Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | December 18, 2009

Thoughts on Halladay, Lee, Beane

EDIT:

I wrote this piece prior to the existance of this blog. In order to maintain continuity of my writing and to get as much of it into one place as possible, I added this post at a later date and time stamped it to the date and approximate time that I originally wrote it. This is the reason why it appears before the “introduction” blog entry. It is because this piece actually predates the blog. What follows below is the original entry as written whenever I wrote it.

After finally getting an opportunity to both learn the terms of the Roy Halladay trade and also do some research on the players who were involved in it (There were alot of non major leaguers involved in the deal, of which only two I’d previously heard of), I now feel prepared to comment on the matter.

First, I think it bears noting that this is one of the more interesting trades done in the Major Leagues in a little while. In addition to being a four team deal (not quite in the usual sense of a four team deal, where all four teams exchange with one another…….it was more of a straight Philadelphia and Toronto trade which had other moves attached that were contingent on the Philly/Toronto trade being finalized), it seems like BOTH of the major players in the deal — Philadelphia and Toronto — Would have been better served just dealing with one another and not making the secondary moves that accompanied each trade. For those scoring at home, these are the players that were moved in the deal:

TORONTO RECEIVES: P Kyle Drabek, from PHI
3B/1B Brett Wallace, from OAK
C Travis D’Arnaud, from PHI

PHILA. RECEIVES: P Roy Halladay, from TOR
P Phillippe Aumont, from SEA
OF Tyson Gillies, from SEA
P J.C. Ramirez, from SEA

SEATTLE RECEIVES: P Cliff Lee, from PHI

OAKLAND RECEIVES: OF Michael Taylor, from PHI

As you can see, there’s alot to this deal. I think it bears stating first that as inconceivable as it sounds, it looks to me like all four teams will benefit from this deal. Given the needs of each team in the trade, I don’t believe anybody clearly got defeated in this deal, and every team met their objectives. In a four team, nine player deal wherein seven of the involved players have no major league experience, there is a high probability of the deal to fail for someone in hindsight, but as of right now, the time in which the trade is made, all four teams look to stand to benefit from the deal.

However, the BIGGEST winners appear to be the teams that acquired one player, each acquiring their player after the initial deal. And the biggest loser appears from this spot to be Philadelphia. I will provide rationales in order from what I perceive to be biggest loser to biggest winner:

PHILADELPHIA – The Phillies got the best player in the deal (although its arguable if they got the most valuable player in the deal — I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t rather have a 31 yr. old lefty who is one of the best pitchers in the league but slightly lesser in talent than a 33 yr. old righty who is one of the best pitchers in the league, over the long haul) and usually in deals the team who gets the best player ends up winning them, unless something goes horribly awry or there is legitimate reason to believe that the player’s standard of performance will decline in the near future (which is not the case here). In fact, its not the initial deal which sent Taylor, Drabek, and D’Arnaud to Toronto for Halladay that makes them the biggest loser (or least winner, if you will). It’s the deal sending Lee to Seattle for Aumont, Gillies, and Ramirez. I think it goes without saying who Roy Halladay is and what he represents. That he’s been so dominant in the American League for so long means that next year he ought to be downright disgusting in the National League. To the extent that I already would proclaim him a Cy Young candidate right this instant. This is a guy who posted a K/9 of 7.8 in the AL over 239 innings, with a WHIP of 1.13 and a FIP of 3.06. Put it on the board, yes.

However, sending Lee to Seattle was curious. The players they received for him are intriguing if not overwhelming, and there’s an argument to be made that they’re only a slight tier down from the players Philadelphia traded to get Halladay. It’s also arguable that they’re better than the players Philadelphia traded to get Lee from Cleveland in the first place.

Aumont was Seattle’s first round pick in 2007 and was ranked their #3 prospect last year. The fact that he’s already been relegated to the bullpen negatively affects his value, but he’s shown the ability to strike guys out with authority at all levels of the minors, which is a high positive. He’s also managed to maintain FIP’s of 3.60 or below at every level thus far. His 5.09 ERA at AA last year (in only 17 2/3 innings) reflected his struggles with command at the level (5.6 BB/9), as well as an inordinately high BABIP and strand rate. If he can improve his command going forward and maintain the other facets of his game, he should see that ERA drop and could see Philadelphia quickly. He’s 6’7, and usually tall pitchers have trouble repeating their mechanics and delivery. In addition, Aumont is from Quebec and didn’t play High School baseball (because they don’t have any in his city), so he’s still very much learning on the job. With those things in mind, it’ll be interesting going forward to see if the previously non-existant control problems he encountered at AA will persist in 2010 or evaporate.

