The big hurdle in Cliff Lee trades
July, 31, 2012
By Buster Olney | ESPN Insider
Howard Smith/US PresswireThe Phillies could find a trade partner for Cliff Lee, but they would have to eat a lot of salary.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.
• 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.
• 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.