An Argument for Trading Cliff Lee – Phillies Nation

An Argument for Trading Cliff Lee

Should it take an earth-shattering package for the Phils to move Lee? (PHOTO: AP)

Should it take an earth-shattering package for the Phils to move Lee? (PHOTO: AP)

As the clock creeps towards today’s 4pm trade deadline, die-hard Phillies fans are sure to be glued to their rumors source of choice.  Last night’s report that Jake Peavy is headed to Boston put a sizable dent in the Phillies chances of moving Cliff Lee, leaving only the Tigers, Cardinals and Dodgers as plausible suitors for the prized left hander.

At this point, there is little doubt that Lee is available, and the reports that say so also indicate that the Phillies’ asking price for him is steep, as it should be.  Many saw Boston as the frontrunner to pry Lee from the Phils, but in the end it sounds like the asking price (Xander Bogaerts perhaps?) was too high, so the Sox moved on to Plan B and the Phillies were left with little hope of a monster return for their most valuable trade asset.

Bogaerts wasn’t going anywhere for many of the same reasons that Domonic Brown was never available when the Phillies were hunting for aces of their own over the past five years.  Prospects of that ilk are rarely moved, regardless of the stakes, and especially when surrendering them also requires picking up a $70 million tab in the process.  Assuming Bogaerts, or even Jackie Bradley Jr., were the sticking points in negotiations with the Sox, it is safe to say that any team hoping to acquire Lee’s services today will have to submit an offer that blows Amaro away.  Which leads to the question, has Amaro set the bar for Lee too high?

Trading established stars for prospects is risky business.  No one knows that better than Amaro, who has acquired Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt in recent years for packages that have yet to yield much at the major league level.  He also traded Lee before the 2010 season for a haul bad enough that he’s since admitted it was a mistake.  But in the Phillies current situation, that shouldn’t be an argument not to move Lee.  Quite simply, that is because one could argue the risk of not trading him is greater than the risk of again moving him for a flawed return.

This is not to suggest that the Phillies dump Cliff Lee.  Amaro should be asking for the moon for him.  What he shouldn’t be doing is refusing to move the lefthander if he doesn’t get it.  While his contract may prohibit the Phillies from acquiring top 10 MLB prospects, Lee can still undoubtedly fetch an impressive package.  This Phillies team, with Lee, is going nowhere fast and he is their most coveted asset.  Without a youth infusion, they’re going to be right back here next year – stuck between bad and good with a farm system too weak to get the arrow pointing skyward.

Sure, with a huge TV deal looming, the Phillies have bottomless pockets.  But free agency has changed.  Teams have smartened up, locking up their stars young and leaving the free agent market with only a few aging impact players per offseason, sure to get drastically overpaid due to supply and demand (think Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols).  There are still deals to be found for under-the-radar types, but let’s face it, this Phillies team, as currently constructed, needs to add elite talent, and a lot of it, if it wants to return to contention.  Let’s pretend it’s a perfect world, and the Phillies stand pat and then land Shin-Soo Choo and Matt Garza this offseason.  Does that get them to the playoffs?  Not in my eyes, and that is in a perfect world.

With that in mind, isn’t holding onto everyone (except Michael Young presumably) – and in turn assuring themselves of mediocrity – riskier than taking a chance on a very-good-but-not-great package for Lee?  Or, for that matter, for any aging player on their roster with value?

Look at what the Rays did with James Shields this offseason.  They knew they had little hope to keep a pitcher like him after his deal expired in 2014, so they capitalized on his value and landed top prospect Wil Myers, who has an OPS of .900 and has been pivotal to their rise to the top of the AL East.  The teams and situations are very different – Lee won’t fetch a Wil Myers and the Phillies have plenty of money – but the rudimentary philosophy is similar.  The innovative Rays recognized their situation, and acted accordingly.  The Phillies should learn from an organization much smarter than they are, and do the same.

