Pat Gillick landing Brad Lidge from the Houston Astros during the November 2007 General Manager’s Meetings turned out to be one of the most important acquisitions in franchise history. Lidge would go 48 for 48 in saves for the 2008 Phillies, including striking out Eric Hinske of the Tampa Bay Rays to clinch the Phillies second World Series title.
Ed Wade – who was the Astros general manager at the time of the trade, but had spent 1998-2005 in the same role in Philadelphia – says the Astros had a second offer that could have drastically changed Phillies history if accepted.
During NBC Sports Philadelphia’s “World Champions: The Story of the ’08 Phillies” documentary Sunday, Wade said that the Astros discussed a second trade for Lidge. That trade involved the Astros landing Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians.
While the Astros did net a package highlighted by Michael Bourn – who made one of his two All-Star appearances as a member of the Astros – Lee unquestionably would have been a better acquisition.
Like Lidge, Lee had a disastrous 2007 season. In 20 games, 16 of which were starts, Lee posted a 6.29 ERA in 2007. He even spent time at Triple-A. Two years after posting a 3.8 fWAR and winning 18 games, Lee wasn’t on the Indians postseason roster when they blew a 3-1 ALCS lead to the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
Lee, of course, remained with the Indians for the 2008 season. In his age-29 season, Lee went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA, a 2.83 FIP and a 6.7 fWAR. The Indians were forced to trade impending free-agent CC Sabathia that summer, but it was an easier pill to swallow with Lee ultimately winning the American League Cy Young Award.
The next summer, with Lee eligible for free-agency after the 2009 season, the Phillies acquired him from the Indians for Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp. Lee went 7-4 with a 2.83 FIP in 12 regular season starts in 2009. In the postseason, Lee was dominant for the Phillies, starting the NLDS off with a complete game against the Colorado Rockies. He then started wins in Game 4 of the NLDS and Game 3 of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As the Phillies looked to defend their World Series title, Lee opened up the series by pitching a dominant Game 1 complete game against the Yankees. The Phillies didn’t win the series – a down-year from Lidge in 2009 was one of the reasons the Phillies weren’t able to repeat – but they most likely wouldn’t have returned there without Lee. He also started both of their World Series wins.
After the season, the Phillies traded Lee to the Seattle Mariners, while acquiring Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays. Halladay had made his preferences known at the time of the 2009 non-waiver trade deadline that he hoped to be moved to Philadelphia. The Phillies, unwilling to part with at least Kyle Drabek at that time, pivoted and acquired Lee. Had Lee been dealt to the Astros prior to 2008, he likely wouldn’t have been traded to the Phillies in 2009, so the Phillies probably would have ultimately parted with the necessary prospects to acquire Halladay in July of 2009 instead of December of 2009.
Lee became a free-agent after the 2010 season, ultimately choosing to return to the Phillies and join Halladay, Cole Hamels and the since-acquired Roy Oswalt. The Phillies won a franchise-record 102 games in 2011. While they weren’t able to win the World Series, one of the most dominant rotations in baseball history pitched the Phillies to one of the most magical seasons in franchise history. If Lidge had been traded to the Indians for Lee prior to the 2008 season, that almost certainly wouldn’t have happened. And who knows if Philadelphia would even be celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 World Series title right now.