Historical Comparisons for Hypothetical Lee Trade – Phillies Nation

Historical Comparisons for Hypothetical Lee Trade

A Lee trade would be one of the first of its kind.

Ah, do you feel that? The trade wins are a blowin’. Fresh off a rehab start cut short by rain, Cliff Lee‘s name has begun to pop up in hypothetical trade scenarios. Lee’s value is clouded by all sorts of variables: is his elbow OK? How much money will the Phillies eat? He has been traded as an elite starting pitcher three times and all three returns were horrendous, what gives?

Ok, the last statement isn’t as much a variable as it is a matter of fact. Let’s acknowledge the elephants in the room: in hindsight, and even at the times of the trades, Lee was traded three times for below-average talent. The Phillies acquired Lee for what amounted to a reserve infielder, a fourth starter, a back-up catcher, and a fireballing starter that missed a few years of professional baseball and just returned to pro ball this year. Then, the Phils dealt Lee to Seattle for what amounted to a control-challenged reliever, a really bad reliever, and an outfielder whose on the field and off the field issues were just too much to handle. Finally, Seattle dealt Lee to Texas for what amounted to a below-average first baseman, a fifth starter, and someone I would prefer not to acknowledge based on his transgressions.

Lee commanded those hauls at a time when his value was much higher: in 2009, Lee was coming off a Cy Young win and then was traded twice after winning four postseason games for the Phillies, including a complete game in Game 1 of the World Series. Lee was a much younger man, traded twice at 30, once at 31, and had no (recent) arm issues. Oh, and he was a lot cheaper. A lot, lot cheaper. The Phillies got Lee for a pro-rated $6 million and then dealt Lee while he was making only $9 million. Lee is now 35 and makes $25 million per year through 2015 with a $27.5 million dollar vesting option/$12.5 buyout in 2016. Yikes.

When doing a historical comparison for trading Burnett yesterday, I was able to find some deals to compare a hypothetical to and the results weren’t pretty. At least I found them – a trade of a pitcher of Lee’s caliber at Lee’s price tag at Lee’s age would be borderline unprecedented. The closest historical result I could find was the Dodgers trading a 39-year old Kevin Brown to the Yankees in December 2003. At the time of the trade, Brown had two years at $15+ million left on his deal. At the time, it was the seventh-largest per-year salary in the NL; Lee currently has the second largest. Brown had had some injury concerns in 2002 but bounced back and became an unexpected All-Star in 2003.

Brown was dealt from the Dodgers to the Yankees for Brandon Weeden, yes, the professional quarterback was a solid A-ball pitcher and former second round pick, along with 28-year old reclamation project Yhency Brazoban, who would not reach the Major Leagues with the Yankees, and former top pitching prospect Jeff Weaver, who at age 26, was about to be bumped up to a $6+ million deal in arbitration.  In the end, the Dodgers essentially cleared $9 million in payroll for 2004 and a virtual $6 million in 2005 due to Weaver’s arbitration raises. They received a well-regarded but underperforming young starter who was rapidly getting more expensive, a lottery ticket arm that did not pan out, and a reliever that never pitched for them.

The only other close comparison is the November 2003 deal that sent Curt Schilling to the Red Sox for Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, and Jorge De La Rosa but even this trade is much different. Sure, Schilling is one of Lee’s top comparables through age 35 according to Baseball Reference but Schilling was making 33% less than Brown at a time when a $5 million difference was a lot and was certainly more durable. Fossum was already a fifth starter at age 26 when traded while Lyon showed some promise to be a closer of the future at a time when closers were overpriced. De La Rosa was traded two days later to Milwaukee where he became a fourth starter.

There have other comparable players traded, like when Mike Flanagan, a similar late bloomer to Lee, was dealt in 1987 for Jose Mesa but the similarities end at the player. Flanagan was making only $625 K, a fair salary but not among the Majors’ most expensive, when he was dealt for the then-starter Jose Mesa. Mesa showed exceptional promise in the minors but a large reason the Orioles netted Mesa in return was because Flanagan was affordable. Similarly, John Candelaria, at age 35 and of similar ilk to Lee in his career to that point, was dealt in 1989 for Mike Blowers in a pretty fair trade but the Candy Man was only making $800 K for 1989 and on a one-year pact. The next year, Candelaria was dealt again at an even more affordable $500 K and netted the Twins Nelson Liriano and Pedro Munoz who both became steady ballplayers.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, there are no historical comparisons that quite line up to what they have with Lee on their hands and Lee has already been dealt three times without landing any sort of huge return. All three teams went for quantity over quality at times when each team had better options available. Historically, no player of Lee’s cost, age, and injury history has been dealt but there have been instances where it has been close.

