Paul Hagen has written for the Philadelphia Daily News for a long time. He's a good, fair sportswriter and I enjoy reading him. But the other day, he wrote a column which irritated me.
Essentially, Hagen argued that fans need to give Ruben Amaro a break. Specifically, we need to cut him some slack regarding Cliff Lee. Amaro, he argued, was in a tough spot last December. Lee had rejected the Phillies initial contract extension offer. Once Amaro had the opportunity to make the deal for Halladay, it made all the more sense to do it given the uncertainty surrounding Lee. Once this was done, it was imperative to re-arm the farm system --- which he then did for Lee. In addition, the Phils could never afford to keep both pitchers.
This argument is wrong, dead wrong. First, Lee wanted to remain in Philly. Of course he didn't accept the Phils' initial offer; what top-player in their right mind would do that? Lee has said he thought the offer was simply the beginning of negotiations and he planned to counter shortly thereafter. He didn't loudly reject the Phils' offer; he just considered it the beginning rather than the end.
Second, the Phillies could have afforded both pitchers both in the short and long-terms. In the short term, Lee makes the same amount this season that Joe Blanton does. Enough said. They could have non-tendered Blanton (who was arbitration-eligible) and kept Lee. Plain and simple. Over the long-term, each pitcher (Lee and Halladay) is a $20/m. arm. It's steep and it's risky, but the Phillies have sold out every home game for over a year. They have a payroll of $140 million. If you let Blanton go and don't resign Jamie Moyer after 2010, this is very, very doable.
Finally, Ruben got garbage in return for Cliff Lee. Of the three trades made involving Lee over the past year, any baseball executive will tell you the Phillies got the least return in prospects. And this isn't a situation whereby some top prospects have been surprisingly disappointing. In reality, these prospects were never that highly touted. None of the three prospects involved in the deal projects to be an MLB star. Given their performance thus far in the minors, each would be lucky to ever play in the big leagues. Had the Phillies offered the same package to Seattle for Lee this week, it would have been laughed out of the office. Ruben rushed the Lee deal to make everything work with Halladay, and he got badly robbed.
So in response to Paul Hagen, I refuse to stop talking and complaining about the Cliff Lee matter. The Phillies lost the opportunity to have the best 1-2 rotation punch since Johnson-Schilling in 2001. It didn't have to be this way, and Ruben Amaro deserves continuous, unrelenting blame.