The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part III—Sidelights

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Let’s look at the the Marlins-Blue Jays trade from the perspective of those affected by it, positively or negatively, and those who insert themselves into it.

Social media experts and critics

The self-proclaimed experts on social media reacted with shock and disdain not only that the Marlins did this, but that they didn’t get Travis d’Arnaud from the Blue Jays in the deal as if they knew who he was. He’s a recognizable name to them and nothing more; if they did see him, the vast majority of them wouldn’t know what they were looking at, nor would they be able to interpret his statistics to determine how truly viable a prospect he is. Perhaps the Marlins asked for him and the Blue Jays said no; perhaps the Blue Jays preferred the lower level players they got in the deal; or maybe the Marlins are happy with the young catcher Rob Brantly whom they acquired from the Tigers in the trade that also netted them Jacob Turner in exchange for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante.

To a lesser degree, it falls in line with fans watching games and reacting to strategies with descriptive histrionics like, “*FACEPALM*” when Jim Leyland plays Delmon Young regularly; or Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild choose leave Boone Logan in to pitch to a righty; or during the NFL draft when a guy sitting on his couch wearing his team’s jersey declares that he’d take Robert Griffin III over Andrew Luck and throws a fit when the opposite happens—the people actually doing the jobs know more than you do. For the guy on his couch, it’s a diversion; for the ones running the clubs, if they don’t make the correct (or at least explainable) decision, they’re going to get fired.

The media and the Marlins

The glaring response amid the outcry came from Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Unlike the Red Sox-Dodgers trade when Sherman made a fool of himself by turning that blockbuster salary dump by the Red Sox into another indictment of the Mets, he actually made some legitimate points with the following:

Yet this was a deconstruction the Marlins needed to enact. Their roster, as constructed, was a science project gone wrong. Now they have created a layer of young talent with all of these trades — in this latest deal, executives particularly like center fielder Jake Marisnick (some Jayson Werth comps) and lefty Justin Nicolino, and anyone who saw Henderson Alvarez pitch against the Yankees knows he has a big arm.

How much of this is based on deeply held beliefs and how much is another, more subtle shot at the Mets to be true to his narrative is known only to Sherman, but given his history it’s a contrarian viewpoint with a winking dig at the Mets more than a true belief that the Marlins did the right thing. But the fact remains that, overall, he’s right. They did do the right thing.

No one with a brain is shocked by this Marlins housecleaning

Ignoring the litany of lies and managers hired and fired by Jeffrey Loria, that the Marlins gave heavily backloaded contracts to Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle made them mid-season trade candidates in 2013 since their escalators kicked in by 2014. They chose to trade them now rather than wait and see. John Buck and Josh Johnson are both free agents after the 2013 season. Buck isn’t very good and Johnson was going to cost a fortune to re-sign. The charade of being built for the long haul was obvious with the Marlins from the start. The players knew what they were walking into when they didn’t get the valuable no-trade clauses and received guaranteed money they probably wouldn’t get elsewhere in exchange for the likelihood of being sent to a locale they would not have selected if they’d had a choice. Buehrle and Reyes are going to get paid; Johnson, if healthy, will receive a massive contract for his services.

The perception of chicanery and Loria’s blatant disregard for anyone other than Loria is what’s grating the masses. It would’ve been more palatable for observers—chief among them the politicians in Miami who pushed through the stadium deal and baseball itself—had the Marlins tried to win in 2013, but rather than further the sham, they pulled the trigger now. That it’s going to make/save more money for Loria is part of the equation.

The Marlins baseball people have always gotten the right names in their housecleanings. In some cases, it succeeded when they received Hanley Ramirez and Sanchez for Josh Beckett; in others, it didn’t as they received Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller as the centerpieces for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. This is the risk when trading for prospects. Getting talent is controllable; developing that talent is the variable. The Marlins foundation is young, cheap and quite good once we get past the messy way in which it was laid.

The rest of baseball

The balance of power has shifted drastically. The NL East was a monster before the 2012 season started, but the Phillies age caught up to them; the Mets weren’t as bad as expected; the Nationals took their leap faster than most anticipated; and the Marlins were a disaster. Now that they’ve gutted the place, the Marlins are widely expected to be a punching bag in 2013, but truth be told with a group of young players fighting for playing time and jobs, they’ll be at least as competitive as the 69-93 apathy-tinged monstrosity that played out the string for most of the summer.

