It could have happened. The dream pitching staff could have come true. There was nothing in the way. Besides one simple, but huge, mistake.

Philadelphia Phillies General Manager Rueben Amaro Jr. did not stop to think as long as he should have when he dealt Cliff Lee to the Mariners last December. His idea made sense.

Trade away an ace who would be harder to re-sign and get one that would be easier to re-sign. Replenish the farm system, which after quite a few deals in years past had left the Phillies’ minor league system depleted of talent. Amaro’s reasoning was understandable, and there was logic behind the trade.

But even with that, it was not a quality trade. Recently, Amaro has stated that pitching is their top priority to get at the trading deadline. This wouldn’t have been a problem if not for the trade.

The Phillies could have had in their rotation both Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, who was traded from the Blue Jays, because they were involved in completely different deals. The Mariners and the Blue Jays did not exchange players. And the Phillies could have done all of this without having to kill the farm system.

Cliff Lee had one year left on his contract worth about $9 million. Few people thought that the Phillies could re-sign him after the season, after already having a record high payroll of $140+ million.

That made no difference, though. Pitcher Joe Blanton was set to be in salary arbitration and make anywhere from $7.5 to $10.25 million, which was pretty similar to how much Lee would get paid. The Phillies knew that they would not be able to afford both of them. Although in past years Blanton has been a very strong, consistent pitcher (he hasn’t ever had an ERA below five and has pitched at least 194.1 innings every year since he was a rookie in 2005) who many teams could have had a use for, but he is no ace like Cliff Lee. For the Mariners this year, Lee has gone 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA only walking six batters in 103.2 innings!

The prospects that the Phillies would have received had they traded Joe Blanton would not nearly of been as good as the ones for Cliff Lee, but would not been a bad consolation prize. And even if the Phillies could not resign Lee in the off-season, Lee would most likely be a Type A free agent, meaning that the Phillies would receive the first round pick of the team that signed him.

Even before the 2010 season started, a first round pick combined with prospects from a Blanton deal seemed pretty comparable to the three minor leaguers the Phillies received for Lee: Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and J.C. Ramirez. Even though at the time it seemed like the Phillies might be getting the short end of the deal for Lee by not getting as much as they should have, the prospects the Phillies received looked like they had potential.

Now that Cliff Lee has been traded again for the third time in a year from the Mariners to the Rangers, the Phillies now know that they were ripped off in the off season deal. Cliff Lee has only a few months to pitch for the Rangers as opposed to the full season he was supposed to pitch for the Mariners. And yet the Mariners received better prospects.

Not only have the Phillies prospects been struggling (top prospect Aumont was sent down from Double-A Reading because of a 7.43 ERA in 49.2 innings, Gillies is hitting .238 with two homers in Double-A, and Ramirez still has several years before making an impact on the big league club), but the Rangers’ recent deal included their top prospect before the season and now rookie first baseman Justin Smoak, who has a world of potential and will be hitting in the meat of the order for the Mariners. The three other prospects that the Mariners received were good ones too, including 21 year old right-hander Blake Beavan, who has gone 10-5 with a 2.78 ERA in Double-A this year. Not only does Amaro need a pitcher at the deadline, but his newly constructed farm system also needs some work.

The Phillies eventually gave Blanton a three year extension, making their rotation more complete for the next few years. Blanton is struggling this season giving up three+ runs in all 13 starts. The Phillies need him to bounce back to avoid a downfall and a completely failed trade of Cliff Lee.

But if they had traded Blanton before the 2010 season, what would their 2011 starting rotation have looked like? The Phillies would have three definite pitchers, with Halladay, Hamels, and Happ under contract.

The next two spots could be filled in easily. One of them could go to Kyle Kendrick, who helped the Phillies make the playoffs in 2007, but is still struggling for consistency. The other could go to 47 year old Jamie Moyer, who would need to sign a new contract to join the Phillies in 2011. The veteran is putting together a solid 2010 season and is pitching as if he were 20 years younger.

Even if one of those two did not work out, the Phillies have many possible candidates in the minors including righty Drew Carpenter or they could go out and sign a number five pitcher, maybe Pedro Martinez?

While the prospects that the Phillies received for Lee can always recover, the latest Cliff Lee trade has made Amaro realize how wrong his trade was.

With right fielder Jayson Werth also set out to test the free agent market after the 2010 season, that is three first round picks that would be meant for the Phillies assuming they do not re-sign Werth.

Is that enough to help the Phillies farm recover? Only if Amaro had stopped to think before he traded Cliff Lee. The Phillies have had trouble this year and it is about time that Reuben Amaro sucks up his pride and admits that some of the problems have been his fault.



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