5 Reasons Dealing Cliff Lee in a Waiver Deadline Deal Would Be Big Mistake
As Cliff Lee took the mound for the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, one thing was clear: the Phillies had not traded Lee to the Los Angeles Dodgers. For once, it seemed, GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. had stood by his word.
A day after the August waiver trade period commenced last week, it became known that Lee had been placed on trade waivers by the Phillies. Although it's a customary procedure done by most teams to gauge potential trade interest in their players, when a player of Lee's magnitude is placed on trade waivers, it tends to send a shock around the baseball world.
What may have been more shocking, however, was that Lee and the remaining three years and $87.5+ million of his current contract was claimed by the Dodgers. The Dodgers—who had already made a Phillies-related splash twice in almost as many days after acquiring Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton from the team—made the bold move by claiming Lee, putting the Phillies in position to trade Lee and/or dump his remaining contract on the Dodgers and free themselves from the millions still owed to their left-handed ace.
While Lee pitched against the D'Backs, taking yet another no-decision in the Phils' walk-off win, it signaled that Amaro had not traded Lee before his 1:30 p.m. waiver trade deadline on Sunday. But if Amaro does the unthinkable and puts Lee on trade waivers for a second, irrevocable time, would it be the right move if Lee was claimed?
Here's five reasons why it wouldn't behoove the Phillies to let go of Lee on waivers.
Dwindling Fan Support Would Plummet Even More
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Ask any Phillies player and he'll tell you that the fan support from Phillies fans is unparalleled around the league and that the energy from the nightly sellout crowd can't be found elsewhere around baseball. Ask any other team's players and they'll tell you that Phillies fans are wild, fair-weathered and only root for their teams when they win.
As a Philadelphia sports fan, I vehemently disagree with the perception that other teams' players and fanbases have of Philly fans. They're passionate and stick it to the end with their teams, regardless of how they're playing. That's my motto, anyway.
However, last night made it a little bit easier for the debate to lean in favor of the opposition, as the Phillies' 257-game sellout streak came to a screeching halt. The game's attendance for the Phils' bout against the Braves was 41,665 fans, about 2,000 short of a sellout. With the streak coming to a close, it reigns as the longest-ever of its kind in the National League and third-longest in baseball history only to the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians (ha!). It's more than the Braves could muster even in the playoffs, though...
Alright, enough with my bias. The fact that the sellout streak has ended not only signifies fans declining support of the struggling Phillies, but possibly also their protest of the trades that sent Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence to the NL West. Maybe Joe Blanton, too, I don't know. I'm not aware of any die-hard Blanton fans out there. Let me know if you are.
But if Lee was waived, would that be the final nail in the coffin? After spurning the likes of the Yankees and Rangers to come back to Philly, Lee endeared himself into the hearts of Philly fans—baseball fans or not. Trading Lee would be the final blow to Phillies fans, showing that the team has lost hope of winning now or in the future, and it would also be a blow to any chance of striking gold in a 2015 TV deal when their current contract expires. That would crush all of the fans, players and front office. Dealing Lee could very well make Citizens Bank Park look like Veterans Stadium in the late 1990s and early 2000s—an oversized stadium with too many empty seats to fill.
Speaking of winning, though...
Ends Chances of 2012 Run
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Trading Cliff Lee on waivers in essence signals that the Phillies are waving the white flag and consider the 2012 season to be a lost cause. And while there are certainly arguments to be made that that is the case, to date the Phillies fans, brass and players have suggested otherwise.
As I just mentioned, Phillies fans allowed their ongoing sellout streak to end last night. Amaro has said that "it's a daunting task" but also stated that he "remain[s] optimistic that [Phillies] can get back in this." Manager Charlie Manuel opined, "let's just see how many games we can win and see if we can climb back in something." And ace Roy "Doc" Halladay made his opinion known when he said, "...there's definitely a chance. I don't think there is any reason to believe there wouldn't be."
After extending Cole Hamels, both he and Amaro made it clear that having that trio of aces in Halladay, Lee and Hamels is a big factor in Hamels' decision to stay and Amaro's thinking in building the team. But if Lee's traded, wouldn't that defeat the purpose of both extending Hamels and "building around" the team's current trio of aces?
That's a rhetorical question. Of course it would.
Last month I wrote another slideshow about why it would still be possible for the Phillies to make a playoff push, and in it I explained how a Hamels extension could be a huge boost to team morale and performance. Yes, a lot has changed since then, with the Phillies trading Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton. But the Phils have also won their last two series, and while their current series against the Atlanta Braves is still up in the air, I'd take Hamels over Mike Minor 10 times out of 10.
Maybe it's too late for the Phillies to make a run at the postseason in 2012. Maybe it's not. But if the Phillies trade Lee, their chances of making the playoffs—both this season and in future years—decreases exponentially.
Decreased Rotation Depth
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Funny seeing Joe Blanton in a Dodgers uniform, huh?
When the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline passed, it was puzzling that Blanton had not been dealt. A deal was in the works with the Baltimore Orioles the night before yet somehow it fell apart, and a deal with the Orioles nor any other team could not materialize. Blanton was here to stay for the remainder of the season.
Or so it seemed. Last Friday, August 3, Blanton was claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Dodgers and was traded for either future cash considerations or a player to be named later. With the move, the Phillies were able to gain something for Blanton rather than lose him in free agency for nothing. Additionally, and more importantly, the team suffered loss of rotation depth.
With Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Worley, the first four pitchers in the Phillies rotation are cemented in place. But after Blanton was traded, the only option to pitch in his place on Friday against Arizona was swingman Kyle Kendrick, who was far from spectacular, as is usually the case when he starts.
The Phillies could promote starter Tyler Cloyd from Triple-A. Cloyd's been exceptional this year, posting a 14-1 record with a 1.91 ERA for both the Reading Phillies and Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. The only thing blocking his promotion was thought to be Blanton, but now that he's been shipped to the West Coast, it's still a bit puzzling why Cloyd still hasn't seen major league action.
But will Cloyd get the job done in the MLB? Will Kendrick succeed as a starter? Trading Lee would further complicate matters. The Phillies don't have any other in-house options. And if Lee's dealt, who do they have after Kendrick and Cloyd? If another starter gets hurt, who takes his place?
With little to choose from to replace him, it's best that Lee isn't traded.
Phillies Get Nothing in Return
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The perk for the Phillies potentially trading Lee before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline was that they could get something in return for their southpaw ace. Obviously, Lee wasn't traded. And when the Dodgers struck and claimed Lee off waivers, the Phillies had yet another opportunity to deal Lee, if not dump his contract on Los Angeles altogether. But that failed to occur as well.
So why should the Phillies put Lee on waivers again? They won't get a single thing for him. Sure, you could argue that taking his remaining salary off the books will pave the way for other talent to come in his place and that would be gaining value for Lee.
But this team isn't making acquisitions unless they're selling thanks to a thinned-out farm system. And if there's any free agency moves to be made, you can guarantee that they'll primarily be low-profile so as the team doesn't surpass the $178 million luxury tax threshold. More on that in a bit.
The thought to trading Lee before the end of July was that the Phillies could get something back for him. If the team had to trade its beloved ace, at least make it worthwhile.
Speculation arose that the Texas Rangers could have been a fit and I even considered that angle in light of the Hamels extension. The two teams were a perfect trade match. The Rangers wanted and needed an ace in Lee specifically, and if the Phillies got Mike Olt and Leonys Martin from Texas, two of their biggest holes heading into the offseason would be filled at third base and center field, respectively.
Alas, no deal came into fruition, so if the Phillies can't reap the benefits of trading Lee, why do it in the first place? Does it make sense to trade him away for nothing except salary relief?
Nope. At least, not to me.
Lee Contract Dump Would Lead to Another Free Agency Overpay
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If you were thinking that trading Lee would free up salary to sign a top free agent or two this winter, I wouldn't call the thought far-fetched. But the logic behind it? Asinine.
Don't get me wrong, I won't call you an idiot if you believe that placing Lee on irrevocable waivers would lead to going after a high-profile player in the offseason. I think it'd be senseless for the Phillies to do it, though. Here's why.
So let's say you do trade Lee in an irrevocable waivers deal. His entire salary is off the books. You've taken roughly $24 million in average annual salary and you're looking to fill that hole with some talent. Fine by me.
There's been talk that, after trading Victorino, Pence and Blanton, the Phillies may consider going out and bringing center fielder Michael Bourn back to the City of Brotherly Love. Melky Cabrera has also been mentioned. So have B.J. Upton and Josh Hamilton. But would any one of them make sense? More likely than not, no.
If anyone makes sense, it's Bourn. Although he'll be 30 years old entering next year, he's still stealing bases like it's nobody's business and continues to hit for average. He's an above average defender and his speed is ideal for a center fielder. But you're talking about a team that wants to get younger. Signing Bourn—who's a Scott Boras client, mind you—would likely cost the Phillies excess of $15 million a year, and knowing Amaro, he'll likely ink him for either a year and/or a few million too many.
So now we're talking youth. Okay, how about Cabrera or Upton? Well, the 27-year-old Cabrera's got incredibly high advanced stats that suggest his success isn't going to stick around. Yeah, he's led the league in hits this season, but his BABIP last year was .332 and this year it's .387. If anything, he's lucky. But remember that, before last season, Cabrera was virtually on his last chance in the majors. He's too risky a gamble.
And then there's Upton. I'll argue that despite his younger age (he's 28 in a few weeks), he's a bad investment waiting to happen. He steals bases and hits a few home runs every now and then. But otherwise? His defense is only average, he strikes out too much, his average hovers in the .240s, and he doesn't get on base. I'm not a fan of any of that. Are you?
And finally, there's Hamilton. A great player who's two years removed from an MVP award. But he's often injured, he's got off-the-field issues and is too streaky to rely on. After all, he's hit well below .200 since the beginning of June after hitting near .370 on the year prior to that. His strikeouts are up as his plate discipline has gone down the gutter. And oh yeah, he'll be 32 next year and could demand a contract well over $100 million over five or more years. Another mistake bound to happen.
The chances that Amaro makes a push for one of these guys is likely if Lee is traded. Heck, it's probable even if he's not. But knowing that Amaro tends to overdo it on free agency contracts (see Raul Ibanez, Placido Polanco and Jonathan Papelbon), one of these four guys—or somebody else, for that matter—will be the team's next cash-strapped instigator.
Don't risk it on another bad contract waiting to happen. Keep Lee, who you know what to expect and is more likely worth the contract. And with Amaro, it's almost set in stone that it will.