Breaking News: Blockbuster Trade Sends Roy Halladay to Philadelphia; Cliff Lee to Seattle; Prospects to Toronto.

The star of last year's postseason, Cliff Lee is heading to Seattle after today's mega deal.

In the biggest surprise of the offseason thus far the Mariners, Phillies and Blue Jays have laid the groundwork for a stunning deal that would send Roy Halladay to Philadelphia, Cliff Lee to Seattle and prospects from both teams to Toronto. The Phillies actively pursued Halladay at last season’s trade deadline, but reached an impasse with Toronto regarding which players the Blue Jays would receive in compensation, and the deal was never completed. Philadelphia eventually worked out a trade with Cleveland to acquire Lee who was instrumental in guiding the Phillies to their second straight World Series-berth. Toronto has been shopping Halladay since his agent released a statement asking for a deal before Spring Training with New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia listed as possible trade destinations. The Mariners have been an active player all offseason, with the team linked to numerous free-agents, and the signing of third baseman Chone Figgins. If this deal is finalized, it will have major ramifications for all three teams, and could dramatically alter the power structure of both the AL West and NL East.

In this trade, the Mariners gain a certified staff ace to pair with Felix Hernandez, giving Seattle one of the most potent 1-2 combinations in baseball. The move also strongly indicates that GM Jack Zdurinciek is looking to build a team capable of not only winning the division, but also a World Series title. Seattle led the AL in numerous pitching categories last year, but needed to bolster their rotation with the departures of Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn. Enter Cliff Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young award winner, who went a combined 14-13 with a 3.22 ERA and 181 strikeouts between Cleveland and Philadelphia. The 31-year-old lefty was even more impressive in the postseason, going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA, including a 2-0 mark against the Yankees in the World Series. The Mariners still have work to do offensively in order to have dreams of a pennant, but this move certainly makes them an early favorite to capture the AL West.

The Phillies hope Roy Halladay is the right player to lead them to a third straight World Series.

The Phillies finally acquired the pitcher they had long coveted in this deal and are likely to negotiate a long-term contract with Halladay in the next few days or weeks (somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 years/$100 million dollars). Halladay continued his run as one of the game’s best pitchers in 2009, posting a 17-10 record with a 2.79 ERA and 208 strikeouts. The 32-year-old right hander is baseball’s most durable and consistent starting pitcher, having topped 220 innings in each of the past four seasons. Already the favorite to capture the NL East in 2010, this move solidifies the Phillies as a perennial contender in the National League. Lee was outstanding for Philadelphia last-season but the team was having trouble working out a long-term contract with the lefty, and decided to pursue Halladay as their frontline starter moving forward. Barring any significant injuries next season, this move gives the Phillies a strong shot at another trip to the World Series in 2010.

Toronto really had no choice except to trade Roy Halladay as their star pitcher planned to leave via free agency after the season. The Blue Jays will receive a package of top prospects from both the Mariners and Phillies, but it has not yet been announced which players are involved in the deal (early reports indicate that Seattle’s Phillipe Aumont and Philadelphia’s Travis d’Arnaud are headed to the Blue Jays). Toronto has a solid young core of position players (Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Travis Snider) and starting pitchers (Ricky Romero, Dustin McGowan, Brad Mills), and this trade will allow them to stockpile talent for a run at the division in a few years. As with all trades involving prospects it won’t be clear for a couple of seasons whether Toronto received a fair haul for Halladay, but the team’s hands were tied in this particular situation, and they made the move that they believed will give the Blue Jays the best shot to win in the near future.

It’s not often that a sport’s offseason is more exciting than the actual play on the field, but that’s been the case for baseball in 2009. Another blockbuster deal has two teams eyeing a World Series trophy and the other hoping it can overcome the loss of its franchise player. The Mariners and Phillies both made major strides with today’s trade, now how will the rest of baseball respond?

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Not Just For the Sad and Lonely: A Defense of Fantasy Baseball

Hong-Chih Kuo doesn't exist unless you play fantasy baseball.

Hong-Chih Kuo doesn't exist unless you play fantasy baseball.

Playing fantasy baseball is a lot like watching the English Patient. It’s long, tedious and in the end you really aren’t sure if it was worth all the trouble. It’s the overlooked little brother of fantasy football; kind of nerdy and viewed with all the same skepticism of Dungeons and Dragons(by the way Randy Johnson has a nice slider +5, but you have to equip him with the enchanted Hands of Tyman first). Sure there aren’t 20-sided dice, but fantasy baseball isn’t exactly something you want to bring up on a first date. The season drags on from March through September, or roughly the gestation period of an American Black Bear. Unlike football, where you have to check your roster about once a week, fantasy baseball requires that you look at your roster every day for seven months to avoid the embarrassment of leaving Ty Wigginton in your lineup even though every else in the league knew that he was out with a pulled hamstring (not something that is easily lived down). I mean you could go on a three-day vacation and by the time you come back, your whole season could be shot! Kaput! Gone in the blink of an eye.

