Bill Conlin: Halladay deal: Just seems like a Cy for a Cy

Posted: December 15, 2009

THE CAROUSEL ridden by major league baseball's 30 teams has something in common with the planet we all ride upon. Earth makes one full revolution around the sun in what we call a year. MLB's merry-go-round makes one full revolution in what we call a season.

After trading a kid righthander named Ferguson Jenkins and a couple of bench players to the Cubs for established righthanders Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl, Phillies general manager John Quinn said this:

"The golden ring only comes around once a year and when you've got a chance to grab it, you've got to do anything it takes because you may never be that close again."

You know the rest of the story. The 1966 Phillies were favored to win the National League pennant. But slumps happen. You'd think that with starters Jim Bunning, Chris Short and Jackson combining for 54 victories, Gene Mauch's team would have breezed. But Johnny Callison, superb in 1964, drove in just 55 runs with his 612 at-bats. The pitching behind the Big 3 was dreadful. Despite a tremendous third season by Dick Allen, a .317, 40-homer, 110-RBI performance, the Phillies finished fourth in a loaded league.

But Quinn was right. When a pennant is close enough to touch, you can't worry about taking out a high-interest loan on the future.

Today's question, therefore, is this: Did Ruben Amaro take a gutsy reach for the golden ring yesterday when Roy Halladay and his agent showed up at the Bank for what? Physical? Negotiation of a contract extension that would put a three-team swap in motion? Both?

Yeah, both, it turns out.

Or is this merely a further indictment of a broken economic system, where despite playing to more than 100 percent capacity of their ballpark last season, the Phillies are doing so much belt-tightening their offseason is starting to look like a NutriSystem infomercial.

When I sat down to write this column my intent was to remind Amaro, who was absolutely brilliant in his rookie season at the helm, that he is standing on the cusp of history.

No National League team since the wartime St. Louis Cardinals has won three straight pennants. The team built by Branch Rickey threepeated 1942-44. No NL team has been to the World Series three straight seasons since then. Not even the great teams produced by the Reds, Dodgers, Pirates, Braves and Cardinals. And as MLB expanded from the 16 teams of Stan Musial's era and added two tiers of playoffs ahead of the World Series, it has become more and more difficult to repeat.

Adding Halladay to the present mix would move them so close to the big Octemberfest you can almost smell the freshly thrown champagne.

I wrote, "That is why Ruben Amaro must dare to be great. No team has been better positioned for a threepeat NL pennant than the 2010 Phillies.

"That is why Amaro, who negotiated so brilliantly before the trade deadline last July to put lefthander Cliff Lee in a Phillies uniform, must now turn to the business that went unfinished when he determined the asking price for Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay was too rich in the jewels of the organization's deep crop of outfielders and thin harvest of young pitching."

Then the story started blowing up like the grand finale of Fireworks Night at the Bank. Accompanied by the kind of calliope music that plays when the circus is in town and the merry-go-round is whirling at full speed, making that golden ring so difficult to grab.

But not so fast . . . Is there another way we can get this done without further savaging the minor league system? Another way to acquire the Blue Jays' great righthander without turning over a package that could include J.A. Happ or Kyle Drabek, Domonic Brown and/or Michael Taylor, minor league stolen-base king Anthony Gose? All those names had been on the list handed to Amaro last summer by deposed Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi.

How about a threesome? (Sorry, Tiger, wasn't talking to you.)

So now it looks like my dream of a rotation with Halladay and Lee at the top is deader than golf's TV ratings are going to be.

It appears Halladay will be the Phillies' Opening Day pitcher if they can get him to agree to a 3-year extension rather than the 5 years he is said to desire. A 3-year extension takes him through the 2013 season, when he will be 36 years old. Three years will cost David Montgomery about $60 million. Steep but doable.

Lee, who refused to negotiate an extension and wants to be a free agent next season, will go to the Mariners for a top prospect. The Phillies will then pass the prospect and perhaps outfielder Michael Taylor or righthanded prospect Kyle Drabek to the Blue Jays. These are all names being spit out of a wildy spinning rumor mill and the whole deal is subject to revision or cancellation.

I refuse to believe it is a coincidence that Pat Gillick has been the general manager of all three teams involved in what appears to be the offseason blockbuster with many details still being worked out by teams trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

On its face, the complex transaction will make the Phillies marginally better. Halladay is an old, established firm whose always pristine ERA should be at least .50 lower in a league where pitchers have to bat and benches are not cluttered with outstanding pinch-hitters. Those guys are all in the American League. Either as DHs or platoon players. He shaves the lefthanded bias in Charlie Manuel's rotation to two certain lefty and two righty starters, with the jury out on Jamie Moyer. And the door would appear to be open for a veteran back-ender of the Jason Marquis variety.

But it's not the Halladay-Lee-Hamels troika of my dreams.

Look at us . . . Quibbling over which Cy Young winner goes and which one comes aboard.

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