How Trading Cliff Lee Could Work: Hypothetically

As the second day of the MLB Winter Meetings begin, Ruben Amaro Jr & The Phillies look like a franchise desperate for talent. Unfortunately, they have multiple needs and not a lot of obvious talent to trade for it. That was until reports this morning, courtesy of Buster Olney of ESPN surfaced. Olney said the Phillies were making it known they would listen on offers for Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

The likely scenario is that neither player is moved, but the idea is intriguing. Can the Phillies improve short and long term by moving one of their prized aces? It will be tough. On the surface, it would seem that Cole Hamels would be more valuable, but with upwards of $130 million still left on
his deal, any trade in which the Phillies don’t eat salary is likely to bring little back.

Cliff Lee moving does make sense in a certain scenario though. Lee has 3 years, $77 million left on his deal assuming he is not bought out for $12.5 million after 2015. This would appeal to a few teams looking to win now, especially the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In recent days, it’s become obvious Clayton Kershaw could test free agency next year and leave the Dodgers. It’s unlikely, but possible he leaves LA after 2014 in which it would make a lot of sense for the Dodgers to have an insurance plan. It’s hard to know what type of return Cliff Lee could bring back, but there is a scenario in which I think the Phillies can benefit from the move. It’s unlikely, but this chain of moves could improve this team for this year and beyond.

1. Trade Cliff Lee, eat $15 million of salary to Los Angeles Dodgers for OF prospect Joc Pederson and RHP Carlos Frias. Pederson projects as a strong future LH power bat who can play all 3 outfield positions. He could be ready as early as this season for the Phillies and would provide them with a defensive upgrade over Domonic Brown. Frias projects as a middle relief to set up guy in the bigs, and he is also major league ready. This move also clears tons of money for the Phillies to address the many needs that they have.

2. Trade Domonic Brown, Jesse Biddle, Jonathan Papelbon, and eat $17 million of the $26 million Papelbon is owed to the Cleveland Indians for Justin Masterson. Jesse Biddle is a nice prospect, but in return you are getting a young, proven, inexpensive starter in Masterson who can help anchor your rotation for years to come. Brown is expendable and replaceable with Peterson now in the fold. You also gain $9 million in flexibility from Papelbon contract, while giving the Indians Papelbon for essentially 2yrs/ $9 million. Everybody wins in this deal. The Phillies need to cut their losses in Papelbon.

3. Sign Free Agent Closer Chris Perez to a one year, $8 million dollar deal. In the end, the Phillies will gain just $1 million in flexibility from Papelbon, but it’s addition by subtraction. Perez will come with something to prove after a strange season, and is pitching for a multi year deal next season. He is still effective enough to be a good option for the Phillies on a one year bridge deal so that they can hope one of their young arms can step into the role after this season.

4. Sign Bartolo Colon to a 1 year/ $12 million dollar deal. I can assume at this point you are rolling your eyes because of his age, but he is a good stopgap option to help stabilize the rotation. His stuff is still good, and he gives the Phillies the reliable starter they need. with this addition, the Phillies rotation all of a sudden looks pretty good without Cliff Lee.

Obviously, the chances of these moves happening are slim to none, but it shows there is a creative way to fixing this roster. This hypothetical situation would give the Phillies a chance to contend, yet helps them build for the future. They improve the depth of the rotation, the defense in the outfield, and give themselves tons of money to work with moving forward.

Possible Rotation:
1. Hamels
2. Masterson
3. Colon
4. Kendrick
5. Gonzalez

Possible Lineup:
1. LF Revere
2. 2B Utley
3. SS Rollins
4. 1B Howard
5. RF Byrd
6. CF Pederson
7. C Ruiz
8. 3B Asche

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