Are the Phillies building a dynasty?
In the print edition story Tuesday morning, I asked the rhetorical question: Why would the Philadelphia Phillies essentially swap an ace (Cliff Lee) who accomplished so much for them in 2009 for one (Roy Halladay) who, despite his towering record, is something of an unknown in the National League (as Lee was before he arrived in July)?
The answers: Ability and cost certainty. Despite Lee's impressive October, Halladay is the better pitcher. Even if we limit ourselves to 2008-09, which happen to be Lee's best two seasons, Halladay was better overall in terms of ERA+ (adjusted for park and league effects, with 100 being league-average), posting figures of 152 and 155, compared to 168 and 131 for Lee.
Even more important, however, was Halladay's apparent willingness to sign a below-market contract extension, which (at least as the Phillies interpreted things) Lee was not willing to do. (Both Lee and Halladay were due to become free agents after 2010.) If the true numbers of the Halladay extension turn out to be $60 million over three years (2011-13), that's about 15 percent less in average annual value (AAV) than the current market rate for super-elite pitchers (CC Sabathia and Johan Santana each make about $23 million per season). Halladay apparently was willing to do that in order to pitch for a team that trains near his Tampa-area home.
In the bigger picture, the Phillies clearly are trying to maximize the impact of their current window of opportunity -- which, looking at the ages and contract statuses of their superstar core, lasts until, oh, right around 2013. Jimmy Rollins's contract runs through 2010 (with a club option for 2011). Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and Raul Ibanez are signed through 2011. Chase Utley is signed through 2013. Presumably, Halladay will be signed through 2013 as well.
It's hard to build a dynasty in the free agent era. In fact, no NL team has made it to the World Series in three straight seasons -- as the Phillies will be attempting to do in 2010 -- since the St. Louis Cardinals in 1942-44. But (assuming the Halladay deal goes through) no team in baseball, including the Yankees, are in better position to construct one, in terms of their own strength relative to the rest of their league, than the Phillies.
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