MLB Trade Deadline: A Phillies Selloff Makes No Sense

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The discussion of a possible Phillies selloff is promoted by the media for the idea that some of the sexiest potential trade targets are on their roster, namely Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon. Unless Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is blown away by an offer, Lee’s not going anywhere. Papelbon is the name to watch, but he’ll get them financial relief and won’t yield a bounty of prospects in return. Apart from that, the Phillies’ situation—both financially and practically—has to be examined before stating with unequivocal certitude of what they “should” do while not being in Amaro’s position.

The Phillies are not a good team and it’s not due to injuries or age. It’s because they’re not very good. They would’ve been a good team if they had Roy Halladay pitching in the form he did in his first two years in Philadelphia, but he’s not that anymore even if he’s healthy. If Halladay was healthy, they’d be mediocre and nominal playoff contenders. With the Braves and Nationals in their own division and the Pirates (who are for real), the Cardinals and Reds in the Central division, snagging one of the two Wild Cards is a delusion for the Phillies in their current state. Ordinarily, that might predicate a housecleaning of pending free agents and marketable veterans. But it again returns to the Phillies’ situation and it leaves them with few options.

Because the Phillies went all-in in 2010 when they were, on paper, playing the same way they are now and traded for Roy Oswalt to spur a blazing hot streak over the final two months of the season, there’s a dreamy hope that they’ll repeat the process in 2013. The difference is that they don’t have any prospects left to trade for a pitcher of Oswalt’s stature and the rest of their club isn’t underperforming, but is performing what they’re currently capable of because they’re beaten up and old.

They can move Michael Young and I think they will, but they’re not going to get much for him. They can offer Chase Utley around, but he’s a pending free agent and despite the fact that a new setting and a legitimate pennant race will wake him up and possibly revert him to the MVP-status he enjoyed during the Phillies years of NL East dominance, teams won’t go crazy for a rental and give up the prospects to justify the Phillies not keeping Utley, trying to sign him to a reasonable deal to stay or letting him leave and taking the draft pick compensation. Delmon Young might be a reasonable acquisition for an AL club that is going to be in the playoffs so he can DH and do one thing he does well: hit in the playoffs. Carlos Ruiz is a free agent at the end of the year and he too would help a legitimate contender, but again, they won’t get bring back stud prospects.

That leaves Lee and Papelbon.

I don’t believe the Phillies are going to trade Lee. It doesn’t make sense considering the rest of the roster being entrenched in trying to win over the next couple of years while the club begins rebuilding their gutted farm system that was neglected as the available money for development was allocated for the big league product. Teams that do what the Phillies did in trading all their top prospects to try and win now and simultaneously ignore the draft know they’re mortgaging the future with a balloon payment. That balloon payment is due soon and they’re going to have to pay it.

Amaro is not going to do a full-blown rebuild because he can’t afford to have an empty park waiting five, seven, ten or however many years it takes for the team to be good again. It’s easier to hope that they’ll get a resurgence with the veterans under contract and slowly start resuscitating their minor league system. Realistically, what would they get for Lee? He has a limited no-trade clause so there are only eight teams to which he can be traded and he’s owed $62.5 million through 2015 not counting his salary for the rest of 2013. To get viable prospects to make the deal worth the Phillies’ while, they’d have to pick up a chunk of his money. To get out from under his full salary, they’d have to take nothing back in return. Then what? They’d need pitching for next year to try and win with the players they still have with none as good as Lee on the market. So it makes no sense to even speculate about in any manner other than to garner attention for something that’s highly unlikely to happen during the season.

As for Papelbon, he’s one name who could help a club like the Tigers who need a closer. He could put them over the top and for the Phillies, he’s replaceable if they’re not in the playoff hunt. He doesn’t appear happy in Philadelphia, they don’t seem to like him very much and getting rid of his salary for a couple of mid-level minor leaguers would appeal to everyone. If they’re out of the race in the second half, they could give Phillippe Aumont a look as the closer and after the season go the cheap (and ironic) route and bring back Ryan Madson who, by then, might not have thrown one pitch for another team after leaving the Phillies only to return two years later to have a shot to be the closer again.

The idea behind trade deadline speculation is to formulate a clear-cut scenario of either/or. Either we’re in it and we buy or we’re out of it and we sell. That comes from the Moneyball school of thought with no obstacles other than financial, but that’s fiction just like Moneyball. The Rays can get away with that kind of attitude. The teams with fans who pay to see the team and live and breathe with the idea that they could possibly challenge for a World Series in spite of the odds—the Phillies, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers—can’t do it that easily. The Phillies won’t sell. They’ll tweak. That means Papelbon will be the one of the whales to go and Lee will stay.

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Cliff Lee—Desperately Seeking A Win?

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Where is this headed? Are the Phillies, so desperate to get Cliff Lee a victory on the season, going to insert him into a blowout as a reliever after four innings to get him a win?

Lee, with a Cy Young Award and post-season dominance on his resume, is being roasted because he hasn’t won a game yet in 2012?

Who cares?

The Phillies and Lee have bigger problems than to worry about the constant harping on whether or not Lee has a “W” next to his name. This is not a veteran hanging on trying to get his 300th career win; nor is it a pitcher who should be concerned about what’s said by outsiders who still equate the “W” with success or failure.

