Can the Phillies Afford Their Own Success?

↵(Editor's note: Due to a power outage, there will be no Offsides post from LSUFreek today.)
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Blockbuster trades are rarely cut and dry, especially when the two major players in the blockbuster are as big as this deal between the Phillies, Blue Jays and Mariners. Here's what we know – the Phillies are set to acquire righthander Roy Halladay from Toronto and, in the process, deal lefthander Cliff Lee to the Mariners. The rest is really dependent on what sources you talk to and when. ↵

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↵And could all of this be happening because the Phillies, one of the most successful teams in baseball over the last five years, simply can't afford their roster anymore? ↵

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↵Here's what we think we know: according to reports late Monday night, the trade is being billed as a three-team deal, but that's ostensibly just for paperwork. The Phillies seem to be trading Lee to Seattle for prospects in one deal, and trading different prospects for Halladay in a totally separate deal rolled into one giant blockbuster. ↵

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↵In the deal for Halladay, the Phillies reportedly will trade formerly-untouchable pitching prospect Kyle Drabek, highly-regarded outfielder Michael Taylor and top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud to Toronto for Halladay and $6 million to offset his 2010 salary. Halladay must first agree to a three-year deal with Philadelphia before the trade can be consummated. Key for the Phillies is keeping outfielder Domonic Brown, their top prospect who, along with Drabek, was a deal-breaker in talks with Toronto for Halladay in July. ↵

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↵In the trade for Lee, the Mariners reportedly will deal three prospects, including 6-7 closer prospect Phillippe Aumont, outfielder Tyson Gillies and a third player from Seattle, potentially pitcher J.C. Ramirez. According to those who cover the Mariners, Seattle is getting Lee without giving up any of the organization's top prospects – just like the Phillies got Lee in 2008 without giving up any of their top prospects. In fact, the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner will be in his third uniform in just over half a season and, if he doesn't re-sign with Seattle on a long-term deal, will see himself on four different teams less than two years. It's not because he's not great, either. It's because teams can't afford to keep him. ↵

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↵Lee will make $9 million in 2010 and is set to be a free agent after next year, looking for a CC Sabathia-like deal. While he hasn't given Philadelphia any indication that he wants to leave town, the Phillies can't afford to give him Sabathia money, and as an organization refuse to sign pitchers to more than three-year deals. Lee will be asking for 4-5 years, so rather than have Lee for one season and get priced out of the Halladay market in 2011, the Phillies thought it best to make the trade now and sign Halladay for more fiscally-favorable, and shorter, deal. ↵

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↵Most Phillies fans were up in arms about the trade once they found out that Drabek was a part of it, as he was clearly untouchable just a few months ago. First, could dealing Drabek in July have landed BOTH Lee and Halladay for the playoff run? Did the Phillies miss out on another World Series title because of Drabek and now, just a few months later, realize they were wrong on him? And why not just keep Lee for 2010, let him walk at the end of the season for the draft picks? ↵

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↵It's hard to believe, but the Phillies just can't afford him. The team needs to keep payroll under $140 million and there's a thought that after the last two seasons where the team made it to the World Series, winning one, there's just not that much more money to be made. Unlike other cities where bringing in an ace pitcher could lead to more people in the seats, the Phillies are beyond capacity for every single home game. Add in all the merchandise sales from two postseason runs and the team is making as much as they possibly can. Trust me, we don't need to organize any charity drives for the Phillies – they are making plenty of money – but a lot of that revenue begins to offset when your payroll goes from a then-record $106 million on opening day of 2008 to potentially more than $150 million just two years later. That's too much for the Phillies, banners and all, to handle. It's hard to understand, but signing Halladay now will actually save the Phillies money down the line. And signing one of the best pitchers in baseball to a long-term deal will give the rest of the payroll a little more structure moving forward. ↵

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↵Next season, the Phillies will have to make decisions on what to do with All-Stars Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Jimmy Rollins. The following year, the team will need to figure out what to do with Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez, among others. If Werth repeats his performance from 2009, he'll demand top dollar on the open market, and with Ibanez pushing 40, the Phillies need to keep Brown as their outfielder of the future. They would love to keep Taylor as well, but the Phillies feel they have to give a lot to get a lot. ↵

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↵With Halladay in the National League, the Phillies have guaranteed themselves a run at the World Series for the next four seasons. Are the Phillies giving up too much to get him? Probably. But they likely can't afford not to. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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