The biggest baseball trade in almost 20 years is a few dots, crosses and passport stamps from completion, and though all of the names remain a mystery, the outcomes are obvious.
The Toronto Blue Jays got the prospects they wanted.
The Seattle Mariners got the veteran ace they coveted.
The Philadelphia Phillies got the long-term centerpiece they desired.
And it's the final yearning, that insatiable brotherly love for Roy Halladay(notes) emanating from Philadelphia, that is the most curious. This is a somewhat incongruous notion, a team wanting one of baseball's best pitchers being a bad thing. Actually, bad is the wrong word.
Maybe more like: Disappointing.
The Phillies are not demonstrably better after the three-way trade that netted them Halladay, sent their erstwhile ace Cliff Lee(notes) to Seattle and brought a cache of young, inexpensive players to Toronto. The Phillies have more security – at least, as much as a 32-year-old with a history of arm trouble can provide – with Halladay reportedly primed to sign a $60 million contract extension through the 2013 season. And they didn't need to sacrifice all the fruits of their farm system, which general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. helped build and continues to protect.
Yet because the Phillies could have conceivably done this without sacrificing Lee – they have enough prospects, and Lee is a bargain next year at $9 million – the trade resonates as unsatisfying. The Phillies are still the class of the National League. They're just not the best team in baseball, a stake they could have claimed with Halladay and Lee together atop their rotation.
Now the Mariners get the distinction of trotting out baseball's best 1-2 punch, a devastating combination to the reeling Los Angeles Angels – who on Monday countered the defection of John Lackey(notes) to Boston by … signing a past-his-prime designated hitter – and a warning call to the rest of the American League. The Mariners are still a bat or two from threatening the Yankees and Red Sox, but neither CC Sabathia(notes) and A.J. Burnett(notes) nor a pick 'em of Lackey, Jon Lester(notes) and Josh Beckett(notes) packs quite the punch of Felix Hernandez(notes) and Lee.
Seattle, which will give up the brunt of the prospects in the deal, looked past the fact that likely pushed Philadelphia to consummate a Halladay trade: Lee's apparent refusal to consider a long-term deal for anything less than Sabathia-level money. He plans to pursue free agency after the 2010 season, something apparently unpalatable to Philadelphia, which reconnected with Toronto – now under new management – and did what it couldn't in July.
Do not forget: The Blue Jays needed to ship out Halladay. Actually, they needed to do so last July, though new GM Alex Anthopoulos did an admirable job of placing himself in the middle of a complicated deal and landing enough talent to make trading the face of the franchise a proposition worth completing. The Blue Jays will get three top Phillies prospects – pitcher Kyle Drabek, outfielder Michael Taylor and catcher Travis D'Arnaud. The Phillies will get two Seattle prospects, pitcher Phillippe Aumont and outfielder Tyson Gillies. And other names may surface when the deal is completed.
Some will stay. Some will go. And still, they're on the periphery, names to consider in 2011 or '12 or beyond. The stars make this deal so transcendent.
Bigger, yes, than the Manny Ramirez(notes)-Jason Bay swap at the trade deadline in 2008. Cut away the drama and the Boston factor and it didn't contain near the gravity of two Cy Young award winners changing homes. And because the Mike Piazza(notes)-to-Florida swap in 1998 ended up with Piazza changing homes again eight days later, it exceeds that as well.
Not since 1990, when Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez were dealt from Toronto to San Diego for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter – yes, the pipeline used to send superstars north – has a deal of such magnitude gone down. And back it goes to Philadelphia so craving Halladay, a pitcher who has braved the AL East and should thrive in the NL and nonetheless leaves a milquetoast, if not slightly sour, taste.
Because even though Lee didn't take the ball on three days' rest in the World Series – something Halladay would do if called upon – he still turned in a brilliant playoff performance, one that kept the Phillies afloat despite their lukewarm starting pitching. He was every bit the pitcher they figured Halladay would've been had Toronto's former GM, J.P. Ricciardi, not asked for so much at the deadline.
Never did Amaro and the rest of the Phillies brass lose their man-crush on Halladay, and surely as much as they wanted Doc and Lee in the same rotation, they weren't willing to swallow the salary, to risk Lee leaving, to go for broke one year and take the two draft picks that come with Lee seeking his riches.
What could've been won't. Once the dots and crosses and stamps are formalized, two teams will have reason to celebrate. And the one with the biggest fish, the Philadelphia Phillies, will show off their shiny new piece and wonder at the same time whether the biggest trade in almost 20 years was best for them, too.