The American League saw the balance of power shift East to West. While it was supposed to be a two-team race for supremacy between the Angels and Rangers, the Athletics stunned both by winning the division. The Mariners young pitching and money to spend will make them a darkhorse in 2013. The Tigers just signed Torii Hunter for their star-studded lineup. There’s no longer a waltz into the playoffs for 2-3 teams from the AL East.

The Yankees and Red Sox are in moderate to severe disarray with the Yankees having limited money to spend and now three teams in their division that have a rightful claim to being better than they are. The Red Sox purge excised the contracts of Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez. At the time it was an acknowledgement that the construction of the team wasn’t going to work and they intended to start over. It’s eerily similar to the situation the Marlins found themselves in, but the Marlins didn’t give it another try as the Red Sox did following their winter of 2010 spending spree and subsequent 2011 failure, and the Red Sox are going to take the money they saved and put it back into the team while the Marlins aren’t.

The Yankees have done nothing thus far in the winter and are trapped with contracts like that of Alex Rodriguez clogging up their arteries. Brian Cashman is getting what he wanted and learning that being the would-be genius isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He chafed at the notion that the Yankees teams he helped build were creatures of financial might and longed to be seen in the industry in the category of Billy Beane and Theo Epstein as architects of winning franchises under a budget and with intelligent acquisitions rather than raiders of resources for those that could no longer afford them. Well, he’s getting what he wanted and the results are not good. Under the mandate of getting the payroll down to $189 million by 2014, he can’t take on the contracts that the Blue Jays and Alex Anthopoulos just did. The pitchers he’d hoped to develop to provide low-cost production have either been mediocre or busts entirely. They’re waiting and hoping that Andy Pettitte returns and has another year in him; that Derek Jeter can recover from his ankle injury; that they get something from A-Rod; that Mariano Rivera can rebound from knee surgery at age 43; that Hiroki Kuroda will take a one-year deal to come back (he won’t); that they get something from Michael Pineda.

Do you really expect all of this to happen in a division made even tougher by the Blue Jays’ trades; the Orioles’ improvement; the Rays’ talent; and the Red Sox money to spend and determination to get back to their basics? The Yankees are in a worse position than the Marlins and even the Phillies were because if the season is spiraling in July of 2013, they’ll be trapped by those contracts and the fan anger that they won’t be able to make those conceding trades for the future. This is the team they have and the division they’re in and neither bode well.

Cashman wanted it and he got it. He’s so arrogant that it’s doubtful that he regrets it, but he should. And he will.

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Bobby Valentine—Sympathetic Figure?

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The Red Sox have done the impossible. They’ve made Bobby Valentine, one of the most polarizing people in baseball this side of Barry Bonds, into a sympathetic figure.

Valentine has not done a great job with the Red Sox this season, but, in an appropriate analogy, he walked in to the clubhouse trussed like a chicken about to be placed on the spit ready for the rotisserie. And rotisserie them they have.

As soon as he was hired it started with players complaining about him without even knowing him or considering that he might have mellowed from his time as Mets’ manager. It was never entertained that the players themselves were the ones who forced the club into dumping the laissez-faire Terry Francona and set the foundation for the hiring of Valentine.

Has Valentine mellowed? We don’t know because he was on the defensive immediately and instead of preparing to run the team, was spending much of his time negotiating the landmine-strewn clubhouse and having anything and everything he said and did turned into “evidence” that Valentine was still Valentine and the baggage he carts around like an unwanted appendage would sabotage his tenure before it began. If anything, he was being marinated for the roasting he’s experiencing now.

It does appear that the 10 years away from MLB and the 20 years away from managing in the American League have negatively affected his well-known (and self-pronounced) strategic wizardry. The game’s changed from the time Valentine last managed. With his reputation as a paranoid micromanager and cold, callous, vindictive personality combining with a spoiled clubhouse of enabled stars who feel entitled (Josh Beckett) or just want to be left alone (Adrian Gonzalez) among other self-involved people from the top of the Red Sox structure to the bottom, this arranged and forced marriage was doomed from the start. The excuses and lukewarm defenses aside, no one wants to hear Larry Lucchino blaming the “jaded and cynical media” for the club’s poor performance and unprofessional behaviors on and off the field.

