Nationals Baseball: Why the Halladay trade should worry Nats fans

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why the Halladay trade should worry Nats fans

If I were you, I'd be worried (assuming you are a Nats fan and not some crazy Phillies fan lurking around. If you are a Phillies fan and I were you, I'd be ecstatic and possibly covered in steak and cheese.)

This is more than simply a deal for a premier pitcher for a team looking to win a title. The Phillies are not a desperate team. They just went to back to back World Series. Their core players will all be 31 or younger next season. They had Cliff Lee on their roster for one more year, numerous other decent FA pitchers this year and particularly next year they could go after, and some highly sought after young pitchers already in their system. This was a team that already was going to win. This was a team that already was going to challenge for the pennant.

This is a move to keep the cycle going, the cycle of winning. Winning leads to more revenue which leads to more spending which leads to more winning. This is a lesson a team like Boston has learned very well. Boston is only 10th in population yet it is consistently has spent in the Top 5 of teams in terms of payroll. Consistent winning has brought consistent interest, which allowed Boston to generate consistent revenue. Boston's revelation (along with the Yankees being the Yankees) has turned the AL East into a 2 team show for the past decade.

This could easily happen to the NL East as well. The Mets can't spend like the Yankees, but they could (and have been) spend like a team in that next tier down. If Philly continues to win and creates a Boston situation, the Nats could be facing the same challenge every year that their "hated rival" Orioles face. An near impossible one.

A dominant team can and will slip up every couple of years. Injuries will happen, along with surprise player collapses, players not developing on time, even bad luck. Occasionally teams will underperform. A well-developed team with a moderate payroll can slip in during those opportunities. But the chances of two teams, both committed financially to winning, both run with a modicum of smarts, failing in the same year? That window opens like once a decade. Yes there is always the Wild Card, which should be there with more frequency, but again a team in a division like this is starting behind the 8-ball. They play more games against these power teams then teams in other divisions do. Their wins are harder.

There is hope, of course. The minute you make a couple bad decisions and/or your owner won't throw money at the problem the cycle can collapse. It takes doubly long to build up than to tear down. Look at Cleveland. Dominant in the Central from 1994 through 2001. All it took was two bad years and the cycle collapsed. Attendance plummeted, revenues crashed. You have to believe in this cycle fully. There can be no multi-year breaks to refresh the roster. You can't have bad years back to back. You need to be competitive nearly every season.

The Phillies are on the edge of something special. The base is set. If the Phillies can turn these next few years into something more; a title or two, a network, a national fan base and then commit to keeping it going, the Nats could find themselves staring in the face of a mountain to climb year after year.


Bryan said...

yeah, but how is Halladay any better than Lee. Lee pitched better after the trade than Halladay. I was fearful when I thought they would have Halladay AND Lee. Just Halladay? How is that a substantial upgrade? Does having Halladay instead of Lee win them the 2009 WS? No.

So what have they gotten? A Lee-esque pitcher with maybe more upside for Lee and prospects.

I don't think you're wrong in your conclusion, this could become a two team division (maybe team two will be us!) But to me the trade is a mystery.

It would be like us trading Lannan & better prospects for say Blanton & lesser prospects. At the end of the day, aren't we worse off?

Harper said...

I think the saving grace is that the Mets might just be too stupid to hold up their end of the bargain.

While true Lee cleaned up post-trade, Halladay is better than Lee, and much better for the Phils specifically. Halladay is an ground-ball righty in a park where flyballs to left have a nasty habit of going over the fence. Lee is an pretty even lefty with a history of being a flyball pitcher.

Lee had his best two years these past two seasons, but so did Halladay. And Halladay's were slightly better despite playing in the AL East rather than the AL Central and NL East.

While in the end Lee's reluctance to sign a long term deal was probably the impetus for the trade, the Phillies have upgraded to one of the best pitchers in the league rather than settle for a A-/B+ Free agent this year or next.

Hoo said...

I have visions of the Nats running mid 90's bullets promotions... "Come see Ewing, Jordan, Shaq, Barkley, Penny". Now it will be "Santana! Halladay!" Blah.

While I agree the Phils appear to be on their way to scary Red Sox proportions, I'm fairly confident the Mets will bumble around. And I say this as a childhood fan of the Mets. But the Mets are 3 or 4 steps down from the Yankees and have never gotten things fixed since the early 90's.

I think the merits of halladay vs Lee is more that Lee goes free agent and could leave the Phils. Phils can quickly lock up Halladay and ensure they have a top 5 Ace for the next several years.

Nats have improved. As always the question is whether the Nats have improved more than the Bravos/Fish. I think Braves are in a great spot as their young pitchers seem to be ahead of schedule.

No question that the NL East is tougher than any other NL division year in and year out.

Harper said...

If the Braves can get one more good bat, Heyward is the stud everyone thinks he is and Chipper doesn't just crash & burn - they should be in the thick of it. Their starting pitching should be awsome with Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens and two of Vazquez/Lowe/Kawakami (depending on who they can deal).

Harper said...
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Unknown said...

Another, maybe better, comparison of how quickly those dynasties can fall apart also resides in the NL East: The Braves. Their unprecedented run included several NL pennants and something missing from Clevelands: a World Series ring.

I never felt like Atlanta had the revenue juggernaught that they probably deserved with all their winning. I always thought it was because it's a smaller market, and it's not a "baseball-crazy" region- the Atlanta region fans would prefer to watch a regular season UGA or GT football game over a Braves World Series game. Philadelphia has the fanbase to sustain the "winning=revenue=spending=winning" cycle to a stronger degree and for a longer time, IMO.

Don't overlook what Philly gave up for Halladay- their best prospects. Yes, they got good ones back from Seattle, but they did not get the same quality for Lee that they gave up for Halladay. After Lee's deal expires, and Howard, Rollins, and Utley start to get old, the Phillies will have to fill some holes left by the young prospects they just traded. Will they spend like the Yankees/Red Sox to fill those holes or not? That could determine whether they continue the "cycle" or break out of it and let a team like the Nats back into the competition.

I'm also not convinced the Mets will fit into that cycle. They spend a lot, but they do it poorly and this past season shows the disaster that creates.

Harper said...

In my mind there were three things working against Atlanta.

(1) The metro size of Atlanta is way larger than the average metro area. This means that despite being around the 10th largest metro area, it has a density that you usually see around 45th-50th. The whole idea of a large metro area is that you have a large base of people that can easily get to games. Atlanta, with the distance measured (and the traffic of a suburban city) just isn't the same

(2) The heydey of the Braves was interrupted by the strike. Just when you would think they would have turned a corner in popularity - around that 3rd or 4th year - the popularity of baseball collapsed as a whole.

(3) The Braves never won that second title and were around in a time when the Yankees made winning the World Series look easy. The Braves, in comparison, looked underacheiving. Not tragic, like the Red Sox were, not lovable losers, like the Cubs, just not getting it done (when in fact they were getting it done all the time). In a difft time period they gather more fans.

Harper said...
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