Ever since news of a pending trade for Roy Halladay broke on Monday, the thought was that the Cliff Lee deal also had to be made because the Phillies simply didn't have the money for both pitchers. Turns out, that wasn't the whole truth.
At the press conference to introduce Halladay, Ruben Amaro Jr. called the decision to move Lee "a baseball decision." He pointed out that after sending four prospects to Cleveland for Lee last summer, the Phillies would have sent another three to Toronto, meaning that seven of their top ten prospects would have been traded in a five month span. Obviously, that would have left the farm system with a pretty big dent. So, Amaro sent Lee to Seattle to get some prospects in return and soften the blow to the farm system.
While nobody is calling Phillippe Aumont the next Kyle Drabek and nobody is saying that Tyson Gillies has the same prospect status of Michael Taylor, all three prospects coming from Seattle to the Phillies were ranked among the top ten Seattle prospects. It's likely that all three will start at Double-A Reading in 2010, while Drabek and Taylor would have been either at the Triple-A level or at the major league level to start the season.
So just how bad would the Phillies farm system have looked had they not gotten reinforcements from Seattle?
The Triple-A level would have looked the same as it does right now, which is actually still pretty encouraging. Even though Drabek and Taylor are gone, Lehigh Valley can still expect to see players like Domonic Brown, Alex Concepcion and Michael Stutes either to start the season or shortly after the season begins. In fact, with the exit of Taylor and Drabek, the road to Lehigh Valley may be a little clearer for Brown and Stutes. Lehigh Valley should also have relievers Scott Mathieson and Mike Zagurski on their staff.
Double-A Reading was going to take a hit by losing a number of key players to promotions. The addition of Aumont and Juan Ramirez to the pitching staff and Gillies to the outfield will make Reading better than they would have been. Reading was set to have holdovers like Quintin Berry, Michael Schwimer and Vance Worley. Reading should still get additions to their club like Matthew Rizzotti and Drew Naylor, giving them a decent team to battle their way back to the post-season.
Clearwater won't be getting Travis D'Arnaud behind the plate, so Joel Naughton may return to the Threshers in 2010. Sebastian Valle is probably going to start the year back at Lakewood to put some more experience under his belt.
There is no denying that the Phillies farm system would have looked much different had the Phillies not made the deal to send Cliff Lee to the Pacific Northwest in exchange for some reinforcements. The bottom line though is that the farm system is strong enough that they might have been able to absorb the loss without too much of a problem. There are still young pitchers coming through the system that should get there before the Phillies are in any real need of strong arms at the major league level. And while not overflowing with position players who are true prospects, the farm system still has some quality players and the Phillies roster is young enough that they still have time to find the next generation of major leaguers.
A major league rotation of Halladay, Lee, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ would have been among the best in baseball. The Phillies would have faced the potential loss of both Lee and Blanton to free agency following 2010, but Hamels is signed through 2011 and Happ is under team control for a number of years. Worst case scenario is that the Phillies would have had Halladay, Hamels and Happ to stock their 2011 rotation, with a couple of possibilities coming from the minors and some money freed up from Lee and Blanton to pursue a free agent or two. They also would have had at least three extra draft picks coming to compensate for the loss of Lee and Blanton to help restock their system.
"We could not leave the cupboard bare. That is not the way to do business in baseball," stressed Amaro. The fact is that the cupboard might not have had the selection that it does now, but it certainly wouldn't have been bare. And the major league cupboard would have been overflowing. Whatever the case, Amaro has staked his legacy on two deals rolled into one and only time will tell how well he's maintained the team's cupboard.