PHILADELPHIA - Just like the boisterous fans that pack the ballpark, manager Charlie Manuel wishes the Philadelphia Phillies still had Cliff Lee.
Six weeks after the two-time NL champions made the blockbuster moves to acquire Roy Halladay from Toronto and send Lee to Seattle, Manuel spoke about the deals at a news conference.
He sounded like a fan when asked how he felt about the team trading away Lee to get Halladay.
"Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball right now. Lee is a tad behind him. Of course it would've been nice to have both of them," Manuel said Tuesday. "It'd be good to have Halladay, Lee, (Cole) Hamels. I'd be looking good. I might even be buying more expensive furniture than the Mrs. has been buying me lately."
The Phillies traded three minor leaguers to the Blue Jays for Halladay, a six-time all-star who won the 2003 AL Cy Young. Philadelphia then gave Halladay a US$60-million, three-year extension through 2013.
Lee, a former AL Cy Young Award winner, went to the Mariners in a separate deal the same day for three prospects. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he needed to replenish the farm system after trading seven prospects to get Lee and Halladay.
Money was a big factor, too. Lee, who will earn $9 million this season, is expected to test free agency next winter, and there's no guarantee the Phillies would've afforded his asking price.
"Baseball is a business and I understand a lot of things," Manuel said. "I have my own opinion and suggestions, but like everybody else I have a boss. From a business standpoint, the last two or three years they've definitely made good decisions. I trust them."
That didn't stop Manuel from making a pitch to keep Lee. He dreamed about a rotation that includes Halladay, Lee, and Hamels, the 2008 World Series MVP. That certainly would've made the Phillies favourites to win their third straight NL pennant, a feat last accomplished by the St. Louis Cardinals from 1942-44.
"I've worked in every capacity in different organizations and I know how things wind down," Manuel said. "I voiced my opinion, but I'm not the guy making the final decision. At the same time, I'm excited about our pitching staff going into the season. I think our pitching to start the season this year is definitely better than it was to start the season last year. It's an upgrade. I think we'll be ready to go."
Halladay and Hamels will be followed by Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ and either Jamie Moyer or Kyle Kendrick.
Coming off their second World Series title in franchise history, the Phillies entered last year with a rotation that featured Hamels, Brett Myers, Blanton, Moyer and Chan Ho Park.
Hamels struggled, Myers had hip surgery in June and returned as a reliever, Moyer lost his starting spot to mid-season acquisition Pedro Martinez and Park was replaced by Happ. Lee arrived from Cleveland in July and stabilized the rotation. He was dominant in the playoffs, going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts and earning both of Philadelphia's wins in the World Series against the New York Yankees.
Lee wanted to stay in Philadelphia and expressed disappointment after the trade. Manuel spoke to few people this off-season, choosing to get away and relax at his home in Winter Haven, Fla. He did reach out to Lee, however.
"I had a good talk with him. He was definitely disappointed," Manuel said. "He liked us. He liked everything about us. He liked Philadelphia. He liked the fans. He liked our team. He said we had a good attitude about winning. It was a real tough (phone call)."