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Philadelphia Dealings: The Price is Right

The various costs the Phillies have paid to acquire their dream rotation of top-of-the-line starting pitchers are high and well-documented. The long-term contracts - including the Phillies’ first-ever $20 million arms – put the monetary cost front and center, but the secondary cost of acquiring these players can sometimes be forgotten.

Really, it’s not hard to see why. When players like Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt do what they’ve done for the Phils at the Major League level, caring about what could have been with prospects is pushed aside in favor of appreciation, awe and admiration for what actually is.

Still, for nostalgia’s sake, it’s nice to keep tabs on former Philly farmhands. In the case of the Phillies, a slew of young players were exchanged for this lineup of fierce hurlers. Few teams have had the depth and quality – or, at least, perceived quality – of minor leaguers to pull off deals like these, especially not in a two-plus-season span. It’s a big family to monitor.

Sadly, not every prospect pans out. It happens. Kyle Drabek is one of the lucky few to have established a spot on a Major League team’s 25-man roster, but what of the other youngsters in the Halladay package? How about the quartet sent to Cleveland for Cliff Lee? Oswalt? Joe Blanton? Unfortunately, not all of the prospects in those deals have panned out to date. Here’s a look at the ace-bait that may not have provided the production their teams were hoping for.

The Halladay Trade

Prior to the 2010 season, Michael Taylor was rated the 29th-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America. He and Domonic Brown appeared to be set to provide the next homegrown one-two punch, one for each corner of the outfield. When the time came for a strong play to land Roy Halladay, Taylor and Brown were, understandably, near the top of Toronto’s shopping list. In the end, Brown stayed, Taylor went, and Halladay made history in 2010.

Taylor was subsequently flipped to Oakland for Brett Wallace, but he seemed to leave his power north of the border. After hitting 39 homers over four minor league levels in his final two years in the Philly system, Taylor hit just six long balls (with a .392 SLG) for Triple-A Sacramento. Taylor, now 25, has yet to sniff the Majors, and his time as a prospect may have passed.

Travis d’Arnaud, a first-round pick of the Phillies that Toronto coveted in 2007, impressed as a 19-year-old in A-ball, but has provided little offensive impact since. A DL stint for back issues limited him to just 71 games in 2010, and his .257/.307/.414 line in Double-A as of Monday isn’t exactly inspiring confidence. To his credit, d’Arnaud does still receive praise based on his catching abilities, but his outlook as a solid offensive option seems to be more of a now-diminished flash in the pan.

The Lee Trade

Before the Phils acquired Halladay in the 2009-10 offseason, there were strong indications that he would be a July trade deadline acquisition. Instead, after balking at J.P. Ricciardi’s asking price, the Phils turned their attention to Cleveland’s Cliff Lee. Acquiring Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco cost the Phillies four minor leaguers, each of them highly-regarded at the time. None has approached accumulating the value that Lee has provided to the three teams he’s been part of since that 2009 trade.

Carlos Carrasco showed some promise in 2010, but his production has been in flux. Make-up issues remain, too, as he’s earned a reputation of imploding once things start to go awry. Jason Donald, a utility infielder some thought could have been Jimmy Rollins’s heir at shortstop, has not hit well and now finds himself on the DL. Lou Marson does provide some defensive value, but his abysmal offensive production in 2010 seems to take some of the sheen off his decent 2011 numbers. In any case, he’s destined to be an eternal backup behind Carlos Santana. Jason Knapp, a fireballer, has had to deal with shoulder trouble ever since being traded and has yet to throw a pitch this season after making only nine starts in 2010.

Startlingly poor results from a group of prospects that was meant to fill the void of a departed ace (to say nothing of Philly’s subsequent trading of Lee to Seattle the following winter).

The Oswalt Trade

There’s little injury trouble to speak of, but the three players sent to Houston for Roy O. – Jonathan Villar, Anthony Gose and J.A. Happ – aren’t exactly inspiring more confidence than the group Cleveland acquired for Lee.

Villar, as a 20-year-old in High-A, is hitting just .254/.349/.357, though speed and athleticism were always bigger pros to Villar’s game than his bat. Gose, like Taylor before him, was flipped by Houston to Toronto for Brett Wallace, and his offensive production also seems to be leaving a bit to be desired. Like Villar, Gose is and has been more of a projectable athlete than a polished hitter, but a .259/.327/.368 career line in 1,342 minor league plate appearances doesn’t inspire a boatload of confidence.

As for Happ, the lanky lefty hasn’t done enough to fill in for Oswalt. An overachiever in Philly, Happ’s numbers have suffered a fate of regression in Houston that some feared would happen as a member of the Phillies. A 5.40 ERA through eight starts with less-than-stellar peripherals for the 28-year-old will hardly make Houston fans forget about the man who led their rotation for the better part of a decade.

The Blanton Trade

The first of the starting pitcher trade brigade, Joe Blanton arrived as an unheralded Oakland starter who had quietly posted decent numbers in a good pitcher’s park.

In July of 2008, the Phillies sent then-top-prospect Adrian Cardenas as part of a three-player package for Blanton that also included Josh Outman and Matt Spencer. Relative to Domonic Brown, Cardenas wasn’t much of a hot shot blue-chipper, but he had shown promise. His 2009 and 2010 seasons were a combination of successful Double-A campaigns and lackluster Triple-A stints, letting some doubt about Cardenas’s future seep in, to be sure. This year, the 23-year-old has handled Triple-A pitching with ease so far, potentially readying himself to finally assist Oakland’s lackluster offense.

Outman is the only one of the three to have accumulated any Major League time thus far, but an elbow injury and Tommy John surgery cost him most of the 2009 season and all of the 2010 season, and he has struggled so far in Triple-A this year. Spencer isn’t a much brighter spot, as he’s only now taking Double-A to task as a 25-year-old, too old for the level to be considered a prospect anymore.

It’s an unfortunate situation for the clubs that have counted on these youngsters to bolster their clubs for years to come. Obviously, a verdict is still far from rendered. All of these players still have time to improve, but their various nicks and blemishes have left the Phillies as, for now, clear “winners” in all four deals. Perhaps the prospects were overhyped, products of a farm system for a team whose fanbase swelled rapidly, producing extra hype not seen in some smaller markets. Perhaps their development has been stunted, whether by injury or some other mitigating factors. Whatever the case, the Phillies acquired these four prominent starting pitchers for prospect costs that seem comparatively light after a short stretch of time.

To the victors go the spoils.

This post was written by Paul Boye', AKA- The Phrontiersman. You can follow Paul on Twitter by clicking HERE.


Brian said…
A key to any club's success is properly evaluating their own talent. Knowing who to trade and when is an art. The Yankees used to be masters of this, ya know, when they had prospects. The Phillies are showing the same acumen. So when they trade more prospects for a RH bat, don't fret.

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