Ruben Amaro Knows How to Deal FOR Top Ranked Players but Not in Trading Them Away

When it became apparent that Roy Oswalt was finally dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies for J.A. Happ and two mediocre minor leaguers, my first reaction was why didn’t GM Ruben Amaro just keep Cliff Lee?

The Phillies today are a better team with the acquisition of Oswalt, but it is a deal which should never have been done.

Amaro should never have traded away Cliff Lee  to the Seattle Mariners. 

After he traded for perennial Cy Young contender Roy Halladay last off-season, Amaro thought the organization needed to replenish their minor league system. They had traded four players for Lee during the 2009 season, and three more highly rated prospects for Halladay.

That was a huge mistake. Minor league prospects are developed for two reasons: to bring up and become productive major leaguers and to trade away for pieces of the major league puzzle.

Amaro jumped the gun in thinking he needed to replenish the farm.

In addition to Low A pitcher Jason Knapp,  Amaro did trade away major league ready players in P Carlos Carrasco, INF Jason Donald and C Lou Marson for Lee. He also dealt RHP Kyle Drabek, OF Michael Taylor and C Travis D’Arnaud for Halladay.

That is a lot of middle market talent, but only one player in Drabek who really would have fit into the Phillies long-term plans. Taylor is a pretty good player, too, but the Phillies liked OF Domonic Brown much better overall.

Therefore, the Phillies traded one guy who could be an impact player in Drabek and a bunch of non-impact talent for two of the top five pitchers in baseball in Lee and Halladay.

That would have made a great one-two punch for the Phillies during the regular season, and presumably, the post season. If Lee and Halladay were leading the Phillies rotation this year, they likely would be in first place in the NL East instead of a 3.5 games behind Atlanta.

So why trade baseball’s best big game pitcher? Prospects, LOL. The Phillies have a roster full of veterans at every position, and only needed to replace Jayson Werth, who would be a free agent after 2010.

Enter the young, talented Mr. Brown, who is already playing well in his first few games.

And it is not like Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez, the three players received for Lee are tearing it up this season, except if you count Gillies hamstring, which has kept him on the disabled lis t most of the 2010 season. When healthy, Gillies was not hitting well at all after performing admirably in the hitter friendly High A California League.

Aumont (the key as he was to “replace” Drabek) was terrible in AA Reading and was demoted to the High A Florida State League.

And if money is the issue, then why the long-term deal in January 2010 for the mediocre starting pitcher Joe Blanton for three years/$24 million? That money could have been used to keep Lee, and you still would have had Blanton for this season. No need to give him that money which was better designed for Lee.

Obtaining prospects? Money issues? Doesn’t anybody besides the New York Yankees want to win World Series titles anymore? The idea is to win championships, not worry about minor league talent, “team control” years or what your team might look to be two seasons down the road.  

Then by turning around and getting Oswalt as a high need, Amaro gave up three more prospects in current major league pitcher J.A. Happ, Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar, basically a swap of Oswalt and Happ. Assuming the Phillies pick up the 2012 option on Oswalt’s contract, they are now taking on $28 million in over the balance of the contract.

Add in Blanton’s $16 million due over the next two seasons, and that makes $44 million in money which could have been paid to Lee after this year. That would equate to the first two years of a four-year deal.

Amaro has made three unbelievable moves in trading almost no impact players (Happ and maybe Drabek) for three former Cy Young winners in less than a year. But the worst deal was trading away a virtual playoff spot and get to a third straight World Series appearance by trading away the best of the three.

He admitted his mistake by trading for Oswalt, and the question remains whether Roy II can pitch big games down the stretch, like Lee did last season for the Phillies.

Amaro hopes that is the case.

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