For the second year in a row, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. pulled the trigger on the deal that will most likely define the MLB Trade Deadline.
Last year, it was former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee who was shipped to Philadelphia, a move that gained national headlines and made the defending World Series champs even more dangerous.
We all know how that worked out.
This year, it is now Roy Oswalt, a perennial ace wasting the last year or so of his prime with the Houston Astros, who will be the next one to “take his talents” to the City of Brotherly Love in an deal to help the Phillies win their 4th consecutive NL East crown.
And what a deal it was..
There is so much good to talk about regarding this deal that it needs to be split up into two different categories.
WHAT WE GOT
You just have to take a look at Roy Oswalt’s career stats for about five seconds to realize the type of talent the Phillies just added to their pitching rotation. His credentials are astonishing (3 All-Star Games, Top 5 in Cy Young voting 5 different season), and with his 143-82 career record in just over 9 1/2 big league seasons, it’s easy to see why this guy has been considered an ace pitcher for the better part a decade, a distinction that Dan Haren, Fausto Carmona, and other who had been linked to the Phillies have unfortunately never had.
While his talent was not a question, Ruben Amaro Jr. also made the Astros address a one of his major areas of concern without involving another team. At 32 years of age, there were clearly some worries among the Phillies brass that they were getting a guy who was on the back end of his prime (which is still at an all-star level) who was being paid like a guy who was in the middle of his prime. That was proven by the Astros paying almost half of his remaining 23 million-dollar salary over the next 1 1/3 years of his contract, an incentive that gives much needed financial support to a team that now has the 4th highest payroll in baseball.
While the Astros will end up the Phillies approximately 11 million dollars for Oswalt to pitch next year and the remaining 50 games this season for the PHILLIES is good enough in itself, it is the combination of obtaining a #1 caliber starter along with that cap relief provided by the Astros organization (Phillies will only pay 12 million to Oswalt over the next 1 1/3 years, a figure that comes out to a reasonable 9.3 mil a year), is what allows all this to look like a home-run (grandslam even) in terms of the value the Phillies got in this trade.
Oh, almost forgot, the Phillies do not have to pick up Oswalt’s 16 million-dollar 2012 option that he and the Astros originally demanded either.
WHAT WE GAVE UP
I’ll be the first one to say it. Phillies fans everywhere should be grateful for what J.A Happ has given to the organization. His 12-4 season last year was pretty tremendous, and considering he was the best pitcher on the struggling staff in 2009 before Cliff Lee showed up, it’s undeniable that he played a huge part in keeping that team afloat when Hamels, Blanton and company were struggling. He really never got the appreciation his was due.
With that said, the fact that he was the centerpiece of this trade (not Domonic Brown, Jayson Werth, or Jonathan Singleton) rivals a blessing from G-D.
While Happ has a certain attraction factor because of the talent he showed as a rookie, relatively young age, and an even cheaper contract, he was truly never viewed as an asset within the Phillies organization. For instance, he wasn’t even the rotation to start the 2009 season, as he was beaten out by Chan Ho Park for the 5th starter slot out of Spring Training. CHAN HO PARK! That alone should indicate the amount of confidence that Amaro and company had with Happ.
All things considered, J.A Happ needed a change of scenery.
The Astros, by giving Happ the dubious honor of being the focal point in this deal, seem to think that he has the makings of being a stud pitcher, possibly even an ace to replace Oswalt. In contrast to this, with the way Happ was treated (especially recently), it’s possible that the Phillies viewed his 2009 year as his eventual “ceiling” or even a possible fluke.
After finishing 3rd in the NL while dealing with added pressure of being involved in the Cliff Lee trade rumors, Happ seemed to have solidified his status in the rotation coming into the new year. That was short-lived though, as a rocky start to the 2010 campaign fueled by a 3-month oblique injury was the driving force which allowed Happ to fall out of favor with management for good. The fall from grace was so drastic that when he was finally healthy enough to pitch, he was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley because of fears that he didn’t have the “stuff” that once made him so effective.
As a fan of Happ but also a Phillies diehard, I hope his career in Houston lies somewhere in between.
For the other two 19-year-old prospects involved in the deal (OF Anthony Gose and SS Jonathan Villar), the Houston Astros better pray that the baseball futures of both these teenagers will pan out. As of right now though, getting this deal done without giving away any of the top three prospects (Brown, Singleton, and P Jared Cosart) or surging pitching prospects such as Vance Worley or Brody Colvin makes it look like Ruben Amaro is getting away with felonious crime.