Ramirez appears to me to be the most intriguing prospect due to his age and advanced level relative to his age. He’ll be 22 next season and already has 3 years of pro experience under his belt. He was ranked Seattle’s #5 prospect this year and spent the entire season at high-A ball with High Desert. After two above average but not overwhelming seasons, he struggled in 2009, with a 5.12 ERA and 4.76 FIP. He saw home run rates increase considerably (though I’ve heard High Desert’s stadium is a launching pad and if I remember correctly, there was a game played there this year that was something like 32-24 as a final score), while his strikeouts went down considerably (7 K/9) and walk rate spiked. There’s nothing to show that he was terribly unlucky but scouts seem to rave about his stuff, comparing him to Rafael Soriano. He’s still young yet and it’ll be interesting to see if he’ll start the year repeating high-A in the Phillies organization or if he’ll be promoted to Reading (AA) and challenged. Scouts seem torn on if he’ll end up as a starter or a reliever.

Gillies was ranked as Seattle’s #20 prospect last year and will be 22 next year. He is a speedy left-handed slap hitter with more power than players of his profile (i.e. Chone Figgins, Juan Pierre) but still not very much (his ISO was .145 last year and is considerably lower than that for his pro career). Gillies had a GREAT year at High Desert in 2009, posting a 341/430/486 line, good for a .411 wOBA and working out to a 146 wRC+. This marks two consecutive seasons now where he has shown an abnormally high ability to take a walk. He also lowered his previously atrocious strikeout rate. It seems to me that his future as a major leaguer belongs in places like Seattle, Colorado, or Detroit where they have huge ballfields for him to slap to the gaps and use his speed to take advantage. He stole 44 bases last year but was caught 19 times, thus making his stolen bases close to worthless. He’ll have to improve his stealing abilities in order to turn himself into a true weapon in terms of base stealing. I tend to be much higher on players like Gillies who can repeatedly post high walk rates in the minors while hitting for average than most, but if he can improve his strikeout rate a little more next year and post a similarly high BA, he will look more “for real”. Double A tends to weed out such “real” players from impostors. I don’t necessarily see where he fits in as a starter for Philadelphia ever, but he could always be used in a backup role and/or traded later for other parts. I think he was a better fit for Seattle than he will be in Philadelphia. Scouts like both his attitude and his defense, and he is said to have a great throwing arm. I suspect he will rank much higher than 20th in Philly’s organization when the prospect ratings come out next February. 2010 can be a big year in his development.

So the guys that Philly got for Lee are nowhere near garbage, though none are particularly close to the majors (Aumont being the closest as of the moment). It just seems that they didn’t have to trade Lee for prospects, period. I understand their thinking. The Phillies are a team on a budget and needed to shed salary. They also depleted their farm system in trades to acquire both Lee and Halladay, and felt the need to restock it. I understand both of these things. Neglecting to restock the farm system is among the reasons the Tigers were so bad in the mid 90s (poor management is the reason they were so bad in the late 90s/early 00s). However, Lee was slated to make $9m in 2010. While no small potatoes, it seems that alot of the signings they’ve made this off-season: Polanco, Schneider, and ESPECIALLY Ross Gload, didn’t have to be made and they would’ve saved $9m in not making them, opting to fill the roles of those players with cheaper options. Or they could’ve traded Joe Blanton and not made ONE of those signings, Blanton being someone who is likely to make roughly $6-7m this year. Lee is a free agent after the season, and will almost certainly be a type A free agent. In which case Philadelphia will get two draft picks when he signs elsewhere in the 10-11 off-season anyway. If you trust your scouting department, then you trust that they can get you players who — Being near the top of the draft — Are likely to be better and better faster than the players you acquired for Lee. No prospects or draft picks in baseball are sure things, but if I truly trust my scouting department, I trust that given two extra picks in the top 50 of the draft they can net me significant players. Or at least players that project significantly enough that I can later include them in packages to get significant players.

The above paragraph is a descriptor of how they could’ve similarly restocked their farm system slightly less without trading Lee, a scenario that would’ve given them a rotation of Halladay/Lee/Hamels/Happ, and who cares. This would’ve clearly positioned a team that is ABSOLUTELY in win-now mode, a two time defending National League champ who won the 2008 World Series, as a top contender to dominate the NL and given them a rotation that could stack up against any in the post-season. Instead, they swapped out Halladay for Lee, a marginal improvement at best, gave him a 3 yr. extension at $20m per year (not a bad deal for either side), and did some prospect jumble in their minors. It’s not that they haven’t improved, because they have……..but they had the potential to improve so much more out of this chain of events, that the modest improvement that they did make still seems like a disappointment. If I’m a Philadelphia fan, I’m disappointed that my GM didn’t put together the best possible team for 2010 within their salary constraints. There were ways to mitigate Lee’s $9m and it appears that Philly did not follow them. To that end, I consider Philadelphia the least winner of the deal (but still a winner).

