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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Cliff Lee is Dealing, but Will He Be Dealt?

by: Chris Creighton
Follow him on Twitter @WarRoomPHLChris by clicking here
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That Cliffmas Feeling
Courtesy of the
Philadelphia Daily News
I remember how I could hardly sleep on that Thirteenth night of December 2010. Rumors were abound that something secretive was simmering on the MLB Hot Stove involving Cliff Lee, but the teams involved weren't 100% clear. The Rangers, Yankees and Angels were all obvious suitors with suitcases stuffed with sawbucks, but a buzz was a-buzzing. You see, a mystery team was now in the hunt and with a belly full of butterflies, somehow I knew it was the Phillies as my head hit the pillow. Cliff Lee was about to come home and for the first time since my early childhood, I awoke the next morning at 5:00 am without the help of an alarm to read the news. Cliffmas had, indeed, come early to Philadelphia.

It's hard to believe that here we are today in July 2013 reading, tweeting and talking about the Phillies possibly trading away the same guy who we'd have labeled forever as "untouchable", even after a disappointing, hard-luck 2012 campaign. No one--not even Ruben Amaro--would never trade away Cliff Lee twice, right? Don't be so sure. The Phillies GM is no stranger to trading away fan favorites as was the case last year when he sent Shane Victorino to Los Angeles and Hunter Pence to the Giants. However, 2012 was a lost season for the Phillies well before the trading deadline, this time the writing may not be so clearly written on the wall for Amaro to see until the 11th hour on July 31st.

Cliff Lee 2012 vs. 2013
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 7/3/2013.

Phillies GM, Ruben Amaro
Courtesy of
So, while Lee is putting together a rather impressive season on the hill, the Phillies are struggling to string together enough wins to keep them in legitimate contention in the National League East. As I've said here before, they are still within a decent streak's chance to remain relevant. With history on the Phillies' side as being a strong second-half team over the last several seasons, Amaro finds himself lingering in that general manager's grey area of whether to continue to fish for a playoff spot or cut bait. Certainly time is a-wasting and any one of the contending teams would love to have a legitimate Cy Young contender like Lee with sound playoff credentials.

Cliff Lee: Career Playoffs
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 7/3/2013.

Where will Lee be in 2013-14?
courtesy of Bleacher Report
Sending Cliff Lee packing (again) would obviously be an attempt to shed most of his salary as he will earn $25 million per season through 2015 with a vesting option of $27.5 million in 2016, when he'll be 37 years old. If they were to pull the trigger on a deal, the Phillies would probably still be sending paychecks to Lee's new address over the next few years as there are very few teams who can take on his entire salary.

Lee does have leverage as Amaro would need his consent to waive his no-trade clause which currently can block a deal between the Phillies and 20 different MLB teams. Interesting to note that while Lee holds veto power to play for the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers, one team not listed in his no fly zone is the St. Louis Cardinals. While starting pitching prospects would be the primary position at which Amaro would focus, the Cardinals do have one of the top future stars in Oscar Taveras, who could be a RF option in 2014 for the Phillies GM, who tends to shy away from the term "rebuilding".

In my opinion, with Roy Halladay still a question mark for this season and possibly his career, Amaro may need to hold onto Cliff Lee in order to begin the 2014 season as part of a one-two punch along with Cole Hamels. With the cupboard currently bare down on the farm and the uncertainty of Halladay's future, any trade involving Lee would need to be for nothing less than two top pitching prospects in return. With the exception of Philadelphia area native Jesse Biddle showing significant promise as a projected top-3 starter, there are very few pitchers worth a look to join the big club next season. Biddle's time may not come until 2015.

Ultimately, it will be the players on the field who will determine the destiny of some of their high-priced veteran teammates. Players like Lee, Utley and Jimmy Rollins will see their names tossed around the rumor mill with only one way to stop it from turning: win.

Stay tuned for Friday: Trading Chase Utley


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