Before we get into the utter excitement that should be and has been sweeping the Philadelphia area over the past few days, a moment of silent respectful mourning is in order.
On July 29 of this year, the Phillies traded four prospects from their farm system for the Cleveland Indians venerated, 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner Clifton Phifer Lee. Mr. Lee took the mound for the Phillies days later, pitching six innings of no hit ball on his way to a complete game win. This performance set the bar high for Cliff, who took the momentum and carried it straight into the postseason, where he went 2-0 in the World Series, becoming the first pitcher in history to pitch a complete game in the Series with 10 strikeouts, no walks, and no earned runs. His two wins were the only two wins for his team in the World Series, who went on to lose the Series in 6 games.
Lee's no-nonsense, cavalier attitude, coupled with his take-no-prisoners approach to pitching and his notorious hustle to and from the dugout between innings quickly earned him the moniker of 'fan-favorite' in a town oft-bedeviled for their harsh treatment of players on both sides of the aisle. Lee's composure was evident through the season. He embraced the city, and Philadelphia fully embraced him.
When the Lee deal went down, it was universally regarded as a stroke of utter genius on the part of GM Ruben Amaro Jr. All indications pointed to a deal being done to obtain Roy Halladay, widely regarded as the best in baseball (with Cliff Lee coming in close second). Everyone wanted Halladay, and Amaro was on that boat. However, the Blue jays insisted on scoring Phil's top pitching prospect Kyle "son of Doug" Drabek in the deal, along with other potential aces like J.A. Happ and others. The Phillies were unwilling to jeopardize their future in this regard, especially considering that Halladay would be a wide open free agent only a season and a half later, at the end of 2010.
So Amaro called the Blue Jay bluff and walked away from the table, unwilling to toss away the future for one man. In the back channels, only two days before the trading deadline, Amaro moved to score Lee, and did so through a deal that could only be characterized as a steal for the Phils. Utter brilliance.
Here we are five months later. Mr. Lee earned his Phillies pinstripes, but burning a hole in the back of everyone's minds (especially the Phil's front office) was the fact that Cliff Lee's contract expires at the end of next season, and despite his expressed love of the city and team, this had to be weighed against his stated desire to score BIG money on the free agent market, vis a vis CC Sabathia.
The Phillies faced a worst case scenario. Come the end of the 2010 season, they could be without their man Lee, out of the game in a Halladay bidding war, and facing the doldrums of a moderately (though not extensively) depleted farm system. Of course, Lee could res-sign. But money talks, and initial indications implied Lee would be willing to walk for the right number, which is well within his rights as a premiere player.
In the face of this, the Phillies acted boldly. We all know what happened over the past week. Historic trade. Nine players. Two Cy Youngers. et al.
The Phillies have brilliantly locked in Roy Halladay, the "best pitcher in baseball", through at least the 2013 season. In doing so, they were forced to heavily deplete the deep bench, trading away dreamy Kyle Drabek in a package of three minor leaguers. Interestingly, the Phillies were able to pull this off without touching Lee at all. In this way, it is interesting that this is being characterized as a four team, nine player deal. In reality they are almost all separate deals.
The need (or desire) to trade Lee arose because of the stark pain that trading such potential gems as Drabek and outfielder Michael Taylor exacts on the Phillies future. Even with Halladay, the Phils could have held onto Lee and acquiesced the loss of money and prospects for one year of beautiful greatness where your top three starters are Halladay, Lee, and Hamels. This is in part likely why they were out there shopping Blanton somewhat earlier in the week, and whoever else they could throw into a deal to get some equity.
In the end, I suppose, no such deal was attainable. No one bit hard enough on Blanton et al. Additionally, one could make the argument that two years of Blanton is better than one year of Lee, and also that we could always deal Blanton in the future for additional prospects or help.
I wonder as well if they were also considering the development of Cole "Chinadoll" Hamels in the equation. Being unable to trade him for a solid deal, they likely still see him as the future of the team, a player who had an off year but will come back strong and confident. But with him in a Phils uniform, at the #3 spot, could deal a harsh blow to his occasionally tender psyche. Probably not.
But this BEGS the question. Exactly WHAT is the Phillies' projected 5 man rotation going into Spring Training??? Halladay, Hamels, Blanton, Happ, Kendrick? That is pretty strong. But I almost feel, that for next year, we have weakened ourselves: a.) because a five man rotae with Halladay and Lee is unfathomable and also b.) b/c previous to these trades, our 'wild card' potential sixth man seemed to be the Young Drabek, at some point in the season when injury or performance begs a change. Was Drabek deemed unready for this task? Has new recruit Phillippe Aumont developed to the point of MLB performance?
In reality, Drabel nor Aumont will be ready this year, I suppose.
In either case, fans, drop from your consciousness names such as Drabek and Taylor and embrace Aumont, J.C. Ramirez and Tyson Gillies as the potential future of the organization.
I'm thrilled and excited to have Halladay, but I can't help feeling like there wasn't a better way to replenish the coffers. Cliff Lee was a class act, and in his short time here he earned a space as one of my favorite Phillies of all time. I would love to have seen the dream rotation, if only for one year, and I will miss Cliff Lee. I know Halladay is a right hander, MC Ben. And I am utterly floored that he will be our pitcher for the next three or four seasons.
For me, the price is fair, and logical, but almost too high. I would have held Lee. Trade Blanton midway through the season if necessary, or Werth, or someone else with a big payday on the horizon. I get it on every level, and i absolutely love it, but I can't help but admit that it hurts a little.
The Original Cowboy
One could argue that Fat Wreck Chords' sort of re-release of Against Me!'s exceptional and pivotal album As the Eternal Cowboy, as a companion piece of sorts called The Original Cowboy, is a cynical tactic designed to drum up nostalgic dolla bills for a label who has not had the privilege of releasing their more recent, less exciting efforts. Hmmmm......
It is presented as a demo version of the final copy, in the vein of: "[we recorded these demos as a preliminary attempt at molding what would become the final record, but we kinda almost like these original versions better, almost.]"
The album contains about 80% of the songs contained on As the Eternal Cowboy, in 2003. There is a slight change in song order, and the record does not open up with the quintessential "The party's over... the CD's skippin..." vocals. Also, there is some song edits and additions that did not appear in the final cut.
If you are some kind of weirdo, and have somehow not heard of Against Me!, then I would advise against making it your first venture into the band. Go with Reinventing Axl Rose or the originally released As the Eternal... Go see them live, or get their DVD.
Don't get me wrong. This is an excellent record. I thoroughly appreciate the revelation of the artistic process by way of this newly released record. The original, that is, the Eternal Cowboy was very, very good, so it is hard for new Original Cowboy to go wrong. However, there is not a whole lot of difference in the sound, overall, except I suppose that this is a tad bit grittier and loose. To the Against Me!'s credit, the final version they originally released maintains this sense of looseness and grit, and is part of the reason As the Et. Cowboy is such a seminal release in the punk rock soundscape.
To those who would say this venture by Fat & Against Me! is cynical and revenue driven, I say, in the end, nay!! Records like this are good for the collective mental environment. This record is cool, and is the kind of thing that I like to see from artists. But Against Me! was too good the first time around for their own good. Fan of the band? Audiophile? Get this, you'll enjoy it.
Otherwise do as previously instructed.