Regardless of the haul the Phils would get for Lee, it’d be impossible to predict the outcome on the spot.  Sometimes teams get burnt, like the Phils did with Curt Schilling.  Sometimes teams get immediate returns, as we saw this year with the Rays and Myers and the Brewers with Jean Segura (acquired in the Zack Greinke deal).  And sometimes, as Jonathan Villar showed us last night, it can be somewhere in between.

What isn’t impossible to predict, is that the only way this team will return to relevance anytime soon is for the front office to get creative.  Improving the farm system by moving valuable-but-aging assets, and then spending the money saved intelligently in free agency (the opposite of giving a closer $50 million) qualifies as creative.  Stubbornly refusing to recognize that your roster is flawed, and doing nothing, does not.  Maybe Amaro can keep everyone and pull a rabbit out of his hat and we’ll be talking playoffs a year from now, but I wouldn’t put my money on it.  Would you?



  1. Lefty

    July 31, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    No I wouldn’t put my money on it either. My only disagreement with your article is that patience is THE key negotiation tool. July 31st is not the end of the world. If they feel teams are low balling them for their tradable assets, they simply should not make deals at this time.

    Speaking of time, there is plenty of it after today. “Revocable” or “trade assignment” waivers start tomorrow. Passing through the teams that can’t afford a high priced vet is not as hard as it may seem. You can get to the team you originally wanted to make a deal with but maybe felt they didn’t offer enough. Maybe thy change there minds, or our FO does, and a trade can still happen. Or if you still don’t like the deal, you pull “said player” off waivers.

    Then comes the offseason and players no longer need to pass through waivers to be traded again. Then FA’s are available and Rule 5 guys can be taken. “Take it slow or take it easy” was a common way of saying goodbye to someone for a while. It was meant as a warm sentiment. It’s a good sentiment today as well. We all know things need fixing, but it doesn’t always happen in one day, take it slow. Like a good hitter waiting for a pitcher to make a mistake.

    • Alex Lee

      July 31, 2013 at 12:38 pm

      I agree… and they could maximize their return in the offseason when teams are more equipped to clear space to afford a guy like Lee. I just can’t seem to shake the feeling that they’re not going to sufficiently blow this up today, in August or the offseason… which has disaster written all over it.

    • Alex Lee

      July 31, 2013 at 12:45 pm

      Another thing to consider: while I agree with your premise, being patient and waiting it out likely cost them their chance to move Papelbon. A month ago, they could have dumped his salary and probably got something good in return. Now he is damaged goods. There is something to be said for striking when the iron is hot.

      • George

        July 31, 2013 at 2:12 pm

        Papelbon’s velocity had already dropped before he muffed some saves, and his salary was even highr than it is now (he had more time left on his contract). I don’t recall hearing that any team even a month ago. There were a few temas looking for a closer but everyone knew there’d soon be there cheaper options available. I don’t think patience hurt their chances of “dumping” Papelbon in the least. He was already virtually untradeable even a month ago.

      • Alex Lee

        July 31, 2013 at 2:21 pm

        You could be right. But there was definitely talk in mid-June that they could move him and get something back. Then came the blown saves, then came the stories about his drop in velocity. Obviously, we don’t know if any team was willing to trade for him in June because the Phils refused to realize they weren’t very good and he wasn’t available. Either way, he is definitely less movable now than he was then.

      • Ken Bland

        July 31, 2013 at 2:34 pm


        You strike me as very bright, and I yielded mild temptation to voice what George did about Paps a month ago, but I think you might be way overplaying public opinion about what was thought about Paps a month ago with what really counts…other ballclubs. I don’t know how they think anymore than the next guy, but I never picked up vibes of interest, and thought the earlier constant mention of him in rumors was plain talk. He’s not the firsy reliever to have an off year in some areas, and bounce back or reinvent themselves. Might not be what he was (doubtful, in fact), but he oughta be fairly effective for another couple years. But that pricetag.
        I doubted that the powers that be were too thrilled with his future, and the salary amped that up. So I think you are putting more than advised into the rumor mill.

