We already knew how most concerned parties felt about the trade that sent Cliff Lee from Philadelphia to Seattle last year. Lee was stunned by it. Phillies fans hated it. Phillies players were confused and dismayed by it. Manager Charlie Manuel didn't much care for it but went along because, well, what other choice did he have?

Now we know that one other person regretted the whole thing, too: Ruben Amaro Jr., the man who made the trade in the first place.

That is the one thing we truly learned from the stunning turn of events that unfolded Monday night and that will have profound impacts on both leagues next season. With everything that transpired over the last year - Roy Halladay's fantastic season, the trade that brought Roy Oswalt, the fourth consecutive division title and third trip to the National League championship series - the Lee deal remained stuck in Philliedom's collective craw.

And yes, that included Amaro, who made the calculation that the Halladay trade with Toronto left the organization needing prospects more than it needed another major-league ace.

The whole thing was best summed up by Bobby Cox, who managed a for-the-ages rotation in Atlanta to 14 consecutive division titles. Last March, as he prepped for his final season before retirement, Cox recalled his reaction to news that the Phillies had acquired Halladay.

"Holy [spit]," Cox said (or something that rhymed with "spit").

Then he heard the second half of the equation, that Amaro had flipped Lee to faraway Seattle.

"I was relieved," Cox said, figuring that Halladay for Lee was "kind of a trade-off."

It is not a good thing when your rivals are relieved by your personnel moves. And the Braves did indeed make a run at the Phillies before settling for a wild-card berth and one final postseason appearance under Cox.

And now? If you're in the NL East, it is "Holy spit" time again, with no relief in sight this time.

The Phillies have the rotation that Cox dreaded last December - Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels - plus Oswalt. They immediately became prohibitive favorites to win their fifth division title in a row. That isn't quite the Braves' streak with Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz, but it's a start.

Really, it's "Holy spit" time all over baseball. The San Francisco Giants, who beat the Phillies for the pennant with pitching and more pitching, now have an even tougher road to repeating as champions. With one move, Amaro weakened two of the four teams that were in the American League playoffs this year.

The Rangers wouldn't have won the pennant without Lee. And the Yankees made Lee their No. 1 priority as they continually compete with the Red Sox - who merely added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to their lineup this off-season. Catcher Russell Martin is a nice pickup but hardly registers on the Steinbrenner scale that measures seismic activity in the Yankees/Sox rivalry.

This projected rotation already has people scouring baseball history for better ones. There are a few contenders: Cleveland in the mid-1950s, the Koufax-led Dodgers, the 1971 Baltimore Orioles, those Maddux-led Atlanta staffs. This foursome will have its opportunity to settle that debate over the next couple years.

The Phillies won a World Series just two years ago with Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers and Joe Blanton as their top four. This influx of elite pitchers is unprecedented. It would be as if the 1980 Phillies added John Candelaria, LaMarr Hoyt, and Ron Guidry to help Steve Carlton repeat.

By accentuating pitching, Amaro hedges his bets in a very smart way. If the Phillies' lineup rebounds from a relatively down 2010 season, this team will be nearly impossible to stop. And if the lineup isn't back to prior standards, the pitching is still strong enough to keep the Phillies in contention.

That fourth ace, however the rotation develops, is going to start opposite a bunch of very mediocre fourth or fifth starters. That's a win a week.

It is always risky to commit big money over the long term to pitchers. But this crew is as remarkable for its mental toughness, long track record of consistent excellence, and big-game poise as for sheer talent. There is no Barry Zito or Carl Pavano or Kevin Brown in this group.

Injuries are always a risk, especially with pitchers. These guys are practically fanatical about taking care of themselves. That doesn't eliminate the risk, but it's the best you can do.

Bobby Cox and a couple million Phillies fans were right. If the Phillies hadn't traded Lee last December, they probably would have beaten the Giants and whomever won the AL title (no Lee, no Rangers). There would probably have been another parade down Broad Street.

That's the simplest explanation for Amaro's stunning re-acquisition of Lee - a move that had Philadelphia and all of baseball thinking the same thing.

Holy spit.