Phillies fans stubborn Lee faithful

(Michele Tranquilli)
Posted: May 03, 2010

Even before Roy Halladay stood in the spotlight and held up a Phillies jersey with his name on the back, the debate was raging. The fact that the defending National League champions were welcoming one of the very best pitchers in baseball almost seemed secondary to the fact that they were saying goodbye to Cliff Lee at the same time.

Months later, clearly, nothing has changed.

In a Daily News survey done by the Sport Industry Research Center at Temple University, 61 percent of respondents who identified the Phillies as their favorite team said the team needed to "go for it" this season and keep both Lee and Halladay.

Another 28 percent said they should have kept both only if Lee were signed beyond this season. Nine percent said the farm system is important enough that the Phillies needed to replenish it by trading Lee for prospects. Two percent said the Phillies won't miss Lee. (The polling was done in mid-March before it was clear that Lee would start the season on the disabled list with Seattle.)

"That would be what I would expect," team president David Montgomery said when told of the results. "Fans, many of our field staff and our players themselves, they live in the moment. The responsibility that Ruben [Amaro Jr., the team's general manager] has and the rest of us is to live past the moment. Were we going to be a stronger club in 2010 with Cliff Lee? Absolutely.

"First of all, we never would have had both. We got into the Halladay thing because we pursued Lee to the point where we were not in any way confident that we could sign Lee long-term. That caused us to think, 'Well, geez, if we can be assured in making this trade that we can sign Halladay for this year, plus three [more years] as it turned out and then an option for a fifth, compared to having Cliff for one, then we can restock to the point then we think we are better off today with Halladay vs. Lee and tomorrow because we're getting prospects back' . . . 

"If you reach the point where you don't have desirable players down below, then your ability to fill needs when they occur . . . you don't have the ingredients to do it."

Let's be honest here. Fans have the right to change their minds and often exercise it. When the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, how many customers vowed to give the team a lengthy period of amnesty from criticism . . . and then quickly broke the resolution?

The Phillies say that the $9 million Lee would have made this year wasn't the issue, which probably isn't 100 percent true. Then again, it's always easy to spend someone else's money. And whether anyone wants to admit it or not, there are limits to how much a team can or will spend.

The two overriding issues were that Halladay is one of the best there is at what he does and was willing to accept what most neutral observers said was a below-market extension - $60 million for 3 years - to come to Philadelphia.

Lee might have, too. Eventually. Or maybe not. The Phillies weren't willing to wait to find out.

The Phillies have never said their goal is to bet all their chips on one season. In getting Halladay and trading Lee, they were nothing if not consistent.

And the only way the front office can win this argument is to win the World Series again this fall. Anything less and a large segment of the fan base will remain convinced that they would have if they'd only kept Cliff Lee. *

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