Or something similar to blackmail of Astros GM Ed Wade.
Don’t get me wrong, both these guys have major talent.
While the Astros won’t have the ex-Phillies and current Astros CF Michael Bourn clone in Gose (a player who stole 78 bases at the minor league level last year) in the fold, they did trade him in a corresponding deal Thursday night to acquire 3B Brett Wallace from Toronto. Wallace, who was ironically involved in a deal last year that sent former Phillies prospect Michael Taylor to Oakland, is a player who should help impact them at the big league level right away, something that could really help Houston build for the future. With Villar, the Astros get a shortstop who is projected to have three above-average MLB tools (Power, Speed, Arm Strength) when all is said and done and his is ready for the bigs.
Overall, you can’t deny that Houston did get some short-term and long-term value.
However, with the leverage Roy Oswalt was once though to have earlier this week, it’s pretty remarkable that Ed Wade could only get the Phillies to give up an OF prospect in Anthony Gose that is AT LEAST three years away from making an impact in the big leagues and the SS prospect in Jonathan Villar that has a dreadful 42 errors in Single-A this season and is not even the top prospect in the Phillies organization at his own position (that honor goes to Double-A Reading SS Freddy Galvis).
Yes, there is some bad in the trade. Well, bad is maybe the wrong word.
More like, concerned.
On paper, it shows that the Phillies traded a pitcher that was 12-4 last year and two more young prospects in addition to the 10 or so they sent in deals for Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee for a pitcher in Roy Oswalt who has a record of 6-12 this season.
Now, there is no doubt that Oswalt is a better pitcher, than what shows up in the win/loss column. His 3.42 E.RA on the season is a clear indicator of that, and even with getting awful run support by virtue of playing on one of the worst teams in baseball, he is still among the NL leaders in K’s (13th with 120) while ranking 47th in MLB in IP with 129 (better than NL All-Star Yovanni Gallardo).
But, with Oswalt being in line for single- digit wins and the first losing season (leads MLB in losses with 12) of his career, an obvious question remains.
Can Oswalt prove that he’s still the ace that he once was?
Time will tell.
If he is not, and the chronic back issues that he has and the pressure that comes along with Philadelphia come back to affect Oswalt, then the initial excitement of this deal could go sour very quickly.
Anytime that a GM can trade for an all-star star pitcher without having to touch any other parts of his teams big league roster, give up any of his top three prospects, and get 11 million dollars in cash back from the trading partner for good measure, it has to be considered a success.
I understand, if the Phillies kept Cliff Lee, they wouldn’t have had to do this.
Have to face the facts though. GM’s make mistakes too. Ruben Amaro decided not to keep Cliff Lee. In 1997, former Yankees GM George Steinbrenner (RIP) signed an unheard of Japanese pitcher by the name Hideki Irabu to a lucrative 14 million-dollar deal. He had a career 5.15 ERA with the Bronx Bombers, and was one of the biggest busts of the Steinbrenner regime. More recently in 2006, San Francisco Giants GM Brian Sabean inked Barry Zito to a notoriously awful 7 year, 126 million-dollar deal, something that he is still paying for today with Zito unable to produce a winning season in the three years since signing the dotted line. These things happen.
By dealing Lee, Ruben Amaro thought the Phillies could be the same caliber of team and win with just the pure addition of Roy Halladay. When he realized that his intended goal may not pan out like that, he fessed up to his questionable decision and attempted to make amense for it by making a deal for Oswalt (Lee was out of the question) in an attempt to help save the season.
You can call GM Ruben Amaro many things, expletives even, but with this trade, “stubborn” no longer remains as one of those adjectives.
Can’t look into the past anymore either.
With Oswalt now in the fold, joining NL All-Star Roy Halladay and a surging Cole Hamels, you can now debate that the Phillies have the potential to have the most dominant starting pitching in the NL. While the rotations of the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, and San Francisco Giants may be able to give a pretty good argument in that regard, there is no question that those opposing teams (and other contenders) will view the Phillies, with their improved rotation combined with an already explosive offense lineup, as an even greater overall threat to represent the NL, again, in the Fall Classic.
They have to get in the post-season first.
On a that note, I’ll set the final scene for you now.
First weekend in October. Phillies have a 3-game series with the Atlanta Braves to end the season. NL East, of course, on the line.
The potential Phillies starters for those games.
That alone tells me enough about this deal. Well done, Ruben.