      • Alex Lee

        July 31, 2013 at 2:38 pm

        For sure, I’m totally speculating. I’m just using that example to play devil’s advocate to the idea of preaching patience.

  2. Mike B.

    July 31, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I share your fear that Amaro doesn’t recognize the reality of the team.

    But that said, waiting too long to pull the trigger on Papelbon (if that is what happened, and we don’t know if there were even any legitimate offers made) doesn’t serve as a reason to jump the gun on Lee. They should not be making deals just for the sake of avoiding “doing nothing,” unless the player is soemone (lke Young) who will be gone anyway after the season.

    • Alex Lee

      July 31, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      I agree, but I’m making the assumption that they could have moved Lee for a worthwhile (but maybe not elite) package. Ultimately, big-picture wise, I just wanted to reinforce how doomed I think they are if they don’t do something soon. The Lee example was just a vehicle for me to make that point.

      • George

        July 31, 2013 at 2:15 pm

        And what would you consider to be a worthwhile package for an ace pitcher? And just who was actually offering said package?

      • Alex Lee

        July 31, 2013 at 2:28 pm

        Like I said, I’m making an assumption here. We’ve heard plenty of reports that the Phils talked to teams about Lee, so I’m sure there were offers.

        As for what I would consider worthwhile for Lee… I’d say two top 100 prospects and a third guy with some projectability who may be too young/raw to be on any prospect lists. They don’t have to be top 10 guys like Myers or Bogaerts.

      • George

        July 31, 2013 at 4:42 pm

        I’m sure there were offers, too, but unfortunately we’ll never know what they were. They may have been less than what you’ve thought would be adequate, they may have been more. I’d go with “less;” it appears that no team this year has given up a whole lot to fill their needs.

  3. Bill

    July 31, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Wow, this is a brutal article. Brutal.

    • Alex Lee

      July 31, 2013 at 1:56 pm

      thx bro!

  4. Greendale

    July 31, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    One other problem: Even if you pony up to get a top FA OF, like Ellsbury or Choo….with Asche at third, you are entirely too left handed. Only Rollins, and whatever catcher you bring in would be RH. It’s a crazy corner this team is painted in….they can’t even afford to pony up for a really good FA to help contend, even if they have the cash.

  5. Alex M.

    July 31, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    I completely agree with you on this, i think that if Ruben was not able to get an elite prospect he should have tried to get a couple great prospects. The Red Sox have tons of pitching and honestly I think the Phillies could have ended up with a deal around Owens, Ranaudo, Workman, Brentz and a PTBNL. That type of a deal would have left the Sox with their top 3 prospects and given the Phillies a lot of help in the rotation and Brentz would have become a good RF. I am also concerned with durability and health long term for Lee, look at what happened to Halladay its conceivable that Lee could have issues too. Final thought in 3 years would you rather have a 37 year old Lee or 3 potential starting pitchers and a RF?

    • George

      July 31, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      Alex, what you think and what was actually put in play are most likely two entirely different things.

      • Alex M.

        July 31, 2013 at 3:47 pm

        No what I was saying was Ruben should have been more open to getting prospects other than Bogaerts and Bradley. He was asking for Xander, Bradley, Workman and Iglesias, if I were the Sox I would have turned that down to. And the prospects I mentioned are ones that I like but the point was he could have gotten 4 or 5 good prospects and helped to rebuild the system. Clearly we need to fire Ruben because he does not know how to make trades period.

      • George

        July 31, 2013 at 4:58 pm

        Once again, you’re speculating. Certainly the Phils wanted more than the Sox or any other team would have given up. The first rule of negotiation is to overshoot what you’ll settle for. But none of us knows where the compromise point might have been. It’s quite likely that Amaro was willing to take less, but Boston decided to go in a different direction before an agreement could be fully negotiated. It’s also possible that they had no real intention of trading for Lee in the first place; they could have been tire-kicking only. Since last year they’ve been subtracting large contracts, not adding them.