If I had to guess a hypothetical return for the Phillies, I would bet the Phillies would take on a bad contract in return plus they’d have to eat a large part of Lee’s contract. After that step was complete, they would likely have to settle for an A-ball, non-top 100 arm and some sort of fringe team top-10 prospect from their trade partner’s system. In a lot of ways, think of the return for Hunter Pence except amplify the money heading with Lee and think someone less well regarded than Tommy Joseph. At that point, is a trade even worth it?



  1. Scotty Ingerton

    July 8, 2014 at 11:39 am

    The more of Lee’s salary that the Phillies pick up, the less of a historical comparison there is to be made. Lee’s injury is the killer, I think he needs to finish the rest of the season pitching well and healthy and then traded over the winter.

  2. George

    July 8, 2014 at 11:54 am

    Lee isn’t helping the situation by stating that there still seems to be something different with his elbow even though he feels great and has no problems throwing. Who in his right mind is going to trade for a player who admits his elbow isn’t normal? who’s crazy enough to exchange a real prospect for a pitcher with an elbow that could be on the verge of disintegrating?

    I agree that no one will be interested unless he shows that he can still pitch effectively over the entire remainder of the season. And at age 36, no other team will be taking a big chance by offering a really good prospect for him even if he’s still pitching well at year’s end.

  3. Scotty Ingerton

    July 8, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    This dude is much more optimistic: http://www.nj.com/phillies/index.ssf/2014/07/phillies_trade_rumors_cliff_lees_possible_landing_spots.html

    I still think they need to wait until the offseason and pick up at least $30 million of the remaining $37.5 million (25 + 12.5 buyout) to get anything of value back.

    • Ian Riccaboni

      July 8, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      With all due respect to Matt, there is no way any of those deals are happening, particularly any of the Blue Jays deals. What a lot of folks are missing in the A’s deal setting up the market is that Samardzija is a rental and six years younger while Hammel is also a rental and four years younger. There’s no long-term financial commitment and Samardzija is a better pitcher right now than Lee is without the injury history.

      Yes, the market was set high for starting pitching but Samardzija and Hammel will make a combined $5.50 million through the end of the year before they get paid and Samardzija almost certainly will be offered a QA and decline, netting the A’s a pick. The same can’t be said about Lee’s situation.

      • schmenkman

        July 8, 2014 at 2:03 pm

        At first I read “a better pitcher right now” to mean better this season, and that’s highly debatable since Lee has the lower FIP, xFIP, and SIERA.

        But you must mean due to the uncertainty regarding how Lee will do when he returns from his rehab, which makes a lot of sense.

      • Ian Riccaboni

        July 8, 2014 at 2:37 pm

        Words were jumbled there, but yes, I meant with the injury concerns, I put Shark ahead of Lee.

      • George

        July 8, 2014 at 3:47 pm

        Having been traded mid-season, Samardzija would be exempt from a qualifying offer this season. Oakland would gain nothing.

      • mad_J

        July 9, 2014 at 2:37 am

        @George: Samardzija is under team control for 2015 as well. So he won’t become a free agent until after the 2015 season and then is eligible to receive a qualifying offer.

  4. Lefty

    July 8, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Ian, The answer to your question as posed, is absolutely no in my mind. I think Scotty I. has the right idea. I think the best thing is to wait until fall after Lee can -hopefully- pitch a decent number of good games and prove his health. I understand that a part of his salary has to be paid, but I wouldn’t trade him for a garbage/mediocre prospect. (again)

    • Ian Riccaboni

      July 8, 2014 at 2:38 pm

      I think if healthy next season, he could be a larger commodity. The risk you run there is do you trade him for a C-level haul or take the risk to see if he holds up and you can get a B minus-level haul next year.

