Fantasy ramifications of Halladay, Lee deals

December, 15, 2009

Now teams are flipping former American League Cy Young winners like they're hot potatoes. Someone get Zack Greinke on the phone -- he might be next!

The Roy Halladay sweepstakes seems ready to reach its conclusion Wednesday as the Philadelphia Phillies are set to acquire the 2003 AL Cy Young winner from the Toronto Blue Jays in a four-team trade, reports's Jayson Stark. Halladay's acquisition will end a chase by the Phillies that dates back at least to the 2009 trade deadline; the team turned down a deal to land him then.

Halladay's price tag? None other than 2008 AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, coincidentally the Phillies' "consolation prize" after failing to get Halladay in July. But Lee isn't Toronto-bound; instead, the Phillies will trade three prospects to the Blue Jays and ship Lee to the Seattle Mariners for two prospects to offset some of the hit to the Toronto farm system.

Let's start with the aces involved and get to the prospects last. Halladay moves to the more pitching-oriented National League, where pitchers averaged an ERA more than a quarter-run lower and hitters managed an OPS 24 points lower. That's not to be taken lightly; the right-hander is 15-6 with a 2.71 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 28 interleague games (27 starts) since 2002. He's also escaping the American League East, with its loaded lineups. Be aware that the Blue Jays' four division rivals averaged 5.14 runs per game in 2009 and the Phillies' four averaged 4.46.

Of course, some of the advantage of the league switch is counteracted by Halladay's landing in a hitter-friendly environment. Not once since its opening in 2004 has Citizens Bank Park had a Park Factor beneath 1.005 in either runs scored or home runs, and in most of its six years in existence, it has leaned significantly toward offense. Halladay's ground-ball nature --- he has induced ground balls on 56.2 percent of balls in play since 2002 -- does help minimize the impact of the ballpark, but although he might have been a top candidate for the ERA crown on another NL team, he might have to "settle" for a number closer to 2.50 as a Phillie.

Not that a 2.50-ERA, 1.10-WHIP pitcher warrants any criticism, especially not one durable enough to throw 220-plus innings in each of the past four seasons. The Phillies need a pitcher like this, able to throw the first and final pitch, given their shaky bullpen situation. Halladay is a certain top-five fantasy pick at starter, and with a clear shot at 20 wins, he might be the top starting pitcher on the board. (I'll note I did rank him second to Tim Lincecum in my recent top 200.)

Lee, meanwhile, moves from the NL back to the more hitting-oriented AL, but if there's any place that can smooth the transition, it's Safeco Field. Not once this decade has Safeco had a Park Factor of 1.000 or greater in terms of runs scored, and only three times in 10 years was it more than that in terms of home runs; generally speaking, it's a ballpark that ranges in the low 0.900s in both categories. Sure enough, Lee is 5-1 with a 3.49 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in eight career games (seven starts) at Safeco, so fantasy owners shouldn't sweat the move at all.

Win potential might be the greatest hit Lee takes with the move. The Mariners totaled 640 runs in 162 games (3.95 per) in 2009 and, despite the addition of Chone Figgins, stand to lose Adrian Beltre and Russell Branyan, who combined for 120 of the team's RBIs and 118 of Seattle's runs. Remember that run support was a problem for Lee with the Cleveland Indians early last season; he received 4.32 runs of support per nine innings in 22 starts before being traded to the Phillies. Sure enough, five times he tossed a quality start that wound up a no-decision and six times a Lee QS wound up a loss. By comparison, with the Phillies, not once in 12 turns did he manage a quality start without also notching a win.

Lee might struggle to crack the top 10 as a Mariner, but even if he doesn't, he'll come close. Fantasy owners shouldn't target him in the first five rounds chasing his postseason heroics, but he's still my No. 11 starting pitcher, 60th overall.

And what of the prospects? Seven are involved in the deal, and all but one (Tyson Gillies, traded by the Mariners to the Phillies) ranked among his respective teams' top 10 prospects as judged by Baseball America in 2009 (or, in the Phillies' case, 2010). The Phillies will acquire right-handers Phillippe Aumont and Juan Ramirez and outfielder Gillies from the Mariners, and the Blue Jays are to receive right-hander Kyle Drabek, outfielder Michael Taylor and catcher Travis d'Arnaud from the Phillies, only to spin Taylor off to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for third baseman Brett Wallace. That's a lot of young talent changing hands.

Wallace is the most familiar name of the lot, having been included in July's Matt Holliday trade. Fantasy owners were waiting for him to potentially debut with the Athletics in September, but it didn't happen despite his having batted .297 with a .354 on-base percentage and .460 slugging percentage in 106 games at the Triple-A level. Just 23, Wallace might get a look as a first baseman, a third baseman or a designated hitter, the latter the spot many believe he might occupy in the long term. With a strong spring, he might be one of the league's better sleepers, capable of helping in terms of batting average and power right out of the gate. A reasonable projection if he makes the team: .270 batting average, 20-25 homers.

Drabek would immediately become the Blue Jays' future ace, coming off a year in which he was 12-3 with a 3.19 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 25 games (23 starts) between high Class A and Double-A ball. He has a Tommy John surgery on his résumé and is probably at least a year from being big-league-ready, but could make his debut late in 2010 with a hot start in Double- or Triple-A. D'Arnaud is further away -- probably two-plus years -- and is more of a defensive-minded catcher with some pop. He had 38 doubles and 13 home runs in low Class A ball in 2009. Taylor, meanwhile, stands perhaps as good a chance as Wallace at cracking his new team's Opening Day roster. A .320 hitter with 20 homers and 21 steals between Double- and Triple-A in 2009, Taylor might be capable of a .280 batting average with perhaps 15/15 potential, and will be AL-only worthy if he makes the team.

As for the Phillies' haul, for the most part, the three prospects they will receive won't be fantasy-relevant in 2010. Aumont has an outside chance at a late-season call-up if he performs well in the higher minor league levels to begin the year, but he has command issues. There's closer potential in him if the Phillies decide to keep him working out of the bullpen, but if pressed into a late-inning role, he might be no more effective than erratic Brad Lidge. Ramirez's 2009 numbers in high Class A ball (5.12 ERA, 1.45 WHIP in 27 starts) were hurt by his calling a hitters' heaven his home, but he's a potential No. 3/No. 4 starter in the long haul. Gillies, meanwhile, is a speed demon willing to work a walk, as evidenced by his .430 on-base percentage in 124 games in Class A ball. He might shift Shane Victorino to a corner outfield spot in a few years, depending how he fares at the higher minor league levels.



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