What we’ve learned is that you can’t just pull in the reins and expect the new rules to be taken at face value without resistance from certain quarters. The players were allowed to do what they wanted as long as they won and if that meant the starting pitchers not pitching that day sat in the clubhouse eating and drinking beer, so be it. That type of activity isn’t isolated. Starting pitchers not pitching that day are pretty much left to their own devices (within reason) everywhere; Steve Carlton used to go in the clubhouse and sleep, for example. The Red Sox lost and Francona was blamed, so it became a “reason” when it really wasn’t. It didn’t matter when they won, so why should it matter when they lost?

The lack of discipline under Francona was actually an attractive aspect of the club as they were left to its own devices. “This guy will leave you alone and let you do your job.” When that was the case, it was a positive. When they began losing and Francona’s way was seen as a detriment, the players were essentially told, “You can’t behave when we treat you like adults, okay then, deal with Valentine.” But you can’t discipline the undisciplinable. Much like the strength and conditioning coaches—since dismissed in a purge—couldn’t force the likes of Beckett and John Lackey to adhere to a physical fitness program, what precisely was Valentine (or Lucchino or owner John Henry) supposed to do to stop the freefall that began long before Valentine arrived?

Injuries? Injuries happen when players are older and are no longer able to use *special means* to stay on the field; when they’re unwilling to take the extra steps to make sure they’re in shape to play every single day. Beckett and Jon Lester have pitched poorly and if they’d pitched as they have in the past, the Red Sox would be close to first place? You can look at any team that’s underachieving and find a reasons such as that. Or you can look at a team that’s playing well and wonder where they’d be if X player was doing Y. It’s a loser’s lament.

Joel Sherman, adhering to his daily template of baseball ignorant idiocy, suggests the Red Sox consider hiring Jason Varitek as the new manager in the event that Valentine is dismissed. The basis of this is that first time managers such as Robin Ventura, Mike Matheny and Don Mattingly have done well in their rookie managing seasons and that Varitek knows the terrain in Boston and is “respected” in the clubhouse. It’s a logical fallacy to think that because the new managers are doing well in the standings, then it would also work for the Red Sox. It’s also ignorant of the Red Sox issues as they stand now. Since they didn’t listen to Varitek in his waning days as a player and captain of the team (and was out-of-shape himself), it’s foolish to assume that they’re going to listen to him as manager.

The Red Sox want John Farrell? Is he going to fix things? The Blue Jays are again underachieving under Farrell and haven’t overcome similar injuries to those that have befallen the Red Sox. Even if Farrell is respected by the players and media, his strategic calls as Blue Jays’ manager haven’t been particularly impressive and it’s possible that the Blue Jays will be willing to part with him—if that’s the case, then buyer beware. My first question if the Blue Jays are open to letting him go (to a division rival no less!) would be to ask why.

Both Varitek and Farrell are examples of clinging to the past, placating the tantrum-throwing players and media, and haphazardly plastering over fundamental problems that have to be repaired correctly in order to move forward. They’re chasing championships as they did when they were legitimate contenders, but now they’re only speeding their descent and postponing the inevitable.

Buster Olney implies that the turmoil surrounding the Red Sox will prevent free agents from wanting to enter the cauldron. This is why it’s nonsensical to look at teams that are having issues and call them a permanent wasteland where players won’t want to go. It was only a year and a half ago when players wanted to go to the Red Sox because they paid well and the team had a chance to win. They were controversial and a target of media scrutiny, but it wasn’t as perceptively negative as it is now. Of course players aren’t going to want to go there when they have options.

It’s not about Valentine. This is going to get progressively worse unless the Red Sox make substantial changes to the clubhouse and I don’t mean in the manager’s office. It’s the players. Not the manager. And if anyone from Francona to Farrell to Varitek to Whitey Herzog, Dick Williams, John McGraw or Walter Alston were managing this group, they wouldn’t be any better than they are now.

If I were Valentine, I’d be keeping a diary of this season for a book because, barring a miracle, he’s not going to be back in 2013 to fulfill the second year of his contract and he can make a significant amount of money telling the world exactly what’s going on in that clubhouse and disintegrating organization. He can call it “Fifty Shades of Red” and refer to the players’ eyes from crying; the fans’ faces at their anger; the media’s fire stoking; the front office’s embarrassment; and the bloodletting that’s most assuredly on its way.

