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Phillies rotation talented, but came at a cost

Phillies rotation talented, but came at a cost

Phillies rotation talented, but came at a cost
PHILADELPHIA -- It took plenty of talent and plenty of money to build the Phillies' rotation.

Philadelphia traded 13 prospects and dedicated more than $255 million to have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton in the same rotation at the same time. That is quite a commitment for something -- a World Series championship -- that is not guaranteed, despite one of the most talented rotations in baseball in recent memory. But Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is happy with the early returns.

"We don't make those trades unless we're getting the level of talent we got, and the control," he said. "Ultimately, these were all deals that weren't one and done. In each of these cases, we had some level of control beyond that particular season. If any of these guys were one and done, I don't think we would have done any of these deals."

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But it is easy to wonder if Amaro occasionally sits in his office and thinks, "Boy, I wish I hadn't traded [insert player's name here]."

Or does he simply think, "The sacrifices were worth it."?

He said both thoughts have crossed his mind.

"There are going to be times down the road when I'm going to wish we had younger players contributing at the Major League level," Amaro said. "And that's kind of where we're going to be shortly. We have a lot of veteran guys and they're going to have to be replaced. I understand you have to give up talent to get talent, but it's a hard and difficult balance. Fortunately for us, we've done a good job of bringing in talent into the system so we can stay viable for the long-term. But some of our prospects have to become players for us, because we're going to need them as some of our veteran guys get older and less productive."

Hamels is the only homegrown talent in the rotation. The Phillies have committed roughly $23 million to him in his career: his $2 million signing bonus out of high school; $900,000 during his first two seasons with Philadelphia; and a $20.5 million contract extension before the 2009 season. Hamels will earn more with the Phils. He is salary arbitration-eligible following this season and cannot become a free agent until after the 2012 season.

Relatively speaking, Hamels has come cheap.

The same cannot be said for Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Blanton.

HALLADAY


"I understand you have to give up talent to get talent, but it's a hard and difficult balance. Fortunately for us, we've done a good job of bringing in talent into the system so we can stay viable for the long-term."
-- Ruben Amaro Jr.

The Phillies acquired Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays on Dec. 16, 2009, for Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis d'Arnaud. The Phils have committed $69.75 million ($9.75 million in 2010, plus a $60 million contract extension) to Halladay, with $20 million more possible if his 2014 club option vests.

Here is a look at the prospects Philadelphia sent to Toronto:

Catcher Travis d'Arnaud. MLB.com ranks him as the ninth-best catching prospect in baseball. Baseball America considers him the organization's fourth-best prospect in its rankings. He certainly has the all-around skills to be a frontline catcher. In fact, including d'Arnaud in the Halladay deal gave the Phillies pause because of the dearth of catching depth in the organization and all around baseball.

Right-hander Kyle Drabek. The 23-year-old is the organization's top prospect and one of the top 10 right-handed pitching prospects in baseball, according to MLB.com. He should have the opportunity to make the team out of Spring Training as the fourth starter. He earned Eastern League Pitcher of the Year honors last season, going 14-9 with a 2.94 ERA in 27 starts. In three starts with the Blue Jays in September, he went 0-3 with a 4.76 ERA. He never allowed more than three runs in those starts.

Outfielder Michael Taylor. Toronto immediately traded Taylor to Oakland for Brett Wallace. Taylor had a .383 on-base percentage and a .515 slugging percentage during three seasons in the Phillies' organization, but he never got on track last season at Triple-A Sacramento. He had a .372 on-base percentage, but just a .392 slugging percentage. Still, Baseball America considers him the A's 10th-best prospect.

LEE

The Phillies acquired Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco from the Cleveland Indians on July 29, 2009, for Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson and Jason Knapp. Philadelphia paid Lee roughly $1.9 million the final two months of the 2009 season before trading him to Seattle for Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez in December 2009. The Phillies lured him back to Philly with a $120 million contract, which could jump to $135 million if his 2016 club option vests.

Here is a look at the prospects Philadelphia sent to Cleveland:

Right-hander Carlos Carrasco. He made strides last season. He went 10-6 with a 3.65 ERA in 25 starts with Triple-A Columbus before a promotion to the big leagues, where he went 2-2 with a 3.83 ERA in seven starts with the Tribe. The Indians still see him with top-of-the-rotation potential.

Infielder Jason Donald. The Phillies always considered Donald a super utility player, which he basically was with the Indians last season. He played in 88 games, hitting .253 with a .312 on-base percentage and a .378 slugging percentage. Cleveland is still trying to determine if Donald can be an everyday second baseman.