  5. Hogey's Role

    July 8, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    What about sending cliff back to Seattle, hopefully for a better return this time… They are playing good baseball and just spent a lot of money this offseason, if they’re in win now mode and we eat some money, maybe we can get a deal done

  6. Scotty Ingerton

    July 8, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    • Lefty

      July 8, 2014 at 4:50 pm

      I’m usually in lockstep with Murohy, but to not consider the Yankees as a major buyer for pitching after the injuries they’ve had?

      • Lefty

        July 8, 2014 at 4:56 pm

        Should have mentioned that McCarthy is hardly a replacement for CC. They’ll need more to compete in that division.

  7. Scotty Ingerton

    July 8, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    …ever the antagonist, Missanelli wasted little time making small talk and lobbing softballs, and dove right into the hard-hitting questions.

    “I gotta ask you straight up: how could you not have anticipated that these guys would play like this when all the statistics would indicate that they would play like this?”

    That brief moment of clarity, however, was followed immediately by one of the more undignified portions of the interview.

    “You’re out of line because you’re uninformed, Mike.”

    “Well, I look at the standings, and you’re in last place, Ruben.”



    • Chuck A.

      July 8, 2014 at 4:32 pm

      That was a great interview. Maybe Missanelli is an antagonist….but he was completely justified in boring into Ruben like he did. And Ruben, for his part, was completely out of line calling Missanelli “uninformed”.

      Great radio drama on a lazy, hot midday afternoon.

      • Ken Bland

        July 8, 2014 at 6:32 pm

        I agree. In fact, via the magic of replay, and the chance to digest it, I don’t consider it drama, just a real pressing interview. And Ruben said some typically smooth, but stupid things. He’s too hot to trot on older players and the ability to sustain.

        Score a plus in Missanelli’s column. Good pressure.

    • Lefty

      July 8, 2014 at 4:47 pm

      Ruben Amaro Jr. is in charge of managing all personnel involved with the Phillies, and therefore responsible for the mess the team finds itself in right now. He is also a public spokesman that has to answer any and all press inquiries, fair or not.

      That said-
      I don’t like anything about that a-hole Missanelli, and most of the time he does spout off uninformed. Not this time, but most of the time.

      I specifically had to go at him once when he insisted that Cole Hamels “people” told him that Hamels would not discuss his upcoming contract extension during the season. He wrote back to me, and told me I was an A-hole who knew nothing, and didn’t have his sources. I told him I didn’t need his sources because Hamels publicly stated that he/ his agent would discuss the extension during the season. Of course Hamels did eventually sign the extension during the season.

      I don’t like Amaro’s performance in his job, I don’t like Missanelli, period.

    • schmenkman

      July 8, 2014 at 4:50 pm

      Yep, Missanelli IS uninformed (and woefully so compared to someone like Ian, for example), but he’s usually entertaining, and that’s his main objective.

      • Ian Riccaboni

        July 8, 2014 at 6:26 pm

        Thank you, Schmenkman. Entertaining is a perfect word for Mike, too. That hard exterior comes off quickly and he is a kind man with his time.

    • schmenkman

      July 8, 2014 at 4:55 pm

      Missanelli, in particular, was way off on Utley and Rollins.

      Utley has been the 5th best 2B in MLB this year, and 2nd best in the NL.
      Rollins has been the 8th bes SS in MLB this year, and 6th best in the NL.

      Both have been “very productive”.

      The old guys are not the issue, and it’s kind of baffling that that’s what MM chose to pound on.

      • schmenkman

        July 8, 2014 at 4:55 pm

        (other than Howard, clearly)

      • Scotty Ingerton

        July 8, 2014 at 5:38 pm

        They both seem to be fading though. It’s a long season.

        Rollins OPS: April .710 May .800 June .643 July .468
        Utley OPS: April .978 May .830 June .616 July .656

      • schmenkman

        July 8, 2014 at 5:43 pm

        Mikey wasn’t making a full year projection (wisely). Rollins at least is historically a second half player.

  8. bacardipr05

    July 8, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    I think it will be prudent to keep at least one of these Aces around. Partly for the remaining fans enjoyment. I be honest i didnt think the Phils would be so bad. I thought Howard would have some thing of a bounce back year. Do we trust Rube handling a trade at this point. I think we have no choice.

  9. Bob D

    July 8, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    If no decent offer comes in then hold on to him and if they wish trade in December or just keep Lee around.

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