  6. Matt

    July 31, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Really agree with this. I will add, rather than garza I think the better FA option this offseason would be to win the posting on Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. He’ll be 25, has put up #s similar to Darvish in the pacific league, throw 91-93 with a plus slider and good command. Might cost similar to Darvish altogether ($100+ million) but gives you a durable #2 type through the prime of his career which I’d perfer to matt garza who’s had trouble staying healthy recently and has had some elbow scares already.

  7. Hogey's Role

    July 31, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    They need to start trading missed opportunity with the red Sox,I don’t wanna trade Lee but if we could have gotten prospects and salary relief even if we didn’t get xander that’s a big screw up on rubes part… not to mention Garcia is gone from the tigers so papelbon to the tigers is likely all over with even if there wasn’t much chance before there is 0 now…

    Time to can amaro, it’s been obvious from day one this team needed to sell and he still is standing pat, real smart Ruben

  8. George

    July 31, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    People who want salary relief seemingly haven’t noticed the lack of decent free agents this offseason that can be signed with all that saved cash.

    Sorry, folks, but I’m feeling really contrary today. I don’t particularly care for being told by various and sundry “fans” that the best player on the team right now should be traded for some vague “package” before the team is doomed, or that the trade deadline means the end of the world.

    Lee is a valuable commodity. If you can’t get what you need for him, you keep him. He’s not going to hurt the team by being an Allstar, and he might even help keep the Phils from being a 3rd place team next year. AAA prospects might not even be ready by 2014, and where would the team be then?

    • Alex Lee

      July 31, 2013 at 2:46 pm

      Nothing contrary about what you said. It makes logical sense, and I assume a lot of fans agree with you. I’d counter with two points, just to play devil’s advocate:

      1. As a fan of this team, I’m now spoiled and want to win the World Series again. This team is currently mediocre and declining, so I don’t care if they finish in 2nd or 3rd or 4th or 5th, as long as they’re headed back in that right direction. It’s like the Sixers, I applaud their new front office for blowing everything up once they realized they couldn’t contend with what they had.

      2. I think many people, me included, see what the Red Sox did in the winter as an optimistic example of what is possible in this type of offseason environment. They dumped salary and then re-spent that money on mid-level guys and suddenly they’re right back in the hunt. Different circumstances for sure, and they had a bunch of other things go right, but it’s an enticing strategy given their success.

      • George

        July 31, 2013 at 5:13 pm

        Are you playing Devil’s advocate, or are you just trying to irritate me more? 🙂

        Everybody is spoiled a little. But I’m notb sure that blowing up the team will work any better than trying to improve what’s there. Lee is one of the items that can help turn the team around; I’m not certain mid-level prospects will.

        I don’t look at Boston’s as a viable strategy for most teams to follow. You yourself said there were different circumstances. Boston had an entirely different farm system full of better players, the contracts they traded away were not of the total albatross variety, particularly A. Gonzalez’s, and they had an eager taker in the form of the publicity hungry, let’s-build-the-fan-base-by-inking- superstars new Dodgers front office. I think it’s something you’ll only see once, and to even think it can be done again is like knocking on the door to the Fool’s Paradise.

      • Alex Lee

        July 31, 2013 at 5:26 pm

        I wouldn’t give up Lee for mid-level guys, so we agree there. I also agree about the Sox, it would be very difficult to replicate that. Where we differ is that I think it would be even harder to turn this team around without blowing things up… thus my stance.

        But to each his own… like I said before you made some good points. I usually only respond to comments if I think it may result in more intelligent baseball back-and-forth. So I assure you, no irritation intended!