Right-hander Jason Knapp. He had the most upside of the four prospects. He still does. But after suffering a shoulder injury, the Indians are keeping their eye on him. But his potential is off the charts. In just 28 innings last season, he struck out 47 and walked 12. Baseball America considers Knapp the organization's sixth-best prospect.

Catcher Lou Marson. It is hard to believe, but Phillies fans once considered Marson the heir apparent to Carlos Ruiz. But Marson struggled (.195/.274/.286) last season in 87 games with the Indians. He struggled (.202/.327/.371) with Columbus, too. Marson looks like a backup catcher at this point, but he has to improve offensively to stay in the big leagues.

Of course, it is impossible to mention Lee without mentioning the December 2009 trade that sent him to Seattle for Aumont, Gillies and Ramirez. The early returns on those three prospects have not been kind, but Amaro maintains they are young, with time to improve.

The Phillies are returning Aumont to the bullpen, where he is most comfortable. He struggled terribly last season as a starter. Gillies spent most of the season on the disabled list with leg injuries and later was arrested on a cocaine possession charge, which was ultimately dropped. Ramirez went 7-7 with a 4.82 ERA in 24 starts with Class A Clearwater and Double-A Reading. His future could be in the bullpen.

"These are important years for these guys," Amaro said. "They've got some time. Hopefully they all stay healthy and perform."

OSWALT

The Phillies acquired Oswalt from the Houston Astros on July 29 for J.A. Happ, Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar. They paid Oswalt roughly $5 million the final two months of the 2010 season. He also is guaranteed $16 million this season, plus a $2 million buyout following the season. Of course, Philadelphia and Oswalt could pick up the $16 million mutual option for 2012. But don't forget the Astros kicked in $11 million to help pay Oswalt's salary. That means of the $23 million he was owed from the time of the trade through the end of this season, the Phillies are on the hook for about $12 million.

Here is a look at the prospects Philadelphia shipped to Houston:

Outfielder Anthony Gose. The Astros immediately traded Gose to the Blue Jays to get Wallace, who Oakland traded to Toronto to get Taylor. The Blue Jays wanted Gose before the July 2009 Trade Deadline, when the Phillies tried to land Halladay, but Philadelphia balked. Toronto has him now, and he is considered the organization's third-best prospect and the heir apparent to center fielder Vernon Wells.

Left-hander J.A. Happ. He went 5-4 with a 3.75 ERA in 13 starts with the Astros. Asked about a player he wished he could have kept in these trades, Amaro quickly mentioned Happ. "He's going to be a very good Major League pitcher," he said. "Young, controllable pitching, there is a lot of value in that."

Shortstop Jonathan Villar. Villar is Houston's third-best prospect, according to Baseball America. The Phillies liked him before they traded him. He has tremendous tools, although he still needs work offensively.

BLANTON

Oakland sent him to Philadelphia on July 17, 2008, for Josh Outman, Adrian Cardenas and Matt Spencer. The Phillies paid Blanton roughly $1.4 million the final two-plus months of the 2008 season, plus $5.475 million in '09 before signing him to a $24 million extension.

Here is a look at the three prospects Philadelphia sent to Oakland:


"The goal remains the same: build from within."
-- Amaro

Second baseman Adrian Cardenas. He could compete for a job at second base this spring. He hit .345 with three home runs and 32 RBIs in 51 games last season with Double-A Midland before hitting .267 with one homer and 21 RBIs in 58 games with Triple-A Sacramento.

Left-hander Josh Outman. He is expected to compete for the fifth starter's job this spring. He was 4-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 14 appearances (12 starts) with the A's in 2009 before blowing out his elbow and requiring Tommy John surgery.

Outfielder/first baseman Matt Spencer. The A's traded Spencer, Jeff Gray and Ronny Moria to the Chicago Cubs before the 2010 season for Aaron Miles and Jake Fox. Spencer hit a combined .269 with 19 homers and 69 RBIs in 112 games with Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. The Phillies considered him a fringe prospect before trading him.

When Amaro looks back at these trades, he mentions the pitching they sacrificed: Happ, Drabek, Carrasco, Knapp and Outman.

"Those are some pretty darn good arms we gave up," Amaro said. "That's part of doing business. It's also a challenge to continue to bring talent into the system. We just have to keep doing it, because at some point, we're not going to be able to make trades. We're going to have to rely on these players, like Domonic Brown, Ramirez, hopefully Gillies -- these kids that we traded for or are developing."

Amaro said he thinks the organization remains healthy, despite the trades.

"Amazingly, I am pleased with it," Amaro said. "But we have holes we need to fill, just like any other organization. It's hard to find talent. Pat Gillick said it's the hardest thing to do. We just have to make sure we identify the right guys, and try to get them to be the best players they can be. The goal remains the same: build from within."

Without talent from within, they never would have acquired Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Blanton.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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