Cliff Lee is owed more than $100 million through 2016.
In the span of approximately 90 minutes, the Los Angeles Dodgers showed yet again how serious they are about winning a World Series this season.
First, the Dodgers acquired pitcher Joe Blanton from the Philadelphia Phillies after claiming him on waivers. As reported by MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, the Phillies will receive a player to be named later or cash.
The Dodgers will take on the $3 million remaining on Blanton's contract, which was an obstacle in the Phillies making a deal with the Baltimore Orioles before the July 31 trade deadline.
But Dodgers fans were surely hoping to win a waiver claim and get started on a trade for another Phillies pitcher, Cliff Lee. That wish was granted shortly after the Blanton deal was announced. CBS Sports' Jon Heyman first reported that Lee was claimed on waivers. Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports soon reported that the Dodgers were the team that snagged Lee.
As Morosi went on to report, the Dodgers and Phillies have until Sunday (Aug. 5) to work out a trade, or Lee will be pulled off waivers and stay with Philadelphia for the rest of the season. No other team would be able to try and make a deal for him until the offseason. The Dodgers may have been the only team to make a waiver claim.
Both Morosi and Heyman say that a trade isn't likely. But as my B/R colleague Zach Rymer wrote earlier, if the Phillies really wanted to unload Lee and his contract from their payroll, the team could just let him go to the Dodgers.
After this season, Lee is still owed a possible $102.5 million if his option for 2016 is picked up. Even if the option isn't picked up, Lee is entitled to a $12.5 million buyout for that season. That puts the Dodgers on the hook for approximately $95 million, including what remains of Lee's $21.5 million salary this year.
This is the risk for the Dodgers in claiming Lee. But general manager Ned Colletti and the team's new ownership are clearly willing to take that chance. The Dodgers likely didn't claim Lee to block him from going to another team. And Colletti surely isn't willing to give up the prospects that the Phillies would seek in a trade.
However, when the Guggenheim management team—led by principal owner Mark Walter—purchased the Dodgers for $2 billion, the presumption was that the new bosses intended to spend big money in order to build a championship team quickly.
So far, the Dodgers have lived up to that expectation.
The team took on the $38 million remaining on Hanley Ramirez's contract when he was acquired from the Miami Marlins. Shane Victorino brought the rest of his $3.3 million salary with him when the Dodgers got him from the Phillies. When the Seattle Mariners traded reliever Brandon League to the Dodgers, they also shipped over the $1.8 million left on his contract.
Throw in Blanton's remaining salary, and the Dodgers have added more than $45 million to their payroll. Now, they're apparently willing to take on another $100 million.
The Dodgers would have to spend more than that to get a top pitcher in free agency after the season, so why not just spend that money now? That seems to be what ownership is thinking.
Lee very likely won't be with the Dodgers on Sunday. But the team took its shot, which is all management, players and fans can ask for. After suffering through the past few years of Frank McCourt's ownership, that has to be exciting.
The Dodgers won't get the top starting pitcher they were hoping to get at the trade deadline. Blanton obviously isn't as sizzling a name as Lee, but he's not a bad consolation prize.
At the very least, Blanton is a back-of-the-rotation starter that will eat up innings and help replace the injured Ted Lilly. That will be valuable through the end of the regular season as the Dodgers challenge the San Francisco Giants for the NL West title and fight for a wild-card playoff spot.
And if the Dodgers don't win this year, the offseason will surely be an intriguing one. The Phillies should probably expect another call for Lee then.
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