LIKE IT OR NOT, Charlie Manuel will be using a six-man starting rotation this season. Five pitchers will be wearing Phillies uniforms. Starter No. 6 will be reluctantly wearing the colors of the Seattle Mariners.

Cliff Lee will spend the season having his results compared with those of Roy Halladay, the ace who shockingly replaced him in a complex deal that wound up involving four teams, two former Cy Young Award winners, and six significant minor league prospects. It will be the ultimate what-if-woulda-coulda-shoulda debate.

And the Greek Chorus will thunder, "Why not both? . . . Why not both? . . . Why not both? . . . "

Nearly 2 months after one of the biggest and most puzzling transactions in Phillies' history, we are still examining the evidence like FAA sleuths piecing together the wreckage of a crashed airliner.

Everybody has turned up the obvious clues. If the 2010 salaries of Joe Blanton and Cliff Lee were basically a wash, and with Jamie Moyer coming off the books in 2011 - his money would replace the $8 million the Blue Jays sent along with Halladay - why was it necessary to deal Lee and break up what could have been the most formidable 1-2 punch in the game?

Sure, the lefthander had made it known he was going for CC Sabathia money as a free agent next winter. But, hey, why not win another pennant, take a shot at another parade, and if Lee's demands are too rich for Dave Montgomery's blood, well, thanks for the great memories. As for the minor league system going from a fertile crescent of top prospects to a wasteland of low-bonus Latinos, we'll worry about that when the need arises. And right now, we're loaded, baby, loaded at every varsity position for years to come.

That's the way fans think. That's what they do, and that's OK. One reason Bill Giles had such poor results during his presidency, despite the best of intentions, was he was a fan first and a baseball man second. Giles took the personnel advice of some pretty iffy baseball advisers during the vacuum created by the exodus to Chicago of Dallas Green and a number of the organization's best and brightest scouts and administrators.

Giles' most brilliant contribution was made before his group bought the Phillies. Acting both as a fan and an executive vice president whose main mission was to put fannies in the Veterans Stadium seats, the Bopper rescued the failed Pete Rose initiative by convincing Channel 17 that the famous free agent would mean higher ratings and a spike in their advertising revenue. With the promise of increased TV revenue in hand, Giles was able to sell owner Bob Carpenter on a 4-year Rose deal worth $3.2 million. ($4.8 million less than Lee will earn this year.) Channel 17 raised its rights fees by a total of $2.4 million. It was win-win for everybody. And Rose changed an underachieving team's dynamic.

With or without Cliff Lee, the Phillies are headed for another season where they will sell more tickets than the actual capacity of Citizens Bank Park. I wasn't jesting when I called it the Money Pit.

Fortunately, however, Dave Montgomery is a Wharton School grad who has been around baseball long enough to understand the shifting sands of the game's fragile economics. Nothing in baseball is forever. Not even the Yankees. When CBS briefly owned the game's most storied franchise, Walter Cronkite's network manhandled the crown jewel baseball property the way NBC has manhandled "The Tonight Show."

Between 1965 and '75, the Yankees failed to win a pennant, finished under .500 five times, and won as many as 90 games just once. George Steinbrenner bought the club as a hat rack for his gargantuan ego and spent baseball's No. 1 brand back into prominence.

But never confuse the Phillies with the Yankees - even at the zenith of their popularity and field excellence. Despite the obvious geographic and economic differences between us and the city 90 miles to our northeast, the Phillies are owned by a limited partnership comprised of four entities. At a $150 million payroll and counting, they are in much deeper than I ever thought they would go. They are in it to break even today and grow the value of the franchise down the road. Fortunately, Montgomery's baseball men are well aware of the transitory nature of their business, and while it is easy to say, "We'll worry about the minor leagues when it's time to replace our stars," it's the kind of organizational folly that can doom a ballclub for a decade or more.

Just ask Bill Giles.

More important, in the shorter term, general manager Ruben Amaro has bought something that every CEO not connected to the U.S. banking industry strives to achieve: A measure of cost certainty.

By settling the Halladay and Lee issues before arbitration season, he was able to negotiate the important 3-year contracts of Joe Blanton and Shane Victorino with an idea of what his payroll will look like when it is time to deal with Ryan Howard after the 2011 season. Lee would not have been tradeable without a long-term extension at his figure. Amaro was not going to rent him and let him walk for a couple of expensive late-round draft picks. He is right when he says the Phillies are not a team that can afford to have a $15 million player at every position.

That is where a strong farm system comes in. If you don't have viable replacements for the organization-raised stars who have carried you to this high place, you are screwed, Jack.

Charlie wanted Halladay and Lee. So did we all.

But 5 years from now you'll understand it and you'll say thanks.

Send e-mail to bill1chair@aol.com.

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