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The big hurdle in Cliff Lee trades

7/31/2012

As someone noted on Twitter on Monday, the Phillies' relationship with Cliff Lee has been like Ross and Rachel, or like something out of "90210." They get together; they break up; they get back together again; they break up.

To review: The Philadelphia Phillies made an aggressive trade to add Lee during the 2009 season, sending prospects to the Cleveland Indians to get him.

Then, that winter, after the Phillies came to believe that Lee wouldn't sign a reasonable long-term deal with them, they made an aggressive trade to get rid of him -- swapping him to the Seattle Mariners before speaking with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and other possible bidders. (None of the prospects the Phillies got in that deal have made a dent in the big leagues.)

Just one year later, in December 2010, the Phillies made another aggressive move to get Lee, giving him the second-highest annual salary ever for a starting pitcher as part of a five-year, $120 million deal. General manager Ruben Amaro told reporters he should've never let Lee get away.

But a year and a half later, as the Phillies deal with the squeeze caused by their collection of massive contracts, they are looking to move Lee to get some financial relief, and their level of investment in the left-hander has become the biggest hurdle to a breakup.

The Phillies' talks with the Texas Rangers on Monday broke down because of what they wanted from Texas -- presumably third baseman Mike Olt and others -- and because they weren't offering much salary relief.

Over the next three years, Lee will be the highest-paid player in the majors. He's owed about $10 million for the rest of this year and $87.5 million for 2013-15, including a staggering $12.5 million buyout of an option in 2016.

Lee, 33, is 1-6 with a 3.95 ERA, but evaluators believe that he's a better pitcher than he's shown, and there is interest in him. The question Tuesday, in the last hours leading up to the trade deadline, is whether the Phillies can cope with the cost of a divorce.

For example: Lee could fit other teams on paper, such as the Arizona Diamondbacks or St. Louis Cardinals, but Lee's $25 million salary would represent about one-third of the Diamondbacks' $75 million payroll. The Phillies presumably would have to eat a heaping helping of what Lee is owed to make a deal work.

Maybe that will happen Tuesday, or maybe not. The Phillies have been desperate to shed dollars, to get some kind of payroll relief. They are a wealthy franchise with lots of fan interest and an enormous TV contract on the horizon, but the Phillies, like the Yankees and Red Sox, are scraping against the ceiling of the luxury-tax cap, and there is a lot of pressure within the sport to paint between the lines.

All of this is creating another episode in the always interesting relationship between Lee and the Phillies.

The Phillies put up the For Sale sign, writes David Murphy. The Phillies are moving players, writes Jim Salisbury.

The Phillies are aiming to get a specific prospect in their trade talks for Joe Blanton. It's hard to imagine any reason the Baltimore Orioles would give up a young player they liked for any starting pitcher right now; plenty of second-tier starters are available.

Money could be an issue, writes Dan Connolly.

Trade talk

• The Atlanta Braves have set themselves up to be one of the big trade deadline winners, dealing for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson. Maholm is throwing really well right now, and he has an affordable $6.5 million option for 2013, and Johnson is a solid veteran with strong platoon numbers; Johnson has an .891 OPS versus lefties.

Maholm in Turner Field: five career starts, 32 innings, one homer allowed, 1.69 ERA. The pickups were a perfect fit, Frank Wren said. The Braves' trade is a really good one, writes Mark Bradley.

• The Rangers landed Geovany Soto on a day when Roy Oswalt was hammered. Texas has just hours left to add pitching.

• The Chicago Cubs made two deals and could make more.

Ryan Dempster thinks he could be next to go and says there's no friction between him and the team. Of course there is; Dempster and the Cubs haven't seen eye to eye about his situation.

• The Mariners made a couple of trades.

• The Los Angeles Dodgers continue to load up and added another pitcher.

• The Pittsburgh Pirates traded for a young, controllable outfielder.

• The Red Sox could be buyers and sellers. Ryan Sweeney, who had been among the players the Red Sox were talking about trading, hurt his hand punching a door. Josh Beckett had nothing for reporters, as they delved into the trade talks about him.

Scott Hairston, the target of a lot of interest, had a good day. You have to wonder if the San Francisco Giants will make a move for Hairston.

• The Indians are looking at 2013 and beyond as they make trades.

• The Toronto Blue Jays traded a couple of outfielders for pitching.

Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore tends to make deals right before the deadline, Bob Dutton writes.

• The Cardinals haven't found the right fit.

