What no one realized during the heat of trade season was that it would ultimately take holiday season to commence Halladay season in Philadelphia. And here at Ground Zero, the arrival of 'Number 34' has left most of my fellow Phillies fanatics grumbling and scratching their heads.
As I gauge my compatriots' reactions, I am also left scratching my head. How can anyone think this blockbuster was a bad deal for the two-time defending National League champions?
The fact that Philadelphians lament this trade on any level is a testament to how superhuman Cliff Lee was during this most recent postseason. The City of Brotherly Love will forever associate Lee with his utter dominance in the playoffs and historic performance in Game 1 of the World Series. Phillies fans have romanticized Lee - their brilliant beacon shining on a team that experienced dark times against baseball's evil empire.
Now, Lee is gone to Seattle, and Philadelphia is left only with heartwarming memories, untarnished by the blemish of a loss or blown game.
While I enjoy reminiscing about the finer moments in Philly sports history as much as the next guy in this city, I find myself imagining some hypothetical scenarios...
If the Phillies had not miraculously rallied for three runs in the top of the 9th inning in Game 4 of the NLDS, and Colorado had rode newfound momentum into the NLCS instead of the defending champs, would anyone be complaining today?
If Lee was forced to start a second time for Game 6 of the NLCS and had lost, would anyone be complaining today?
What if Lee had not pitched a nearly flawless game in Game 1 of the World Series? And what if the subpar performance Lee provided in Game 5 of the Fall Classic (5 runs and 3 strikeouts over 7 innings) had resulted in a loss? Would anyone here be complaining today?
For as perfect as Cliff Lee was this past fall, his storybook postseason was as blessed by circumstance as much as it was by pinpoint strikes. Take Lee's mediocre numbers in late August and September into consideration, as well as his erratic track record, and he suddenly resembles something closer to very good gamble than a certain Cy Young winner.
Cliff Lee was not going to stay in Philadelphia past this October, anyways. He already said that he wanted market value. Roy Halladay wanted to come to Citizens Bank Ballpark at a discount, and stay there for many years to come - the same Roy Halladay that is probably the best pitcher in baseball and became a household name and revered star after stifling the juggernaut offenses in the American League East year after year after year.
Consider the two guarantees the Phillies had to ponder:
Cliff Lee: A Cy Young caliber pitcher at 50% off for one season. (Lee only makes $9 million this season, but wants C.C. Sabathia money next year - in other words, at least $23 million per year.)
Roy Halladay: A Cy Young caliber pitcher at close to 20% off for up to five seasons. (Halladay comes discounted at $20 million per year.)
Why is anyone here complaining today?
Aside from Lee, the loudest critics of the Phillies front office are lamenting the seeming depletion of the franchise's farm system. Fans could have swallowed the loss of outfielder Michael Taylor, but add highly touted pitching prospect Kyle Drabek to the package and the complaining starts - especially considering the fact that Philadelphia was not willing to part ways with Drabek in July to acquire Halladay. What changed since then?
What changed is that the Phillies were able to ensure an extension from Halladay - who so desperately wanted to join the ranks of the red and white that he chose to take less money long-term rather than seeking the next record-breaking deal he undoubtedly could have earned.
What changed is that the Phillies were able to somewhat replenish their farm system with a trio of minor leaguers from the Pacific Northwest in exchange for Lee. And while none are as highly touted as Drabek, or maybe even Taylor, they are still top prospect material - probably top-ten in the Phillies own family alone.
Consider the sheer number of players in just one club's farm system and what top-ten really means - how impressive that really is in the world of professional baseball as a whole.
Then consider the number of top prospects that fizzled as soon as they reached the big stage. Then consider that Drabek has already undergone Tommy John surgery. Speculating the success of a prospect at the major league level is possible, but by no means a fool-proof science.
Which only leaves us with what we know for sure. Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball. His capacity to consistently pitch complete games will prove intangibly invaluable to a team that lacks a quality, deep bullpen. His strength as a groundball pitcher is ideal for the hitter-friendly confines of the Bank.
So stop being a grinch. As the Liberty Place buildings light up red and green this December, it is officially Halladay season in Philadelphia - as it will remain for many years to come.