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Keeping Cliff Lee is the wrong choice for Phillies

Jul 31, 2013, 2:56 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets Getty Images

Trends don’t get much more clear than this:

2008: Won World Series
2009: Lost World Series
2010: Lost NLCS
2011: Lost NLDS
2012: Missed playoffs

Now, that’s not entirely fair: the Phillies had their best records in that span in 2011 and 2010. But Charlie Manuel’s team has dropped off severely since then. In 2012, the Phillies finished at .500. They’ll be lucky to get back there this year; not only are they 50-56 at the moment, but their run differential (-74) is better than only Miami’s in the NL.

A rebuild seems necessary, but GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is resisting. His idea of going young was acquiring Michael and Delmon over the winter. The Phillies were reportedly open to trading Cliff Lee, but they priced him so high as to make that impossible. If they keep Lee and re-sign Chase Utley, here’s what they currently look for 2014:

SP: Lee – 35 – $25 million
SP: Cole Hamels – 30 – $22.5 million
SP: Kyle Kendrick – 29 – $4.5 million

??: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez – 27 – $8 million (approx.)

RP: Jonathan Papelbon – 33 – $13 million
RP: Mike Adams – 35 – $7 million
RP: Antonio Bastardo – 28 – $2.5 million (approx.)

1B: Ryan Howard – 34 – $25 million
2B: Utley – 35 – $13 million (approx.)
SS: Jimmy Rollins – 35 – $11 million
OF: Domonic Brown – 26 – $600,000 (approx.)
OF: Ben Revere – 26 – $1.8 million (approx.)

That’s a $134 million foundation, and not a particularly good one. Unless the newly signed Gonzalez shows something in this next couple of months and proves he’s ready to occupy a rotation spot, the Phillies will still be in need of a one starting pitcher, a catcher and an outfielder. They do have the option of bringing back John Lannan for $4 million or so. They could also try sticking with Jonathan Pettibone as their fifth starter and filling third base from within.

But Amaro is going to have to pull off far better signings than he has of late if he hopes to turn the Phillies back into contenders in 2014. He will have financial flexibility even with all of those commitments. Perhaps the best defense for going that route is that Amaro doesn’t seem like a very good candidate to pull off a successful rebuild, either.

I’ve heard one explanation for the high price for Lee is that the Phillies know they can just as easily trade him a year from now. But that just delays the inevitable and probably leaves them wallowing in mediocrity for another year. Why wait?

  1. peopletrains - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    Keeping anyone at this point beyond Revere and Brown is pointless. They should sell, big time.

  2. flamethrower101 - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:01 PM

    Makes me wonder what the Phillies ownership thinks. If they are for a rebuild and RAJ is resisting, why don’t they just fire him and replace him with someone open minded?

    • js20011041 - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:53 PM

      They probably don’t know any better. That and I’m sure they’re aware that the attendance would drop off during a rebuilding period. Unfortunately, business interests don’t always match baseball interests.

      • jrbdmb - Jul 31, 2013 at 5:31 PM

        The Phillies will be rebuilding no matter what, it has already started. The only question is whether it will be done intelligently (starting with moving pieces like MIchael Young) or stupidly (holding on to aging vets until the bottom falls out).

        So far it looks like the Phillies will be going the stupid route.

    • prionogenic - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:02 PM

      I don’t think they want to rebuild with the TV contract up for renewal soon

    • baldeagle22 - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:04 PM

      They are thinking TV dollars. Good, bad, or indifferent, a rebuilding team does not add to their negotiating power, especially given that Lee and Utley are the Phils’ most popular players.

      Personally, I’m sick that RAJ can’t trade Michael Young. This clearly shows his ineptitude.

      • baldeagle22 - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:23 PM

        That said, I think the Phillies’ negotiating power would improve if they fired Amaro.

  3. bronco58lb - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:03 PM

    Filling 3B from within isn’t a problem with Maikel Franco hammering Double-A pitching. 23 home runs and .579 slugging percentage in 406 at-bats between high Single-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading.

    • greymares - Jul 31, 2013 at 5:34 PM

      Asche will be the 3rd basemen look for Franco to play the outfield. Remember he’s only 20 don’t look for the Phillies to bring him up for another 3 yrs.

    • mattymatty - Jul 31, 2013 at 5:46 PM

      He’s hitting Double-A, no doubt. Looks impressive, but he’s only got 150 PAs above A ball so don’t think you can write his name into the lineup next season quite yet.