• The Tampa Bay Rays are unlikely to make major moves, writes Marc Topkin. They continue to be encouraged by Evan Longoria's progress.

Matt Reynolds and Rafael Betancourt continue to draw interest from other teams.

• This would not be a good time for the Giants to make a panic trade, writes Tim Kawakami.

• The Cincinnati Reds don't need to make a trade, writes Paul Daugherty. It would make sense for them to add a left-handed hitter, such as Juan Pierre or Lyle Overbay, who was designated for assignment by Arizona.

Elsewhere

Mike Trout has reached base 149 times in 80 games and has scored 78 runs. Kendrys Morales hit a couple of homers in the same inning.


From ESPN Stats & Info: Morales hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the sixth inning Monday. He's the third player in baseball history to do that, joining Mark Bellhorn (2002) and Carlos Baerga (1993). His second home run came batting right-handed, something Morales hasn't done a lot this season. In his limited at-bats from the right side, Morales has crushed fastballs and struggled against everything else (see chart).

• The Astros' bullpen melted down.

• The Marlins' pitching problems continued. Carlos Zambrano was sent to the bullpen. Big Z needs to reinvent himself -- find something -- or his career will be in jeopardy at age 31.

David Ortiz had an injury setback.

Mark Teixeira got hurt. If this is serious, you have to wonder whether the Yankees will work Tuesday to land a corner infielder.

• Robin Ventura had some tart words for his players: Clean it up.

Adam Lind landed on the DL with the rest of the organization (it seems).

• The Brewers' bullpen coach was fired.

Jaime Garcia is making his way back.

• The Chris Johnson acquisition paid off immediately for Arizona, which has gained eight games in the standings since late May, climbing from 11.5 games out to its current 3.5-game deficit.

• The Oakland Athletics pulled out another walk-off win, at a time when Billy Beane is looking to add a shortstop.

• The Reds will get Joey Votto back very soon. The Reds' winning streak ended, and now one of their players might face a suspension after making contact with an umpire.

July home run tracker awards

The following is from Evan Kaplan of ESPN Stats & Info (Note: These could change after games played on July 31.)

Cameron Maybin's 485-foot homer to left-center at Chase Field on July 2 is the longest home run hit this season. It is also the longest home run of Maybin's career and the second-longest home run hit at Chase Field since the beginning of ESPN Home Run Tracker in 2006. (Adam Dunn's 504-foot bomb on Sept. 27, 2008 is first.)

Wall-scraper of the month: Shortest true distance home run

July winner: Cody Ross, Red Sox (338 feet)

Ross hit an Addison Reed pitch into the monster seats for a walk-off home run on July 19 at Fenway Park. Ross' 338-foot homer is the longest home run to win the wall-scraper award this season, with the previous three going no more than 330 feet. It is Ross' shortest home run since he hit one 337 feet on May 1, 2008, off Hiroki Kuroda.

Moon shot of the month: Highest apex home run (or maximum height a homer reaches in flight)

July winner: Travis Hafner, Indians (154 feet)

Hafner's 363-foot home run off Ricky Romero on July 13 had an apex of 154 feet, making it the third-highest "moon shot" this season. The two home runs with higher apexes in 2012 were both hit in April: a 366-foot home run by Todd Helton on April 14 that had an apex of 162 feet, and a 419-foot bomb by Paul Goldschmidt on April 6 that reached a height of 156 feet.

Liner of the month: Lowest apex home run

July winners: Ryan Ludwick, Reds and Casey Kotchman, Indians (47 feet)

Ludwick and Kotchman share this month's "liner" award with an apex of 47 feet. Ludwick's 361-foot home run on July 14 was his lowest apex homer since the beginning of ESPN Home Run Tracker in 2006. Kotchman's 354-foot home run on July 4 also had an apex of 47 feet, the lowest at Progressive Field since 2010 (May 3, 2010, Travis Snider, 39 feet).

Fastball of the month: Home run with fastest speed off the bat

July winner: Garrett Jones, Pirates (116.6 mph)

It was only the eighth-fastest this season, but Jones won this month's award on July 29 when he hit a Lucas Harrell pitch 455 feet with a speed off the bat of 116.6 miles per hour. It is the fastest speed off the bat by a Pirates player since the 2007 season (Aug. 20, 2007, Josh Phelps, 121.0 mph).

• I'll get back to the regular format Wednesday; it's a nutty time.

And today will be better than yesterday.