The verdict is in. Almost every national columnist, fan, and our local scribes have decreed the Phils the far and away winner in the trade-deadline sweepstakes. The storyline, which is being repeated across the country, goes something like this: The Phils rookie GM didn’t bow to the overreaching demands of the Blue Jays in the Halladay discussions, instead picking up an ace of almost equal talent without giving up anything of meaningful value. "Theft," I believe, is an oft-repeated term describing this deal. Ruben is ...for the moment... basking in the adulations being called a genius, the rookie GM who deftly outfoxed his trade partners and competitors alike. One scribe even called him a shoo-in for NL executive of the year. But is Ruben really deserving of these accolades? And how did this really go down?
Taking a look back, Ruben benefitted more from the battle of perceptions than anything else. Just two week ago, the national press and just about everyone else had long called Halladay to the Phils as a foregone conclusion. It was a match made in heaven. We had the need and a deep farm, and the Jays didn’t want to trade him to the beasts of the AL East. The only question was how much it would cost us. The answer to this question would come a week later, when the Jays demanded Drabek, Happ, and Brown to complete a deal. In so demanding, the Jays set the proverbial bar and the battle lines were drawn. Most everyone, including the national media, simply accepted (without question) that Drabek, Happ and Brown were the best we had to offer. The days that followed appeared to be a game of chicken or high stakes poker, ie, which team would blink first.
While the Phillies were long rumored to be looking at Cliff Lee as a backup plan, I don’t think anyone foresaw the speed at which the deal would be done. And when word came out that Ruben didn’t have to trade Drabek, Happ or Brown as part of the deal, his legend as rockstar was cemented. He had won the battle of perception. He had outmaneuvered both the Tribe and the Jays. We got a Cy Young winner without giving up our best. Or so the story goes.
Forgive me for challenging the precept that Ruben is now a genius. I don’t discount that he deftly dealt for someone who will help come October, but if the Jays had not first demanded Drabek, Happ, and Brown, the media and fans might be given a bit more scrutiny to who we actually did give up. Scouts and teams are notorious in differing assessments of players. Unlike the NFL and NBA, in which there is some uniformity of assessment in the very top rounds of player picks, baseball is much different. According to some outlets, the Phils gave up their No. 2, 3, 4 and 10th best prospects in the farm. What I’m suggesting is that perhaps the Cleveland scouts valued the Phillies prospects far differently than the Blue Jays. Maybe Drabeks’ tommy john surgery scared them. Maybe they didn’t think Happ would project as any better than a No. 5 starter in the demanding AL. The point is the Ruben is being viewed as a genius simply because he didn’t give any prospects to Cleveland that the Blue Jays were demanding. But before we deify him any further, let’s give it some time and see how things turn out.