      • George

        July 31, 2013 at 11:33 pm

        I think where we differ is that I don’t believe the Phils would do well if they “blew things up.” I just don’t think what they have is attractive enough to other teams to get players who can patch the holes. If that’s the case (and I grant it might not be) then it seems best to keep a few of those pieces as a starting point. Michael Young, for example, was only good enough to generate interest, but not particularly useful offers. Really, Lee, Hamels, Brown, and possibly Revere were the only guys they could have possibly gotten anything for (Utley has an injury history no one wants, Howard has an injury history as well as a restrictive contract, Rollins isn’t in high demand, Papelbon is overpaid, Ruiz is aging fast) and while two or three “top 100” prospects for Lee might be a starting point, they wouldn’t be much of an answer on their own, particularly if they turn out to be as bad as some top 100s have been, and trading Lee would open up a new hole in the starting rotation.

        I know it may be harder to rebuild (or retool, if you prefer) without dumping a lot of players, but to me it’s not impossible. There will be some better players available in the offseason than those like McDonald, Martinez, the two Youngs, Mayberry, and most of the bullpen. From my vantage point, it’s mostly those kinds of role players that have cost this team so dearly, because they haven’t fulfilled their roles.

  9. John

    July 31, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Reuben inherited a Maserati and turned it into Al Bundy’s Dodge

    • George

      July 31, 2013 at 5:02 pm

      No, he just kept the Maserati until it wore out. There’s a difference.

  10. Chuck A

    July 31, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Maserati for Dodge?

    • Chuck A.

      July 31, 2013 at 5:38 pm

      Get your own handle.

    • Richelle

      September 9, 2013 at 11:37 am

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  11. Peezers

    July 31, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    I think Marla Hooch and All the Way May straight up for Lee would be ideal.. think about it.. Marla brings revenue to the phillies with her amazing looks and body ( TV and Jersey Sales!!) .. All the way may is a great club house girl who can teach the younger ones how to perform on and off the field.. thoughts?

    • PhanaticPhillyGirl

      July 31, 2013 at 5:00 pm

      What about Kit Keller and Mae Mordabito? Pretty sure coach Dugan was refering to those two when he said that girls were what you sleep with after the game. Not Marla Hooch!

  12. Just keep Cliff

    July 31, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Can we just remove Cliff Lee and Chase Utley from these unending discussions on trading them? There must be almost a million words on the different blogs about trading Cliff Lee over the last year and a half. The truth is that the Phillies need a couple of very good and very popular players for fans to watch while they rebuild. And it simply isn’t at all true that the only way they can rebuild is to trade Cliff Lee. It never comes down to one player except in the minds of some posters.

    • George

      July 31, 2013 at 5:15 pm

      I give this comment about fifteen or twenty thumbs up.

  13. PhanaticPhillyGirl

    July 31, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    Great article Alex, two points on why I think keeping Lee is a good idea:

    First: Trading Cliff Lee has historically not worked out for the team he leaves. Each time he was traded, Cle-Phi-Sea-Tex-Phi the team sending Lee didn’t receive squat in return. Remember when the Indians demanded Carasco in return for Lee? He now has a 17 ERA in the minors. WOOF!

    Second: I wouldn’t overlook the value of Cliff Lee mentoring our younger pitchers. Cliff Lee has continuously been promoted as a great mentor, this is an invaluable addition to our team.

    • Carlos Danger

      July 31, 2013 at 6:16 pm

      Good thoughts, but Lee really didn’t sign here to be a $25 million secondary pitching coach. He had expectations of pitching for a perennial contender. Judging by some of his quotes this season, he doesn’t sound like he’s enjoying the current state of the organization. Will he eventually approach management and ask to get out of here like Schilling did? It wouldn’t surprise me.

      • Chuck A

        July 31, 2013 at 8:29 pm

        I still think we can be a contender just got to get a little creative. Any team can be a contender as long as you get the lucky breaks and have the right team chemistry. Imagine if Doc didnt tear his rotator cuff, if Howard was just healthy, if Revere didnt get hurt.

        You never know. i say keep Charlie. I dont trust Sandberg there is a reason why he still hasnt become a manager and Bo Porter is a manager and Robin Ventura became a manager.

  14. Mikel

    January 2, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the pictures on this blog loading?
    I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if
    it’s the blog. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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