A week before Christmas, baseball fans received an early present in the form of an incredible seven days of transactions. The top free agent starter, John Lackey, found a new home in Boston; however he was the third-best starting pitcher to be involved in a deal this week. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee moved to Philadelphia and Seattle respectively in a four-team trade, while several other transactions were completed as well.
Twitter has become the Marmite of social networking sites over the past year: some love it, some hate it. It’s usefulness is dependent on the way people use it so Twitter can be a beacon of banality at times, but Monday evening (British time) showed why it can also be an immensely enjoyable medium. I logged on and discovered that John Lackey reportedly was in Boston undergoing a medical and Roy Halladay had just landed in Philadelphia. The next hour or so passed in a blur as tweets flied from all over the globe about the potential deals that were about to be agreed. Of course, the majority of it was rumour-mongering and gossip rather than reliable information, but that was part of the fun.
Genuine news did start to filter through. First it was the news that Roy Halladay was potentially going to the Phillies, then the shock that Cliff Lee would be making way for him by moving to an unknown team, then the claim that the Mariners were the third team involved. Details of the exact deal (which prospects were going where etc) emerged slowly, including the development that the A’s had got in on the deal (a typical Billy Beane move) and turned the trade into a four-way agreement. Official confirmation of the whole series of transactions finally came on Wednesday, by which time the initial rush of excitement had almost passed.
Almost, but not quite. It was a fascinating deal that will have a significant impact on at least three of the teams involved, not to mention their division rivals.
- received Roy Halladay and $6m from the Blue Jays, before completing a contract extension with the starting pitcher. The extension was a prerequisite for Halladay waiving his no-trade clause and will pay him $20m annually between 2011-2013, with another $20m option for 2014.
- received three prospects (RHP Phillippe Aumont, RHP Juan Ramirez and OF Tyson Gillies) from the Mariners for Cliff Lee
Losing Lee is a blow, but the result is that a very good pitcher has been replaced by an outstanding one for the 2010 season. That outstanding pitcher will also be a part of the Phillies for at least another three years as part of a very favourable contract for the team, whereas the Phillies believed that Lee would end up beyond their reach once he hit the free agent market. Halladay made it clear that he wanted to go to a genuine World Series contender and he’s left a significant amount of money on the table (he surely would have got at least $100m guaranteed as a free agent at the end of 2010 as a free agent) to make that happen.
The ideal situation would have been trading for Halladay and keeping Lee, but that would have made their farm system even thinner and was possibly not an option financially. Lee was due to be paid $9m in 2010 before becoming a free agent, while Halladay will earn $15.75m. The $6.75m difference was largely taken care of by the Blue Jays in the final deal and you can understand how that agreement was made: the Phillies stating that they needed to move Lee to make the deal happen and that they needed the Blue Jays to fund the difference in salary. That’s a logical sequence of events and without it (i.e. if Lee isn’t traded) I doubt the Blue Jays would have coughed up the money. Without having access to complete data on their projected income and expenditure, whether the Phillies could have just added the money to the payroll themselves is something only they can answer. You would think if it was possible, they would have done it.
Toronto Blue Jays
- received three prospects (RHP Kyle Drabek, OF Michael Taylor and C Travis d’Arnaud) from the Phillies for Halladay
- received infield prospect Brett Wallace from the A’s for Michael Taylor
The first major project for the Blue Jays’ new GM Alex Anthopoulos was to do something his predecessor J.P. Ricciardi had failed to do in the summer: trade Roy Halladay. Trading the face of a franchise is a thankless task and the best a GM can do is to acquire some prospects that will offer the team a brighter future. Despite being in a difficult bargaining position (Halladay having only one-year left on his contract and holding a no-trade clause), the consensus opinion is that Anthopoulos has done well out of the deal. Drabek is seen as a potential future ace, d’Arnaud is an impressive catching prospect and Taylor was immediately turned into Brett Wallace to put in place a potentially destructive heart of the batting order for years to come in Adam Lind, Travis Snyder and Wallace.
Blue Jays fans will be sad to see Halladay leave, yet they can understand why he has gone and should be pleased with the prospect haul received in return. Certainly it looks a much better deal than the one completed by the Twins two years ago when Johan Santana left for the Mets in very similar circumstances.
Anthopoulos also completed another deal this week, signing free agent catcher John Buck on a one year/$2m contract.