  4. DelawarePhilliesFan - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:04 PM

    That assumes that Papelbpohn is not moved after Aug 1 (high priced guys aren’t so hard to move through waivers). But even in that case – that the Phillies have overpaid is correct. But whats done is done. I just don’t see you get better not having him next year – so if they can’t get a good deal in return, keep him

  5. giant4life - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:06 PM

    Where’s Roy Halliday’s 20 mil?….He did not vest,…..but will they resign him anyway?..He was a big part of their success the last 3 years.

    • Francisco (FC) - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:11 PM

      If he resigns I doubt it will be for $20 million. Simply because of the Injury history, Doc would have to accept a low base salary and bonuses for incentives. He’s the one who has to prove he’s NOT finished. Though all reports indicate that he’s progressing nicely and his arm has better range of motion we have yet to see how that translates on the mound.

  6. therealtrenches - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    Why wait? Because getting rid of Lee is not the goal. getting something for him that they can use is.

    The better question is: why trade him if the offers aren’t good enough?

    • paperlions - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:26 PM

      …and there’s the rub. Most, though not all, of the guys the Phillies could trade to accelerate a re-build have over-priced contracts. Most teams wouldn’t even want to take on that money, much less give up quality prospects as well. At best, Lee will be worth what his remaining contract will pay him, which is a LOT ($62.5M for 2 years or $77.5M for 3 years), why would a team take on that money and give up premium prospects for the privilege? They wouldn’t. Amaro doesn’t think he should have to eat any money on the deal, which means he can’t get a decent prospect in return, which is why it was always obvious that Lee (or Papelbon) was going no where.

      • therealtrenches - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:31 PM

        Yup. Someone wrote a comment about Amaro now reaping what he has sewn. Here you have it.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:56 PM

        They tried to do what the Yankees do, and they find themselves in the bind the Yankees are usually in. They offer more money than anyone else for free agents, then the contracts are not tradeable because no other team would want the contract, let alone give up premium prospects for the privilege.

        That said, they will have more suitors over the winter, so it may be best to exercise patience here. And really, if the worst case scenario here is having Cliff Freakin Lee on the team, that is not so bad.

      • paperlions - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:06 PM

        The thing is….they seem to expect to compete next year…if that is the case, it will be very hard to get something that will be more valuable next year than Cliff Lee.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:18 PM

        I suppose you have to figure

        1 the players/prospects they get
        2 what they can buy during the off-season with the money they save from Lee’s contract

        Say they Trade Lee to the Padres for Headley and (some studly OF prospect, this is an example so I am not looking stuff up). They would still have $15-20MM left over for a FA starter plus maybe a few other pieces.

        That is probably overstating the return, but the idea is there: getting several good pieces and the flexibility to acquire more good pieces might outweigh the value of one great piece.

      • paperlions - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:23 PM

        The problem is that NO ONE is giving up a MLB ready player that is cheap and good AND paying 100% of Lee’s contract….just not happening.

        Players whose contracts are overpays, such as Peavy, just won’t fetch much in return. The WS got a guy that has some power but no plate discipline at all who is far from a sure thing….because they weren’t willing to pick up any of Peavy’s remaining contract, which is far cheaper and shorter than Lee’s.

        Teams just don’t pay twice for players anymore…and the teams that do are sellers now because paying twice is bad asset management and leads to talent-challenged rosters.

      • jrbdmb - Jul 31, 2013 at 5:39 PM

        The worst case scenario for the Phils is if Lee hits a severe decline (which is not at all unlikely given that he hits 35 next year) and the Phils end up paying $75M for three years of a league average or below average SP.

        The contracts for Lee, Paps, Howard, and Utley (assuming they resign him for $13M/per for three years as rumored) will handcuff the Phils for years to come.

  7. drewzducks - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:08 PM

    Look out below !

  8. theanswer0381 - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:12 PM

    Their rotation next year can be great, and Lee has to be apart of that. They can win next year if they make the right moves. They get guys like Revere, and Howard(thats an if) back healthy. And pickup a guy in FA they can be right back in it like the BoSox are this year from last. you cannot say its the right or wrong move until it plays out. so the article stating its the wrong move is very premature. let it play out.

    • thinman61 - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:37 PM

      Ryan Howard has not been worth a starting job in a contending team’s lineup since 2009. At some point you need to stop hoping for “recovery” and start accepting “decline”. Howard and Lee between them will suck up $50M of the Phillies’ payroll next year. Boston got back into it by clearing out contracts like that (thank you, LA), not by hanging onto them, sticking their heads in the sand, and hoping for the best.

