CD's Connect the Dots... Happy Halladay
(Photo: Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
(Photo: Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Senior Writer
Posted Dec 15, 2009


Tis said that it is better to give than receive, but in this merriest of seasons, Phillie GM Ruben Amaro has turned the theory completely backwards. His desire is to receive, and in order to receive he must decide what to give. Little doubt however about his goal, a...happy Halladay, Merry Christmas.

While it is unknown just what influence famed scientist Albert Einstein's theories may have on Ruben Amaro's goals, this much is sure, he is hoping to apply one of them. Einstein once observed that "once we accept our limits, we go beyond them." Interesting take on things, though Einstein certainly was not referring to any "fiscal restraints" on money that has always been part of the eye of the hurricane financial storm that an acquisition of mega star hurler, Roy Halladay may bring for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Ah, and just when many Phillie phans thought the Roy Halladay stories were as far removed as the ghosts of Christmas past, reports began circulating fast and furious at the recently concluded Winter Baseball Meetings that the Phillies were very much involved in discussions to bring the talented right hander to the City of Brotherly Love, and in many circles were considered the odds on favorite to accomplish the task.

Of course, as most people who follow baseball with any regularity know by now, trades are only a tad easier to navigate these days than would be Santa's sleigh on a snowy December night without the illuminating red light emanating from the tip of Rudolph's nose.

Not only is the issue one of cost benefit in bringing in the talented but expensive hurler, but there is also the factor of just what young talent will Amaro be willing to surrender in order to satisfy the Toronto Blue Jays needs. And although the Phillie GM has never said this publicly, it seems more than prudent that he would desire a signed and sealed Halladay before surrendering such top notch talent and the Blue Jay righty has also indicated a preference for a pre-approved contract extension.

With these factors as the prelude to what could someday become a classic Philadelphia Christmas novel, let us examine all the plots and subplots that have made this story so fascinating and ever changing.

Allow us to travel back a few months to the latter days of July, long before Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez were even wearing Phillie pinstripes much less being groomed to start games 1 and 2 of the 2009 World Series. The Philadelphia Phillies, in dire need of a top of the rotation starting pitcher seemed nearly at the precipice of a deal that would send Halladay to the Phightins' for a combination of players that Amaro ultimately deemed too expensive.

Quicker than you can say, Dancer, Prancer, Donner and Vixen, the wily and unyielding Phillie GM was announcing to the baseball world that instead of acquiring the former Cy Young award pitcher from Toronto, he had instead dealt for the current Cy Young award pitcher, non other than Clifton Phifer Lee, better known to the sporting world as lefty Cliff Lee. No matter the name, the news was stunning in its swiftness and finality. Down with Roy Halladay, long live Cliff Lee.

Philadelphia phans, long accustomed to disappointment, were ebullient in their praise of the deal and quickly began making post season plans once again for 2009 after a glorious World Series triumph for their heroes less than 10 months before. And, as fate would have it, Lee was the cornerstone of a Phillie team that did ultimately return to the Fall Classic for a second year in a row. And certainly it was no fault of Lee's that the team ultimately lost the series in six games to the New York Yankees as the Phillies newest southpaw won both games in sensational fashion.

Yet, far from being satisfied, the Phillie braintrust instead tried to learn from their mistakes and from the success of their conquerors, the Bronx Bombers from New York. The Yankees, for all their hitting prowess, ultimately won the series because they had a top of the line three man rotation in CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte and these three aces trumped anything that the Phillies could muster up against them, save for the sterling efforts of the aforementioned Lee.

Oh, make no mistake, over a long and arduous 162 game schedule, the Phils were well equipped for the task with none other than starting pitchers Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, JA Happ, Jamie Moyer, Pedro Martinez and even youngish Kyle Kendrick. But in the otherworldly atmosphere of a tense and tight 7 game series, the Yanks proved that three aces trumps a full house more times than not. This lesson was not lost on the Philadelphia braintrust.

When they met in early November to plot out their off season plans, one of the main goals was to attempt to bring in another top of the rotation hurler to combine with Lee and Hamels in combating the likes of a Sabathia-Burnett-Pettitte troika. How and when they decided on Halladay as their pitcher of choice is unknown but there seems little doubt that this has become their unannounced goal and the chase to the Halladay finish line now seems to be entering its final sprint with the Phillies and Angels about to lap the remaining field of competitors. How Amaro finishes this race could well decide just how the Phillies finish the 2010 season, regardless of whatever moves they make as an afterthought.