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General Manager is Not a Baseball Job, it’s a Political Office

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Fans of the Mariners should be very afraid if this story from Jon Paul Morosi is true.

Truth is, of course, relative. Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik might be following orders from ownership that Ichiro Suzuki is staying with the club no matter what; it might be that he’s saying things he knows aren’t true to keep the media sharks from following him and Ichiro around to ask what’s going to happen; or he could actually plan to keep a declining and old player as a centerpiece of his club on the field and in the lineup. In any case, it’s frightening and piggybacks on the Geoff Baker story from last week that said the Mariners have no intention of contending before 2015.

It’s stunning how the stat people who held Zduriencik as a totem for their beliefs abandoned him. No longer is he referred to as a “truly Amazin’ exec” who worked his way up through baseball in scouting and has embraced advanced stats to build his team. There’s no hope if they intend to move forward with Ichiro. Period.

All of this highlights the difficulty in being a GM in today’s game. Gone are the days when the name of the GM was only known because George Steinbrenner had just fired him. Do you know, without looking, who the GM of the Earl Weaver Orioles was? Or the “We Are Family” Pirates? Or the Red Sox in the 1970s?

No, you don’t. But if you don’t know the names of the GMs in today’s game then you’re not a real fan. It’s not a job anymore, it’s a political office. Not everyone is cut out to be a politician and by now Zduriencik is like a hamster running on a treadmill in some rich guy’s office. If it’s true that he believes Ichiro is still a “franchise player” then he should be fired.

If it’s true that upper management is telling him that Ichiro stays no matter what, he needs to say enough already with the interference and that he must be allowed to run the team correctly if he’s going to stay in the job.

Let’s say that he’s trying to take pressure off of Ichiro and the organization. If that’s the case, then he needs to learn to say the words, “We’ll address that at the end of the season but we have great respect for what Ichiro has accomplished here.”

Now if they do anything with Ichiro other than bring him back, Zduriencik’s inability to effectively play the game of lying without lying is even more reason why he shouldn’t be a GM.

There are the typical GMs and ex-GMs who are treated as idiots by outsiders who haven’t the faintest idea of how difficult a job it truly is. Dayton Moore is great at building farm systems but has proven wanting in making trades and signing free agents. Jon Daniels isn’t that far away from being considered an idiot after trading Adrian Gonzalez for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. Ken Williams—who’s won a World Series—had to endure all sorts of absurd criticisms for his management style last winter and now has a team in first place. And like a professional wrestler whose ring persona alternates from “heel” to “face” depending on what the company needs and which feud would bring in the most pay-per-view purchases, Billy Beane has the Moneyball “genius” rhetoric attached to him again because some of the young players he acquired last winter are playing well and manager Bob Melvin has the Athletics performing five miles over their heads.

Again, in spite of the Moneyball strategy no longer existing in the form in which it was presented, Beane is serving as validation for numbers above all else, reality be damned.

Which is it? Are they geniuses? Are they idiots? Are they politicians? Are they people trying to do a job that’s become impossible to do without angering someone?

Do you know?

What makes it worse is the “someones” they’re angering are either using them for personal interests or don’t have the first clue as to what they’re talking about.

If Jeff Luhnow thought he’d be safe from their wrath—unleashed behind the safety and anonymity of computer screens—he learned pretty quickly that he wasn’t. The idea of, “they believe what I believe” didn’t protect him from the poisonous barbs and accusations of betrayal from the everyday readers of Fangraphs when he chose to make Brett Myers his closer. Even the paper thin-skinned armchairiest of armchair experts, Keith Law, to whom Luhnow supposedly offered a job (although I don’t really believe he did) went after his would-be boss questioning the decision.

It’s easy to criticize when not responsible for the organization; when there’s no accountability and one has the option of never admitting they’re wrong about anything as a means to bolster credibility. This, in reality, does nothing other than display one’s weaknesses and lack of confidence. It’s no badge of honor to never make a mistake.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to be the “I’d do” guy. I’d do this. I’d do that. But would they “do” what they say they’d do? Or would they want to quit after one day? After one negative column from a former friend? After understanding that being a GM isn’t about making trades, signing players and being a hero, but about drudgery and having to use ambiguous phrasing to keep from saying anything at all?

Do you think a GM or an inside baseball person wants to hear criticisms from the likes of Joe Sheehan? From Law? From Joel Sherman? Could these media experts handle the job and the savagery to which a GM in today’s game is subjected every…single…day? They’d curl into the fetal position and cry.