      • baldeagle22 - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:06 PM

        Thoroughly agree on Howard. He got hurt and the Phils didn’t skip a beat. Losing Revere and Brown crushed them.

      • hisgirlgotburrelled - Jul 31, 2013 at 5:05 PM

        What other veterans are you throwing in with Lee and Howard in order to get a team to take on most of that $25 million per year (which is for a player “not worth a starting job”)? And who are the LA Dodger’s of 2013 willing to even think of taking on all that money?

  9. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:41 PM

    Seems to me Amaro purposefully priced himself out of the market, just so they could say “See I tried.” without actually having to take a risk, leading himself open to further criticisms. This way, if the team continues to fail to meet expectations, he can put the blame on the players lack of performance, rather than his inability to see reality and realize the time is now to begin rebuilding. Every day past today that Cliff Lee and the rest of their tradable veterans are on your roster, their value on the market will only diminish.

  10. birdzflyinhigh - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:42 PM

    I do not think its the wrong move, Lee will be crucial to the team’s success next year. Hamels should have a bounce back year, great pitchers have a bad year sometimes (see lee, Halladay and even verlander). A rotation spearheaded by hamels and lee is still dangerous. MAG has top-of-rotation potential and would be a scary 3. Halladay would likely sign with a low to moderate base in an incentive-laden deal and Kendrick can round out at 5. That’s a strong starting staff. The phils will have $ to spend on position players to put around the brown, revere, utley core and they can easily compete in the east again.

  11. mikedi33 - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    Best reason for not trading him is that it has been done 3 times before and what do the Indians, Phillies or Seatle have to show for it? The phillies dont need the salary relief so why should they trade one of the top pitchers in baseball for less than the cream of the crop prospects?

  12. raysfan1 - Jul 31, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    “The Padres were reportedly open to trading Cliff Lee, but…” then they remembered he plays for the Phillies?

    Thanks for the chuckle, Matthew; sometimes typos are funny.

    • raysfan1 - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:57 PM

      Humorous typo now corrected; nothing to see here, folks, move along.

  13. chaseutley - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:31 PM

    Cliff Lee is a great pitcher and is not in a “walk” year. He can make a difference for a would-be trade partner not only down the stretch in 2013, but also next season.

    What motivation do the Phillies have to deal him for a mediocre offer right now? If they decide to trade the guy, they’ve also got all offseason to do so.

    There is no other pitcher (rumored to be) on the market who can tip the balance of a playoff race the way that Lee can. Hence, it’s a seller’s market and the Phillies should be asking a king’s ransom for the guy. Anything less would be a sloppy panic move,

  14. mazblast - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:34 PM

    Perhaps Amaro thinks he can get more for Lee during the next off-season. Or he thinks the Phillies can contend next year. Or, as is probably more likely, he’s just not thinking.

    • biasedhomer - Jul 31, 2013 at 5:30 PM

      I would think he would be worth more next year t the deadline if he is still preforming at a high level, because, less money.

      Thats actually not a bad idea. Try to contend next year, if they are bad once again, see if anyone wants Lee at the deadline or in the 2015 offseason. Oh and Amaro gets fired.

  15. hisgirlgotburrelled - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:42 PM

    Yes, they should trade him, for MLB-ready players because he’s worth it for a playoff team and teams should have been more interested. If they didn’t get a top prospect in return that could start next year or the year after then I’m not interested in trading my best player.

    Trade Lee to make up for the bad contracts with Howard, Papelbon, and Rollins? 4 wrongs don’t make a right.

  16. Francisco (FC) - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:44 PM

    Keeping Cliff Lee is the wrong choice for Phillies

    He belongs in a Museum!!

    • raysfan1 - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:55 PM

      …and the Cross of Coronado?

      • Francisco (FC) - Jul 31, 2013 at 4:58 PM

        Ruben, let it go…

  17. greymares - Jul 31, 2013 at 5:40 PM

    Stop it you do not trade starting pitching, starting pitching is still and always will be the name of the game.

  18. vpisteve99 - Jul 31, 2013 at 8:46 PM

    Without knowing the potential offers, I don’t think you can conclude whether they should or should not have traded Lee. He is still a productive player. While his salary is high, the remaining years are short which is a situation many teams would prefer for a player with his production. The Phillies have plenty of money and there is not a great group of pending free agents (internal or external) to reinvest in next year. So unless they received an offer with premier prospects, it doesn’t make sense to trade him. If the best offer was a few 2nd tier prospects, its unlikely they would have much of a positive impact on the team’s future.

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