Not only must Amaro satisfy the Blue Jays and their often contrary General Manager, Alex Anthopoulos, but they must satisfy and make Halladay an offer he can't refuse in order to waive his no trade clause and leave the only team he has ever known. Simply put, they must know they are acquiring a Happy Halladay, and nothing would make him smile more than a new 4 year contract for about 64 million dollars.

Make no mistake, he would sign this deal, not just to join the only team in baseball that has participated in the last two World Series championships but because the Phillies spring training base in Clearwater, Florida is no more than a stone's throw[or Halladay fastball] from his winter compound right down the road.

Clearly, there is little doubt that the Phillies want Halladay and the Blue Jay ace wants Philadelphia. In fact, a Phillie person was heard to say that "if Halladay's driving the bus, he'll come to us", alluding to the fact that he wants to stay on the East Coast, play for a contender and train near his home in Florida. This would seem to be make it a proverbial slam dunk for Amaro and Co.

Not so fast. There are hurdles to leap before the Phils can begin selling their Roy Halladay jerseys in time to beat the last minute holiday shopping rush. For one thing, Amaro has a budget he must attempt to honor. Right now, and this is purely speculation based on fairly well documented fact, that Phillie salary budget is roughly 140 million dollars and Amaro simply cannot bring aboard the likes of a Roy Halladay and stay within that budget. The tall righty is scheduled to make a bit over 16 million dollars for 2010 and the Phils have less than that to spend as their roster is presently constructed.

With this as the backdrop to all the speculation, Amaro has quietly been letting it be known that he would not be averse to moving his number three starting pitcher, Joe Blanton and his 8 million dollar contract, for young prospects and some salary relief. The Phillie GM has also been outwardly judicious in his negotiations with Phillie free agents like Chan Ho Park, Scott Eyre and Matt Stairs. He has pondered the possibility on non tendering the contracts of relievers Clay Condrey and Chad Durbin. It should not go unnoticed that all five of these athletes played significant roles in helping the Phils achieve the success they had in 2009 and all would be missed.

Such is the lure of someone like Roy Halladay, however, and to this point Amaro cannot be blamed for being cautious with his money lest he lose out on one of the bigger prizes of the off season Lets Make a Deal extravaganza. He understands more than most that right now Philadelphia is a team of choice for most of the free agents on the market and he can afford to be calculating in his expenditures until he finds out which way the Halladay wind ultimately blows.

Or he could recall the famous words of Albert Einstein and realize that "once we realize our limits, we go beyond them." Amaro claims his limits are $140 million dollars but now that he has realized his limits, he could well go beyond them for a talent such as Halladay. Given the special nature of the talent involved, the Phils might well take Einstein's sage advice and for just this once, go beyond their announced budgetary limits.

Prudence dictates careful examination of these limits and the player involved and in this case, there would seem a perfect presentment for making Roy Halladay the "exception that proves the rule," To wit, this is one outstanding pitcher, possibly the best in the game and certainly in the top 3-4. Talk to any hitter who has faced him and they will weave tales of the difficulty in having bat meet ball solidly when facing the 6'6" hurler.

His numbers border on the exceptional, especially in this day and age of deflated pitching numbers, absence of complete games and the exaggerated use of bullpen specialists for every occasion. In all regards, Halladay is a reminder of baseball days gone by, when the likes of Jim Bunning, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale dominated the pitching landscape.

Where to begin? How about 25 complete games in the past three seasons alone? In order to appreciate this skill, it should be noted that there are entire TEAMS that have not tossed 25 complete games in the past three campaigns! What about a lifetime record of 148-76, meaning there is always about a 2-1 chance that when Halladay takes the hill, his team will win. Four All-Star game appearances, a Cy Young Award, win totals of 22,20,19,17,16 and 16 during the past eight seasons. Innings pitched totals of 220,225,246 and 239 over the past four years.

Still, numbers alone do not tell the whole story. This is a pitcher who makes everyone else around him better merely by his presence in the middle of the diamond. Because he pitches quickly and walks so few hitters, his defense is always on their toes and ready for action. On a Phillie team known for its stellar defense, this would be a huge bonus. And because he pitches deep into games on an almost continual basis, he allows the bullpen ample rest to prepare for the games when a less able hurler is on the mound.

In fact, having a Roy Halladay, in addition to Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, might allow the Phils the luxury of having both Jamie Moyer and Pedro Martinez in the rotation. Both veteran hurlers, although still talented enough to win consistently, are notorious for tiring in the middle innings and need plenty of bullpen help on a regular basis.

