It has already been a few days since the Dodgers and Red Sox engaged in one of the most unprecedented, and seemingly improbable, swaps in baseball history. While the instant returns have seen the Dodgers lose two straight and the Red Sox win two straight, the deal becomes a defining moment in the paths of both clubs: the Dodgers have shown they are willing to eat and absorb as many bad contracts (Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and, to an extent, Nick Punto) as they can to obtain one piece they truly covet (Adrian Gonzalez) while the Red Sox have shown they are willing to take a mulligan when offered. Both positions effected the Phillies more than what appears on the surface.
First, the Dodgers’ willingness to absorb somewhere between $260-272 million in guaranteed contracts in one deal shows that the Dodgers threat to offer Cole Hamels whatever he wanted and more was real. In this regard, the boogeyman was real – he was in the closet the whole time, counting Magic Johnson’s money, ready to cut as big a check as necessary to pair the lefty Cy Young candidate with Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley to form one of the most formidable rotations in all of baseball.
Second, it shows that the Dodgers were completely serious about trying to create a deal to acquire Cliff Lee off of waivers. Ken Rosenthal stated over the weekend that the Phillies “blew it” by not trading Lee and his approximately $90 million left on his deal to the Dodgers. While it is true that Lee may not be pitching himself into the Cy Young debate, Lee has bounced back in recent starts. After being worth $30.7 million last year to the Phillies according to FanGraphs, Lee has been worth approximately $14.7 million to the Phillies this season.
Rosenthal suggests the impetus to trade Lee was to free up salary to shore up help to the Phillies line-up for next year and re-tool; what Rosenthal ignores is the fact the Phillies did just that by dealing Hunter Pence, effectively avoiding a messy arbitration process and a near $16 million salary for an above average outfielder, and avoiding a messy break-up with Shane Victorino, where a one-year qualifying offer would have needed to be in excess of $14 million to qualify for the compensatory pick, likely much more than Victorino would have made annually in a long-term deal. Also, Rosenthal, in a different piece, states that the Dodgers had to make the deal because there is a limited supply of impact free agents this winter, making a salary shedding move for a team still in contention for the next few years (the Phillies) a head-scratcher.
Within Rosenthal’s own article, he states the Red Sox were only willing to trade Gonzalez if they received a transformative deal for their franchise. In this regard, if the Phillies were able to do this, say package Lee with Ryan Howard‘s gigantic contract, this would have been a game-changer. But, as Rosenthal’s article also confirms, he states that the Dodgers are one of the team’s known to be on Lee’s no-trade list. Not only would a Lee trade been a near-straight salary dump as the Dodgers do not have any prospects that particularly fit the Phillies needs at third or in the outfield, but it would have been unlikely the Phillies would have been able to convince Lee to waive his limited no-trade clause. Without any desirable prospects, without taking on Howard’s contract, and without convincing Lee Los Angeles is a nice place to spend his summers, there was never a chance Lee was headed to LA.
The third way this trade complicates the landscape for the Phillies, but makes their decision to keep Lee more favorable is because, quite frankly, players keep tabs on which teams are more and less likely to trade you once you sign with them. Take for instance Mark Teixeira, who revealed to Bryan Hoch, that he ultimately did not sign with the Red Sox in the winter of 2008 because of their unwillingness to engage in a no-trade-clause. Or Kevin Kaduk of Big League Stew and Yahoo! Sports who thinks that this trade not only may cost Boston big names in the future but also may cost them more cash to lure big names because of a possible growing reputation that they may be dealt once they are signed.
These three factors give favorable hindsight to the decisions to extend Hamels and keep Lee at least through 2012. Whether Hamels and Lee perform to the value of their contracts remains to be seen, but signs point favorably to the success, and ability to sign more free agents, in the franchise’s near and distant future.