The ultimate prize. Was it worth seven months of your life?

The ultimate prize. Was it worth seven months of your life?

Additionally, there are numerous other traps that first time fantasy baseball players can fall into. Wanting to get as many starts as possible, an owner may pick up pitchers every day and plug them into their rotation. This seems like a good idea until you realize that there is a maximum number of innings allotted to a team’s pitchers and once you cross this threshold you no longer accumulate stats. You then wrap your mind around the horrific truth that you have banked your playoff hopes on pitchers like Jeff Weaver and Livan Hernandez, the only ones available on the waiver wire, and burst into bitter tears. By gosh you could burn out your pitching staff on mediocre starts by July if you really worked at it, and where would that leave you? In a quite a pickle, that’s where. Also, a number of players that seem valuable in real life, like Derek Jeter or Bobby Abreu, aren’t nearly as much of an asset on your fantasy squad, and are overvalued year after year by new fantasy players (you get exactly 0 points for leadership or clutch hits). Stats like steals mean just as much as homeruns in most leagues, leaving baseball fans turned fantasy players wondering if Willy Taveras is really as valuable as Ryan Howard (not quite).

With all that said, why would anyone in their right mind want to commit to a season of fantasy baseball? Well, the reasons are as endless as the hairs on David Hasselhoff’s chest.

The Crown Prince of Fantasy Baseball

The Crown Prince of Fantasy Baseball

First and foremost, baseball has always been the most stat driven of all sports. Even most casual fans can identify the significance of such numbers as 61 (Roger Maris’ single season HR record), .406 (Ted Williams average–the last man to hit .400) or .304-56 HR-147 RBI (Ken Griffey Jr’s 1997 MVP season). Fantasy baseball gives fans a chance to see these numbers or records as they are actually happening; certainly any fantasy baseball owner won’t forget Lance “the Big Puma” Berkman setting a career high with 18 stolen bases last year because it may have helped them knock off a hated rival to win their league, but just about everyone else outside of Houston will. Fantasy baseball also allows fans to understand the importance of such complex statistics as WHIP (walks + hits/# of innings pitched, a great way to gauge the efficiency of a pitcher) or BABIP (batting average on balls in play, the league average is around .300). For example, a player with a low BABIP, say .280, is probably suffering from bad luck and is due for a breakout, which is something a casual fan will probably overlook. Following this principle, expect Evan Longoria’s average to improve this coming season.

Moreover, fantasy baseball allows you to discover players that normally go unheralded. For instance, Hanley Ramirez and Ian Kinsler are two of the top 10 players in fantasy baseball (thanks to their combination of speed, power and high average) but they normally get lost in the shuffle of higher paid players in large media markets. Think of Ramirez and Kinsler as the indie music of baseball, they’re so great because no one else knows about them (but thankfully, they don’t wear flannel, slackline or drink out of mason jars). Playing fantasy also allows you to discover the next crop of young players. Many owners will draft prospects who are in Triple-A at the beginning of the year and then salivate (like dogs after bacon) over their minor league stats until they are finally called up. Names like Max Scherzer, Travis Snider and Andrew McCutchen might not mean much to you unless you play fantasy baseball; it’s a great way to learn about the future all-stars of the game before anyone else does.

Did Pete Rose have it right all along?

Did Pete Rose have it right all along?

The MLB season is a long one; no one will contend that point. So why not add a little spice to a 162-game season by having a little something riding on each game? Of course Pete Rose thought the same thing and look where that got him, but I digress. No longer will a July series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres be as pointless as another installment of The Land Before Time series. Owners of Nate McClouth and Adrian Gonzalez will have no choice but to pay attention to the games and chart their players’ performances. It’s not quite turning water into wine, but the ability to turn something meaningless into something meaningful, now that’s fantasy baseball’s true gift to mankind.

So the next time your friend mentions an upcoming fantasy baseball draft,  don’t call him a pale worthless excuse for a human being (sticks and stones may break but bones, but words will hurt forever). Instead, ask him if you can join and tell him you know all about WHIP and BABIP. After all, you do get a shiny little trophy if you win; isn’t that worth seven months of your life?

Best site for fantasy baseball: http://sports.yahoo.com/fantasy