carpenter, Lee, Florida's Josh Johnson, the Yankees' CC Sabathia, and a few others in the same category. It would be the riskiest of gambles that one would beat the other on any given night.
Yes, Lee is having a better season than Oswalt, who will take a 6-12 record and 3.42 ERA to the mound when he makes his Phillies debut in Washington on Friday night.
A year ago, however, the Phillies got Lee instead of Halladay at the trade deadline and most people thought they got the lesser man because the price in terms of players was not as high. That may have been true, but it's hard to imagine that Halladay could have been any better than Lee was during the Phillies' second straight run to the World Series.
Oswalt, unlike Halladay and Lee a year ago at this time, has a postseason track record and it's a good one. In eight postseason games - seven starts - he is 4-0 with a 3.66 ERA. During the 2004 and 2005 playoffs with Houston, he allowed three earned runs or fewer in five of his seven starts and two or fewer in four.
There is, of course, no money-back guarantee with Oswalt, but it did help that the Astros agreed to pay the Phillies $11 million. If you count that money against the contracts the Phillies owe 17 players for next season, the payroll is $126.6 million for 2011. Without that money, it would have been at $137.6 million. Either way, there is little flexibility to fill out the remainder of the roster, especially if the Phillies hope to keep the payroll in the same $150 million range it will end up this season.
If Oswalt performs the way the Phillies anticipate he will, it's possible he could also be around in 2012, because the Phillies will be getting rid of at least $22.5 million in salary with the likely subtraction of Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge. Oswalt's performance next season will help dictate that decision. With Lee, there was not going to be a decision because he was going to flee to the Yankees.
Oswalt did not come cheaply, and considering that was the case, Phillies' ownership should be applauded. The righthander was not cheap in terms of players, either. The Phillies, in Happ, gave up a pitcher who finished second in the National League rookie of the year voting a year ago. There's a chance Happ could become a top-of-the-rotation starter for the Astros, but he was not that right now for the Phillies. Having said that, he is more proven than any player the Phillies surrendered in the deals it took to get Lee and Halladay.
The two 19-year-old prospects sent to Houston are good ones. A National League scout compared outfielder Anthony Gose to Michael Bourn. The scout believes Gose could be better than Bourn who, at 27, already has a Gold Glove, an all-star appearance and has led the NL in stolen bases. (Houston later sent Gose to Toronto for first baseman Brett Wallace, a 23-year-old who hit .301 with 18 home runs and 61 RBIs at triple-A Las Vegas.)
Jonathan Villar was among the many talented young players at single-A Lakewood this season and, because of his hitting had moved ahead of Freddy Galvis as the top shortstop prospect in the system. With Galvis struggling at double-A Reading, the Phillies do not have a replacement in their system for Jimmy Rollins, who will be eligible for free agency after next season.
All things considered, however, the Phillies just became the favorites in the National League to get back to the World Series, and they did it by acquiring a staff ace who will be around next season, too.
Was this the right deal for the Phillies? (6,657 votes)
Yes: 83% No: 17%