I’d never, ever last more than a week as a GM because: A) I don’t have the patience to answer ridiculous and repetitive questions from reporters; B) I can’t play the game of giving nuggets that I know are lies or exaggerations to media outlets and bloggers in order to maintain a solid relationship with them and exchange splashy headlines for the stuff I want out there for my own benefit; and C) I’m incapable of placating an owner or boss to the degree where I lose credibility.

Whichever one Zduriencik is doing is grounds for a change.

There comes a time when enough’s enough and this Ichiro nonsense, to me, is it.

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Trade Felix Hernandez!

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At least that’s what Ken Rosenthal suggests in his latest posting on Fox Sports.

On the surface, it makes sense.

In that same vein, while it was self-serving, Yankee-centric and gutsy-when-it’s-not-his-neck-on-the-line, the proposed trades of Cliff Lee and Carlos Gonzalez from Joel Sherman (that I discussed in my prior posting) weren’t pure idiocy in theory—someone other than Sherman could make a coherent case for them if they weren’t wearing their Yankees footed pajamas while writing it anyway. They’re not going to happen and Sherman, in spite of his puffed out chest of what “he’d” do if he were a GM, wouldn’t have the nerve nor the intelligence to run a team, let alone run it correctly with the fearlessness he openly says he’d have.

But if a team was operating in a vacuum and if there weren’t other concerns like fan reaction; attendance; media response; and player perception, the Mariners would be better-served in the long-run to trade Felix Hernandez for 4 prospects including a big league-ready, blue chip bat.

The inherent problem being that a team isn’t run in a vacuum and the Mariners have been self-destructively cognizant of outside forces.

GM Jack Zduriencik has made some mistakes in his tenure; his reputation took a beating when the Yankees accused him of reneging on an agreed-upon trade for Lee in the summer of 2010; and he was clearly dishonest in his recollection of the circumstances surrounding the Mariners’ acquisition of the accused sex offender Josh Lueke from the Rangers. But he’s not to blame for Ichiro Suzuki still being on the club. He wasn’t at fault for the ignominious career closure of Ken Griffey Jr. And I’m starting to believe that the decried and silly re-acquisition of Russell Branyan in 2010 was more a byproduct of upper management telling him to “do something and I don’t care what it is” than an actual baseball maneuver.

I’m sure that Zduriencik would consider dealing Hernandez; that Hernandez would welcome a trade to a contender. It takes a toll on a great pitcher to constantly have to pitch shutouts to have a prayer of winning a few games. Hernandez’s record in 2012 is 4-5; in 2010-2011 he went 27-26. He won the Cy Young Award in 2010 with a 13-12 record when, if he were with a good team and pitched similarly, he would’ve won 25 games.

This season he should have around 8-9 victories.

As much as stat people try to diminish the importance of wins in the grand scheme, it matters to players to have a gaudy record. For every Brandon McCarthy who understands and tries to implement advanced stats, there will 10 players who think like Jeff Francoeur and say that on base percentage isn’t important because it’s not up on the scoreboard when hitters come up to the plate.

If available Hernandez would set off a feeding frenzy that would make a school of sharks stop and stare with stricken awe. He’s got a limited no-trade clause (10 teams) and is signed through 2014 with $18.5 million in 2012; $19.5 million in 2013; and $20 million in 2014. He’d want an extension if the Mariners try to trade him to a team on his no-trade list, but what would the Yankees give up for him? The Mets? The Dodgers? The Red Sox?

The Phillies’ problem with Cole Hamels’s pending free agency would be solved right there and then. Get Hernandez for the rest of this season and beyond; let Hamels walk.

Any team would want Felix Hernandez and the Mariners could get a ton for him.

But many times players’ desires and team on-field needs are far down on the list as to whether a trade is considered and consummated.

By those parameters and that the Mariners will lose one of their longtime gate attractions in Ichiro after this season makes it a practical impossibility that they trade Hernandez.

The only variable is if Hernandez asks for it. That would change the landscape just as Roy Halladay‘s trade request did for the Blue Jays. If it happens, it won’t be until the winter. It’s not a mid-season deal and the Mariners would need to start a press blitz to explain that it was Hernandez’s decision and not theirs.

It’s not just about baseball. It’s about PR as well.

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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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