The Real Big Trade

Last week, I titled my post about the Curtis Granderson three way trade “The Big Deal”. That deal is now small potatoes compared to the three team blockbuster that Toronto, Philadelphia, and Seattle are poised to complete. After a day full of changing names, here’s the current belief on the final package.

Toronto gets: Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, Travis D’Arnaud
Philadelphia gets: Roy Halladay, Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, Juan Ramirez (he now goes by J.C.), $6 million in cash
Seattle gets: Cliff Lee

This is a true blockbuster. Halladay and Lee are both among the top five or six pitchers in the game. You rarely see two premium players of this quality moved in the same deal. And, it’s just a fun trade, not your normal big-market-buying-good-player-from-little-market deal.

So, let’s look at why each team made this deal.

Let’s start with the Blue Jays. They were obviously over a barrel with Halladay after the debacle of trying to trade him this summer. New GM Alex Anthopolous knew he needed to move his ace for the best package he could get, but also come away with enough young talent to sell this as more than an admission that they screwed up in July. In the trio of young players they’re getting from the Phillies, they were able to do just that.

Drabek, Taylor, and D’Arnaud are high quality prospects. For one year of Halladay (and $6 million in cash, which isn’t trivial but less useful to a Toronto team that won’t win in 2010), that’s a very strong return. Anthopolous did well to come away with that level of talent, given his leverage in the situation.

On Philly’s end, the motivation for this move seems clear – get a #1 starter locked up beyond 2010. They didn’t feel that was possible with Lee, so they were willing to take a downgrade in the farm system to swap out an ace for one that they could lock up. The theory is pretty sound, I think, especially given the rumored 3 year, $60 million price tag that came with Halladay’s extension. That’s a bargain for a guy as good as Doc, and the extension provides significant value to the Phillies.

Seattle’s aim is also pretty clear – win in 2010. Not content with adding Chone Figgins and making a few other small moves that would help them maintain their status as a .500ish club, the Mariners saw an opportunity to put themselves in the AL West race and took it. Lee is a huge upgrade for their pitching staff and a perfect fit for Safeco Field. The cost was fair to middling prospects, not premium guys who would help the team in 2010, and the Mariners saw this as a chance to add wins at a far below market price without sacrificing too much of their future.

For all three franchises, the thought behind the deal is sound. There are legitimate reasons for fans of all three teams to be happy about this deal. However, I think Toroto and Seattle fans can feel comfortable that this was the best their team could have done. Philly fans, I don’t think you can feel that same way.

The Cliff Lee to Seattle portion of this trade just seems very light in return for the Phillies. They’re getting two power arms with a lot of questions marks and a speedy center fielder without a lot of power. None of these guys are top tier prospects. This is the best Philadelphia could have gotten for Lee? Really? A pu-pu platter of interesting, high-risk guys not really close to the majors for a Cy Young-quality pitcher who is already well on his way to Type A free agency?

And, even if that’s true, why clear $8 million from the books by trading Lee? Surely, you could have moved Joe Blanton without eating any of his salary, even if you didn’t love the deals being offered. Or, how about this – don’t sign J.C. Romero, Brian Schneider, and Ross Gload, whose 2010 salaries are about equal to Lee’s. Replace those three reserves with league minimum guys and you’ve saved enough money to keep Lee around.

Halladay will help them, and the extension he signed is a great deal. But it just seems like they bent over backwards to make this particular deal, when there were so many other ways of going about it. It just seems to me that the Phillies could have had Halladay and Lee, and that reality would leave me pretty frustrated today if I were a Phillies fan.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.