Who is better for the Phillies: Halladay, Haren or Lee?

Good morning from Dolphins, err Pro Player, err Land Shark Stadium.

Yesterday was Saturday, which is the one day a week in which the Daily News completely shuts down. We don't publish a paper on Sundays, because there are very few people in the streets on the Sabbath, and most of our circulation comes from news stand sales. So I tend to use Saturday to catch up on expenses, work on bigger-picture stories, and sit by the pool as the Atlantic rolls languidly in the backgorund. Saturday is also a good day to think, since my mind is not preoccupied with filing 1,600 words of copy for the newspaper.

Here is what I thought about yesterday:

1) I thought about attendance. As you may be aware, the Marlins broke ground on a new stadium in Little Havana yesterday. It was your typical celebration of athletic excess, complete with a little girl singing the Star-Spangled Banner and governor Charlie Crist addressing the crowd via taped video message, just in case anybody doubted that spending $480 million in public dollars was the American thing to do. That includes you, Miami-Dade teachers .

The stadium is being built under the rationale that the reason behind South Floridians' hesitation to attend Marlins games is not the variety of other recreational options available in the area, nor their overall distaste for the sport of baseball. Instead, the meager attendance is a direct result of playing in an un-airconditioned football stadium in the hot, wet Florida summers.

Now, up North we look down on the attendance at Marlins games. We snicker at the fact that a second-place team that has won two World Series in the last decade can't draw a respectable crowd for a key mid-season series against the defending World Champs.

But in snickering, we often forget the fact that the Phillies faced similar problems before Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004. I was curious about how the Marlins' struggles compared with the Phillies struggles, so I looked up attendance figures from 2001, when the Phillies spent much of the first-half in first place.

In 2001, the Phillies averaged 22,000 per home game.

In 2009, the Marlins are averaging 17,778.

What does this mean? I have no idea. Just thought I'd share.

2) I thought about Roy Halladay. And I wondered to myself whether the Blue Jays ace is really the Cat's Meow of this year's trade deadline. Ever since Toronto informed the World that Hallday was available, Phillies fans have ignored any other possibility for upgrading their rotation. The conventional wisdom is that the only way the Phillies can win another World Series is if they land Halladay.

Although I think the Phillies will make an aggressive play for Halladay, and I think that if they offer a package that includes J.A. Happ, Michael Taylor, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp, they just might land him, I also think there might be some other top-of-the-rotation options who might be better options - at least on paper - for a blockbuster trade.

Now, an important positive about Halladay is that he is definitely available. But let's assume that the two pitchers I am about to name become available. I'll make the case for each of the two, along with the case for Halladay. After I am done, tell me if you still think Halladay is the belle of the ball.

Dan Haren, RHP, Arizona: Haren is a league-low 1.96 ERA, and a league-high 138 innings. He is averaging 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings, and 1.2 walks. He is 28 years old, four years younger than Halladay. In his last three seasons, he is 41-22 with a 2.90 ERA. He is signed through 2012, with salaries of roughly $3.75 remaining for this season, $8.25 million for 2010, $12.75 million for 2011, $12.75 million for 2012, and a $15.5 million club option for 2013.

Cliff Lee, LHP, Indians: Lee has a 3.31 ERA in 20 starts, leads the American League with 136.0 innings, and is averaging 6.6 strikeouts per nine and 2.0 walks wer nine. In the last two seasons, he is 27-12 with a 2.83 ERA. Lee is owed roughly $2.75 million for the rest of this season, and has a $9 million option for 2010. Lee is 30, two years younger than Halladay.

Roy Halladay, RHP, Blue Jays: Halladay is 10-3 witha  2.85 ERA this year, averaging 7.8 strikeouts and 1.2 walks per nine. Over the last five years, he is 74-30 with a 3.05 ERA. He is owed roughly $7 million for the rest of this season and $15.75 million in 2010.

If I could pick one of these three pitchers to start Game 7 of the World Series, there is no doubt it would be Halladay. And there is no doubt that Halladay is the most available of the three. Arizona has made it clear that they have no intention of trading Haren. But like any team, I'm sure they would not hang up the phone if another GM broached the topic.

So here's my first question: If Haren was available, would Halladay still be your number one target? Haren is younger, and pitching better this season, and would cost significantly less this year and next year, which could provide flexibility to bolster the bullpen and the bench. And he is also controllable for the next four full seasons. Wouldn't that lessen the need to make Kyle Drabek untouchable? What if the Phillies really went for broke and offered an even sweeter deal for Haren than they are willing to offer for Halladay. What if they offered J.A. Happ AND Kyle Drabek, plus Michael Taylor, and Jason Donald, and a couple mid-level prospects.

Sure, it is a king's ransom. But would a rotation fronted by Haren, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton for the next two years, and Haren and Hamels for the next three, plus the financial flexibility the Phillies would have to make other moves, make it a better move than acquiring Halladay?

And what about Lee? Although it would still cost a pretty penny to acquire, what if the Phillies could do so without trading Happ? What if a package of Michael Taylor, Jason Knapp and Jason Donald could get it done? Would a rotation that includes Lee, Hamels, Blanton, Happ and Jamie Moyer for the next two years make it worth it?

To the Dan Haren situation, I say yes. To the Cliff Lee situation, I say no.

The Phillies probably won't even have these options. But like I said, it is what I think about on Saturdays.