The “win” has received scrutiny in recent years and while it needs to be placed into context how a pitcher accumulates his total, it’s not something to be ignored entirely. It matters to the participants. It’s only in the past few seasons that a pitcher like Felix Hernandez or Tim Lincecum were able to gain their deserved Cy Young Awards because of advanced stats and that there are voters willing to look at something other than the pitcher who won 23 games vs the one who won 16.

That still doesn’t prevent the argument that Justin Verlander didn’t deserve the MVP award last season because the Tigers would’ve found “any” pitcher (conveniently unnameed) to fill in for Verlander and they would’ve won the division regardless.

This argument is ignorant of the Tigers’ early season struggles and that it was Verlander who carried them when they were stumbling around. Only when they made mid-season acquisitions of Delmon Young and Doug Fister; when Joaquin Benoit began pitching the way they expected; and when the Indians came apart did the Tigers take off and run away with the division. Without Verlander they wouldn’t have been in position to do so.

So there are mitigating factors in all statistics, awards and attempts to analyze.

Because Lee doesn’t have any wins doesn’t mean he’s having a “bad” year. It doesn’t mean the Phillies should put him on the trade block.

His contract owes him $87.5 million after this season and he has a 10 team no-trade list. The teams that could afford that contract and surrender the prospects to get him presumably are on the no-trade list because a veteran pitcher isn’t going to want to go to a place that could pay him more money and would be getting him at a discount over the short term. Lee made clear during his free agency that he wants nothing to do with the Yankees.

Ruben Amaro Jr. is not going to do that to him again and wouldn’t get anything more than prospects to add to a club that is still loaded with immovable long-term deals for veterans. The Phillies are what they are and a rebuild or retool on the fly is not on the table.

Lee hasn’t won any games this season because the Phillies’ offense has been unproductive; the bullpen has been shaky; and Lee has allowed runs late in games to sabotage himself. If the Phillies were the Phillies of years past, Lee would have 4-6 wins.

Would that make it all better?

He’s pitched poorly in his last two starts and for someone as mentally tough and impervious to pressure as Lee, it appears as if the talk of him “needing” a win is getting into his head.

That’s only going to make things worse and compound an issue that isn’t an issue for him to worry about or affect him at all.

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The Cliff Lee Trade Rumor Factoid

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The Phillies are not trading Cliff Lee.

Get it?

If that means they’re not going to be able to keep Cole Hamels, so be it.

Is this even a rumor or is it a viral bit of nonsense that started with the crown prince of tabloid buffoonery Joel Sherman in his Sunday column?

In that piece Sherman naturally suggested Lee go to…the Yankees.

Shocking.

In that same column, Sherman also wants the Yankees to make a move on Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies.

Anyone else Joel?

How about the Yankees just take R.A. Dickey with them when they visit Citi Field this weekend? That Andrew McCutchen is something special, why not him? Justin Verlander? Matt Cain? Bryce Harper? Yu Darvish? Aroldis Chapman? Shouldn’t they all be Yankees? And if the Yankees don’t need them, so what? It’s not enough to have a $200 million payroll and stars at every position. Perhaps they can put an auxiliary team in reserve so the regulars–Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, CC Sabathia–can have preplanned vacations during the season. Or they can take the entire season off! “Just show up for game 1 of the World Series CC. Earn your money then.”

It’s the stuff of a thousand Mike Francesa hang-ups.

Sherman is the tabloid editor’s dream. Whereas most writers are told to write certain stories and include information that may not be relevant or accurate in the interest of drumming up webhits and clicks to increase advertising dollars, Sherman does it on his own and he does it better. Or worse, depending on your point-of-view.

But, as is my wont, I disappoint with evenhanded reality.

If the Phillies have to make the choice between Lee and Hamels, the financial and practical decision favors keeping Lee. Hamels is going to ask for somewhere in the vicinity of $140-$170 million after this season and the Phillies have to draw the financial line somewhere. Hamels has been worked hard as he’s heading for his fifth straight season of 200+ innings and playoff work. It’s a big risk signing him for 6-8 years at the dollars he’s looking for.

Lee is signed. He’s been mostly durable and is locked in through 2015 with a 2016 option. He’s guaranteed $87.5 million after this season. Who’s taking that contract? No one. Not even the Yankees.

The Phillies, without Hamels and with a rotation fronted by Roy Halladay, Lee, Vance Worley and whichever pitchers they sign or trade for to replace the departed Hamels, are still good enough to contend in a world of two Wild Cards. This is not a situation where the Phillies are going to trade Lee and replenish the farm system for the “future”. They tried that. It didn’t work. They’re going to turn around and do it again?

Without explicitly saying it, the Phillies admitted the mistake of trading Lee in two ways. First they acquired Roy Oswalt at mid-season 2010, then they re-signed Lee after the 2010 season.

Let’s suspend absurdity for a second and say the Phillies do trade Lee. Is any top-tier free agent going to want to sign with the Phillies without a full no-trade clause to protect them from Ruben Amaro Jr’s lies, schemes and desperation deals that would be evident if he traded Lee a second time?

And what of Hamels? If he hasn’t signed an extension when the Phillies trade Lee, how tight of a grip is he going to have on the club’s collective throats? They’ll have to pay him whatever he wants because if he leaves they won’t have him or Lee.

Then what?

So it’s not happening. Lee’s not getting moved.

It’s foolish. It’s nonsense. It’s fabricated.

It’s Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

Reader beware.

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