- received Cliff Lee
It was a bit of a surprise to find that the Mariners were the third team in the equation, but I guess it shouldn’t have been. General Manager Jack Zduriencik pulled off an absolute masterstroke of a deal here and it’s becoming clear that we should expect him to do such things. Joe, our resident M’s fan, stated in an e-mail that all his team needed to do now was to get Carlos Silva off the books and then they would be looking in top shape. He wrote that on Thursday and the very next day the news broke that the M’s had traded Silva to the Cubs for Milton Bradley in a ‘you take my problem away, I’ll take yours’ trade.
The Great Jack Z had struck again.
A 1-2 punch of Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee matches up favourably with anyone in the Majors and certainly makes this A’s fan groan at the thought of potentially facing them back-to-back in a best-of-three series. It’s likely that this is just a one-year deal as if the Mariners are going to agree a big deal with any pitcher, it would be with Hernandez. There’s nothing wrong with that though: the current AL West champions, the L.A. Angels, look like they will be weaker next year having lost two of the cornerstone players (one, Chone Figgins, to the Mariners) and the M’s haven’t given up any cast iron superstars of the future to make the deal happen. It’s a low risk, high reward deal that could well make Seattle favourites in the AL West.
- received outfield prospect Michael Taylor from the Blue Jays for Wallace
Billy Beane always tries to elbow his way into a deal, as shown in Moneyball, and in this case he saw an opportunity to swap prospects with the Blue Jays. Brett Wallace was the key piece acquired from the Cardinals in the mid-season Matt Holliday trade. There seems little doubt that he’s going to hit in the Majors, but his fielding position is very much in question. During his short stay in the A’s organization, they’ve clearly decided he can’t handle his favourite position at third base in the Big Leagues and the Blue Jays agree as they reportedly see him as a future first baseman. That’s fine for Toronto, but the A’s already have several prospects covering the first base/DH slot and it made sense for them to flip him for a prospect at another position. Taylor fits the bill and it looks like a win-win deal for both teams.
Red Sox add John Lackey and Mike Cameron
Outside of the four-team trade, the Red Sox were the team making waves this week. John Lackey became the first of the three major free agents to sign with a team this offseason as he agreed a five-year deal with the Red Sox worth $82.5m, matching the contract signed by A.J. Burnett last year with the Yankees. Boston then announced that they had signed Mike Cameron on a two-year deal worth $15.5m. Those are two solid pick-ups by the Red Sox and it will be interesting to see what the knock-on effects are.
Boston now has a surplus of pitching, while adding another outfielder to the roster suggests that Jason Bay is unlikely to return. Mike Lowell’s trade to the Rangers is being held up by concerns over his injured thumb, but it seems like that deal will eventually go through and that will place further emphasis on the need for some offensive help. The Red Sox could now trade someone like Clay Buchholz, possibly Josh Beckett, in a package to add a player or two. The Padres’ Adrian Gonzalez has been linked with Boston since the offseason began and a deal involving Buchholz would appeal to them, but if the Red Sox want to move Beckett then we’ll be looking at another three-way trade.
The L.A. Angels could also end up in a deal involving multiple teams. Losing Lackey is a real blow and there isn’t much left on the free agent market that could come close to replacing him. The main pitcher being touted for a potential trade is Derek Lowe, as the Braves have a surplus of pitching and need to turn that into a Major League bat or two. There’s no obvious deal between the Angels and Braves alone to meet that need, so another team would be needed.
The Angels have at least added one player this week. Free agent Hideki Matsui signed a one year/$6m deal with L.A. after his World Series heroics with the Yankees.
- After letting Matsui leave as a free agent, the Yankees reportedly came to a one year/$5.5m agreement (with a $5.5m option for 2011) with free agent first baseman/DH Nick Johnson. He made his Major League debut with the Yankees in 2001 and has always been an excellent on-base guy (career mark of .402), but has often been hampered by injuries. When the Yankees traded for Curtis Granderson, Johnny Damon stated that it didn’t effect his situation in regards to returning to New York. He can’t say the same for this deal: it looks like he priced his way out of a return to the Bronx.
- Damon’s future is now up in the air and we are no closer to knowing where Jason Bay or Matt Holliday will end up either. Now that the Red Sox and Yankees are out of the bidding, their respective agents’ ability to push up the price of a deal has taken a hit. That could be very good news for the Cardinals because Holliday may now fall back into their price range. Bay is mainly being linked with a move to the Mets.
- the Orioles signed free agent reliever Mike Gonzalez (formerly of the Braves) on a two-year/$12m deal.
- the Brewers re-signed Craig Counsell on a one year/$2.1m deal, while officially unveiling Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins.
- the Dodgers finally found someone to take Juan Pierre off their hands, although they had to chip in $10.5m to make it happen in a fitting end to a very expensive mistake by GM Ned Colletti. The White Sox will therefore get two years of Pierre for $8m.