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Ode to Roy: Halladay's Great Past and Uncertain Future

 Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE
Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

One of the hardest things to accept, emotionally as well as intellectually, about the tremendously disappointing 2012 Phillies has been the injury hampered and shortened season of former Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay.

After Saturday's disastrous start against the Braves, in which Halladay surrendered seven runs and failed to escape the second inning, Halladay revealed that an MRI had revealed "changes" in his rotator cuff, and that he was experiencing spasms behind his right shoulder.

Halladay's 10-8 record and 4.40 ERA in 2012 are by far his worst numbers since 1999, a season in which he started 18 games for the Blue Jays. His fastball velocity has been down two to three miles an hour over his 2010-11 norms, leading to increased nibbling on the corners and otherwise very hittable pitches.

For a lot of pitchers, perhaps Halladay included, you can imagine that rest and rehabilitation could address whatever has been troubling him this season. But there's one big catch with Roy -- he's 35 years old. An age that, in this post-"Steroid Era," can almost be considered ancient, even for a pitcher with Halladay's famous work ethic.

When you combine possible rotator cuff damage with advancing age, the prognosis frankly does not look good for Halladay to return to the form that won him the 2010 National League Cy Young Award, and nearly won him another in 2011.

After the Phillies acquired Halladay by trade in December 2009, they signed the right hander to an incredibly team-friendly three year contract extension with a fourth year option for 2014. The base salary for the first three years was $60 million payable at $20 million per year, with the 2014 option also worth $20 million. The team-friendliness of this deal is notable in two ways, particularly now:

First, the average annual value of $20 million is well below what the Phillies later paid Cliff Lee and ultimately Cole Hamels. At the times of their respective deals, Roy Halladay was better than both. And he was paid significantly less.

Second, the length of the contract and the vesting option. The Phillies now apparently discarded "three year limit" on pitchers' contracts did not impede Halladay for signing for well below market value with the Phillies just a year before he was to enter free agency, when he likely could have cleaned up for about $24 million a year for five years. The Phillies, fortunately it turned out, have limited their exposure to the 2013 season and not beyond. In order for the 2014 option to vest, Halladay must: 1. Pitch at least 225 innings in 2013; and 2. Pitch a total of 415 innings in 2012 and 2013 combined; and 3. Not be on the disabled list at the end of the 2013 season. With his lengthy disabled list stint in 2012, Halladay is almost a lock not to reach 415 combined innings, thus terminating his deal after the 2013 season.

So for four years, the Phillies are probably looking at two tremendous seasons, one injury-plagued mediocre one, and a big mystery in 2013. So was the deal a bust? Hardly.

Per FanGraphs, Halladay's "value" in 2010 was $26.1 million (compared to his $15.75 million salary). In 2011? $36.5 million for $20 million in salary. Of course, 2012 is a different matter ($11.3 million in value). But for his first three years in Philadelphia, Halladay has "earned" $73.9 million compared to $55.75 million paid. The Phillies will pay Halladay $75.75 million for his four years in Philadelphia. Simply put, Halladay has all but earned his four years' salary in his first three seasons with the team. And if he's unable to return to some kind of quality form in 2013, the team has no financial exposure going forward. As sentimental as we (and I'm sure the team) feel toward Roy Halladay, paying a struggling pitcher $20 million a year for three or more seasons, combined with other payroll obligations, could have crushed the franchise.

The Phillies were absolutely aware that Halladay was a decent candidate to break down in the final year or two of his contract. It's a simple, unavoidable, actuarial fact of baseball life in the post-Steroid Era. Players, especially pitchers, break down more often than not. Especially pitchers with work loads as heavy as Halladay's over his career. No amount of work and preparation can hold that off forever. Even marvels fade.

It may sound maudlin, or like I'm writing a baseball obituary for Halladay, and maybe I am. The odds and reality are not on his side. I'd wager that Halladay can return as a good #2 or #3 starter, but the days of Cy Young Awards are almost definitely over. And that's totally okay.

Halladay was arguably the best and most important player on two of the greatest regular season Phillies teams in history. What he's given the Phillies, both in his performance and by signing well below market, made the Phillies great, and will permit the team to re-tool going forward. Knowing then what they know now, I'm sure the Phillies still would have made the trade and signed the deal in December 2009.

Nor would I put it past Roy Halladay to come back strong and break faces in 2013. We've had the privilege of watching one of the greatest at his craft for three seasons. Let's hope he has a little more left in the tank.