TORONTO – Toronto received Drabek, Taylor, and D’Arnoud from Philly and quickly flipped Taylor to Oakland for Brett Wallace. Much like Philly, I like the deal as originally done much better than I did for what happened after the fact. If we’re just going talent for talent, Toronto loses big on this deal, but everyone knew they had to/wanted to get rid of Halladay and viewed through that prism they got about as good of a haul as they could get right now. They probably could’ve gotten more this past July, but that’s water under the bridge right now.

Drabek is the son of former Pirates starter Doug Drabek and rated as Philadelphia’s #5 prospect this past year. Of course, they traded three of the guys ahead of him on the list in the Summer to get Cliff Lee, so he was their #2 guy (by Spring 2009 rankings) by the time this deal got done. Drabek has a level of hype and scout raving that is ahead of his actual pro performance thus far, but most scouts tend to completely agree that his future is as a #1 starter. He’ll be 23 next year and on the field he’s shown himself to be well above average but not spectacular. He lost time to TJ surgery in ’07 and ’08, making 2009 the first year of his four year pro career that he’s pitched over 100 innings (he threw 158). He dominated high A but his progress at AA was muted. He posted a FIP of 3.83, which is actually pretty good but less than I’d expect out of a prospect with his level of hype. If he brought such performance into the majors that kind of production would make him a top-of-the-rotation starter on a bad team and a #2 starter on a good team, but the hype following him is that he is one of the next big stars. That remains to be seen, but either way he is a very good pitcher. To be fair, he was recovering from surgery while simultaneously enduring a much larger workload than ever before. If he takes the same step up from 2009 to 2010 that he did from 2008 to 2009, he very well may not only perform to his hype, but also see time in Toronto by year’s end.

Wallace was one of the key players acquired by Oakland from St. Louis for Matt Holliday. He started the year rated as the Cardinals #2 prospect, behind eventual starting Center Fielder Colby Rasmus. A two time triple crown winner in college, scouts raved about his hitting ability in advance of the ’09 season. He’s been labelled as a potential batting champ with doubles power that could eventually become home run power. He’ll be 24 next year, and the home run power has yet to show up to great effect. He played at both AA and AAA last year and played for both St. Louis and Oakland’s AAA franchises. Between the three teams, he hit 20 home runs and managed a BA of .293, accompanied by a less than impressive walk rate and 26 doubles. He doesn’t run particularly well, and his defense at third base is questionable at best, which gave Oakland cause to hesitate. He was highly coveted by Toronto, who just missed out on the chance to draft him in 2008, which is why they were considered to be willing to deal Taylor — Who appears to have better potential — For him. Whether or not this is insider knowledge that Oakland had, I’m not sure. With two full pro seasons under his belt, Wallace is now drawing comparisons to Lyle Overbay, which actually makes sense to me since alot of the same things that were said about Wallace before this year I remember hearing about Overbay before he came to the majors. Overbay’s a good player but not necessarily a player you’d like set as your personal ceiling for performance, especially as a first baseman. Wallace is close to major league ready and may open the year in Toronto, although its tough to see where he fits there if he can’t play third base.

D’Arnaud is a former first round sandwich pick who was ranked as Philly’s #7 prospect in advance of the season. He’ll be 21 next year and has the reputation of being an outstanding defensive catcher. He threw out 23% of base stealers in 2009 at hi-A. His 255/319/419 line wasn’t all too impressive though may be good enough to get him advanced a level. It resulted in a wRC+ of 109, so apparently offense was at a premium in the Sally League last year. If he starts next season at AA, it should be a good challenge for him, and he’s young enough to repeat the level again if he fails. With John Buck recently signed for the next two years, D’Arnaud will have plenty of time to refine his game and ease his way to the big league level if that is where his destiny will take him.