Having Halladay around might give the team the resources to have one more bat on the bench and make use of only 11 hurlers on the roster instead of the anticipated 12. This could pay dividends in a long, extra inning ballgame when one more bat on the bench might mean the difference in winning and losing.

There are some skeptics who believe that Halladay's somewhat advanced age [he will pitch the 2010 season at 33 years of age] precludes any discussion of his talent moving forward and is instead a harbinger of worrisome injuries to come. Nothing in the hurler's final '09 numbers would indicate a diminishing return on the investment.

He started 32 games, completed 9, fashioned a 17-10 record with 208 KO's in 239 innings with a sterling ERA of 2.79 and an even more impressive WHIP number of 1.13. In short, he appeared as dominant as ever during this past campaign, and all the while having to deal with the constant trade rumors and discussions about his future baseball home after 11 seasons with the Blue Jays.

Of course, all of this begs the question of just what would it take to make for a Happy Halladay and Merry Christmas for the Phillies. This is where it gets murky and without clear vision the waters become not only choppy but dark and possibly foreboding. Most baseball scouts are convinced that any Philadelphia deal for Halladay must include Rookie of the Year southpaw JA Happ at the top. The 27 year old hurler fashioned a brilliant 12-4 record in 2009 in a mere 23 starts and appears headed for stardom.

The general consensus is that the Phils must also reluctantly part with either, but not both, of their two mega prospect outfielders, Michael Taylor or Domonic Brown. Taylor, older and more mature, would seem more advanced after playing part of the '09 campaign in Triple A. His cumulative numbers were 20 home runs, 84 RBI and .320 batting average. There are those who watch Taylor and think of a potential Ryan Howard in the making. Time will tell.

Domonic Brown, on the other hand, is two years younger at 22, and hits left handed, as opposed to the right handed hitting Taylor. Brown spent part of his season in Double A Reading and hit .299 with 14 home runs and 64 RBI in an injury abbreviated season. Scouts have favorably compared Brown to a young Darryl Strawberry. Again, only time will tell.

What can be assumed is that one of the two would be required, along with Happ, in order to get these talks off of first base. There are rumors that the Jays also favor rookie lefty Antonio Bastardo as one of the players involved. In fact, a rumor making the rounds indicated that a proposed deal of Happ, Brown, Bastardo and former top draft pick Anthony Hewitt for Halladay and lefty reliever Jesse Carlson was being discussed.

Acquiring the talented Carlson would make sense and continue a Phillie tradition of always attempting solve one more problem with a secondary addition to any multi-player deal. It is often forgotten that the Phils also brought in left fielder Ben Francisco in the Cliff Lee deal last July. Carlson would immediately fill the need for another southpaw in the bullpen and end any discussions about bringing back the veteran free agent, Scott Eyre.

The Phillies seem the clear front runners for any deal involving Halladay and there is a sense that this deal will not stay on the table for too long. There is ample evidence that a Christmas deadline has been mentioned by both Amaro, who is rarely patient about these things, and Halladay, who undoubtedly will want to stuff his stockings with the emblem of his future team fully emblazoned on the outside.

It is equally well worth noting that the Los Angeles Angels appear the closest competitor for the talented right hander and their General Manager, Tony Reagan, left the recently concluded winter meetings with an almost cryptic prediction that "the next 10 days will be very interesting." The guess is that he, too, wants this brought to a quick conclusion, one way or the other.

What can Phillie phans expect when the process ultimately plays itself out? The famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden was fond of saying that "things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out." With Halladay aboard, it can safely be assumed that Philadelphia will enjoy collective visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads if the deal comes to pass. If he should in the end be moved elsewhere, then it will be up to Amaro and Co. to turn the page on this chapter and attend to Plan B, much as they did successfully back in July.

Afterall, there is still a pennant to be defended and another World Series berth to chase, and if Halladay is not donning the Phillie hill come April, then someone else will. Names like Jason Marquis, Ben Sheets, Kevon Correia and Braden Looper still roam the landscape all have displayed an ability to win ball games consistently.

Yet, there is little doubt of Amaro's true Christmas wish list. Although he may have secretly left it on his office desk after acquiring Cliff Lee back in July, he never truly disposed of it as some might have assumed. The words, although no longer freshly written, can still be read without need of glasses. They are inscribed thusly and succinctly, "All I want from Santa is a...Happy Halladay, Merry Christmas."

Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thank you CD from the Left Coast




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