The Phillies' decision to replace Cliff Lee with Roy Halladay at the top of their starting rotation, a convoluted process that eventually involved three teams and, at last count, eight players, represents a bold and interesting move. But, as with the disclaimers that accompany stock-market schemes, it does not guarantee future success.

Putting together a baseball roster, or keeping together a contender, is a risky business, and it is always a bull market for desirable players. Halladay, who has earned his payday and was going to get it somewhere, will make at least $75 million under his existing contract and the extension he signed with the Phils.

It could be he will be worth every dime, and the Phillies certainly hope so. It could be that Lee would have been just as valuable had he negotiated an extension to stay. Baseball executives are paid good money - although not as good as their best employees - to make these calls. In the long tradition of all general managers, Ruben Amaro Jr. did what he thought best, knowing that the right plan can still go badly wrong.

There will be a lot of speculation about the minor-leaguers involved in the two trades - the ones that sprang Halladay from Toronto, and the ones that came in return for Lee from Seattle - and a lot of authoritative analysis of who got the better of whom.

Some of the analysis could prove accurate, but absolutely none of it is authoritative. Baseball prospects are like all children. The can't-miss kids sometimes end up swinging a rag as back-bumper dryers at the car wash while those burdened with lesser expectations get the corner office on the top floor. Happens all the time.

Five months ago, the Phils' front office was being patted on the back for avoiding a trade for Halladay that might have cost top prospects like Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor, a pair of supposed untouchables.

Instead, Amaro shipped off four guys from the dent-and-ding collection to pry Lee loose from Cleveland. Some of those guys, particularly Carlos Carrasco, had once been on the untouchable list as well.

Here we are, not that much later, and Drabek and Taylor are traded for Halladay, along with catcher Travis d'Arnaud. Raise your hand if you ever heard of Travis d'Arnaud before this week.

Does that mean Amaro was wrong not to make the deal for Halladay in the summer, or that he is wrong to do so now? It's hard to imagine how much better Halladay could have been in the postseason than Lee, who won four games, including both of his World Series starts. Someone will point out that Halladay has been successful on three days' rest and, unlike Lee, could comfortably make three starts in a seven-game series. All true. Let me know when the seventh game of the 2009 World Series arrives.

No, what Amaro did was right at the time, and will continue to be right until Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald, and Jason Knapp lead the Indians to the World Series. That's the way baseball works, and the same goes for the trades Amaro has constructed with Toronto and Seattle.

Among the prospects coming to Philadelphia from the Mariners are a 6-foot-7 pitcher from Quebec named Phillippe Aumont and an outfielder from British Columbia named Tyson Gillies. Aumont was taken with the 11th pick of the 2007 draft. Gillies was taken with the 741st pick of the 2006 draft. Here's the only thing that can be said with any authority about these two players: Both throw right and bat left, which means they played a lot of hockey up there, too. Canadian kids are usually taught to skate with the dominant hand at the butt end of the stick so they can fly up the ice controlling the puck with just one hand.

Other than that, your guess about those guys is as good as anybody's, including Amaro's. If the Phillies decide to put together an off-season hockey team, they're off to a good start.

All we have really learned this week is that the Phillies, despite two trips to the World Series and despite drawing 3.5 million fans to their little, brick cash register, are not willing to spend what it would have taken to get Halladay and to keep Lee.

Perhaps that really wasn't feasible, even if it meant letting Lee play out his free-agent season for $9 million and then watching him walk. It would have been a nice rental, though, particularly since Cole Hamels is a puzzler and the other starters are either too old to trust, too young to trust, or Joe Blanton. A decent rule of thumb in baseball is that keeping Cy Young Award winners is a good thing.

The Phillies are going to say it wasn't feasible. Ownership wants to keep the payroll around $140 million, which seems like an entirely reasonable business approach.

The question is whether it will still seem reasonable four years from now, when the core of the current Phillies team is crumbling, that second World Series title never materialized, and the Blue Jays and Indians are playing in the American League Championship Series.

It's the chance you take for being reasonable.

Contact columnist Bob Ford
at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.