OAKLAND – I think now it is time to question why teams make trades with Billy Beane. I think its also time to wonder what Beane would do if he had even a medium sized payroll. He had Oakland rolling as a top tier contender in the AL West for many years with a mite sized payroll, and has done an impressive job after finally having to retreat into rebuilding mode. He’s won or stalemated virtually all of his big trades (he got incredible hauls for Haren, Mulder, Holliday……in fact, he got Wallace for Holliday and turned him into Taylor) and then watched Barry Zito leave for San Francisco, where Giants fans bemoan his astronomical contract. Meanwhile, both of the players Beane got in the draft for Zito are still in the organization doing well and one appears to be fairly close to the majors. Now, Beane took the biggest piece of his Matt Holliday trade (which makes the acquisition of Holliday following a down year to be astute in the first place) and seeing some red flags, dealt him to Toronto for a safer and more versatile prospect in Michael Taylor. Well done.

Taylor began last year as Philadelphia’s #6 prospect, and will be 24 next year. He is 6’6, 250 with decent speed. He can hit for average, he takes walks, and he has doubles power that can grow into home run power. Taylor posted a 320/395/549 line across AA and AAA last year that saw him hit 20 home runs and 28 doubles. He stole 21 bases against just 5 caught stealings and profiles as an adequate but not spectacular corner outfielder. He profiles similarly to Wallace but runs better and plays a more premium defensive position — And does it better. As a larger player, his power is also more projectable and he’s shown a greater ability to take a walk. I hesitate to rave too much over Taylor and call him a stud because he doesn’t quite have star written on him, but he certainly seems to be a solid prospect who could find fairly significant time — If not a starting job — In Oakland’s outfield in 2010. That he cost them Wallace, who would’ve been competing with Daric Barton for time at first base and may not have been able to handle third defensively (not to mention Eric Chavez being there), it seems that Beane took a player whose value had begun to come into question and quickly got rid of him to a team that had been hot for him for years in exchange for a similar player who plays a position of greater need and flexibility and who seems to be marginally better. That to me, spells out a victory.

SEATTLE – Seattle was the big, big winner in this deal and this trade officially signals to the rest of the AL West that there is a new sheriff in town and his name is Jack Zduriencik. And you’d better spell it right or else he’ll sign YOUR players who can’t play in your park but can play and perform in his. Jack’s defense first, pitching second, speed player third approach fits his ballpark perfectly and he’s managed to turn around things in Seattle quickly. This deal essentially makes Seattle the favorite in the AL West in 2010, barring another major happening in the off-season. If he can get one more impact bat (preferably lefty) he can seal the deal. Of course, championships are won on the field, not on paper, but things certainly look good. Lee is a free agent after the year, and I suspect this is the primary reason that Seattle didn’t have to part with either of their top 2 prospects to acquire him. For 2010 they’ll pay him $9m and barring terrible misfortune he will be part of a formidable 1-2 punch with Felix Hernandez. He’ll have the best defense in the major leagues playing behind him, which will minimize his screw-ups (which are few to begin with). To boot, as a lefty pitching at Safeco Field, he’s going to be facing a ton of right-handed heavy lineups that will end up getting murdered. Safeco Field is the supreme punishment to any righty power hitter, and Cliff Lee is a severe punishment to any hitter of any kind. Combining the two will make these righty heavy lineups look very pitiful. I suspect Lee is as happy about this deal as Seattle is, because pitching at Safeco will probably earn him several more million in free agency than pitching in Citizen’s Bank Park for a whole season would have. If they do return to the post-season and he performs similarly to how he did for Philadelphia in 2009, he’ll also be able to add the very valuable (in dollars) “playoff win-when-it-counts” tag that will only drive up his market value. If Seattle fails to retain him, they’ll get two draft picks, and with Zduriencik in charge, I have no doubt that they’ll do more with those two picks than Aumont, Ramirez, and Gillies. It would be the greatest of shames if Lee somehow manages to drop the ball here, because if he pitches as well as he has the last two seasons and four of the last five (2007 was a real stinker), this trade should be a crushing blow to the rest of the AL West. Or as I like to call it, the most interesting division in baseball for 2010.

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Responses

  1. I’m generally not comfortable predicting individual awards pre-season because of there being so many variables involved — Except for Pujols as NL MVP, that one is a pretty safe bet in any given year. I agree with Philly & Seattle winning their divisions and Toronto finishing last.

    I also would probably pick Oakland to finish last, although if they finished first I wouldn’t be shocked. In general, I think the AL West could finish in any possible order. All of the teams potentially could win the division and all of them could potentially finish last, as far as I can tell.

  2. I’m predicting that Halladay will win the N.L. Cy Young, and Cliff Lee will win the A.L. Cy Young, and Phillie and Seattle will each win their respective divisions. Meanwhile, Toronto will finish in last and will be in a rebuilding phase for at least two or three years. Meanwhile, Beane’s signing of Ben Sheets will work out for him one way or the other, even though his team could finish in last place this season. Bill (ondeckcircle.wordpress.com)


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