5 Reasons the Phillies Made a Huge Error Pulling Cliff Lee Back off Waivers
It's no surprise that Cliff Lee was placed on waivers by the Phillies—virtually every player in baseball is placed on waivers at one point or another following the non-waiver trade deadline.
It should also come as no surprise that the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed him.
With new ownership set on taking advantage of the LA market and making the Dodgers the attraction in the city over the summer, adding a big-time pitcher like Lee to pair alongside perennial Cy Young Award contender Clayton Kershaw not only makes baseball sense, but it's sound business sense as well.
Yet the Phillies, with the chance to remove more than $75 million from their payroll over the next three years, pulled Lee back off of waivers, ending any chance that the Dodgers could work out a deal for him during the season.
They should have let the Dodgers take his bloated deal. Here's why.
Talk of Lee's Demise Is Not Premature
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Sure, we can't fault Cliff Lee for his paltry win total of two—it's not his fault that the Phillies have struggled to score runs when he takes the mound.
But Lee simply has not thrown like a pitcher who is worth more than $20 million a season.
He's allowed four or more runs in seven of his 19 starts on the season. In 2011, he allowed that many runs five times—in 32 starts.
By comparison, his teammate Cole Hamels has allowed four or more runs five times in 2012 over 21 starts.
While Lee is still a strikeout pitcher—his 8.4 K/9 ratio is the second highest of his career—he is leaving the ball over the plate far more often than he has in the past, leading to opposing batters posting a .718 OPS against him. That number was more than 100 points lower in 2011 (.607).
It's not just that Lee has been hittable—he's giving players pitches to drive, evidenced by a 1.2 HR/9 ratio—his highest since 2007.
He's No Spring Chicken
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Cliff Lee celebrates his 34th birthday on August 30.
While 34 is still relatively young—I'm nearly two years older than Lee and I don't consider myself to be old by any means—when it comes to professional athletes, 34 puts him closer to the end than it does the beginning of his career.
Lee is signed through the 2016 season, at which time he'll be 36 years old.
How many 36-year-old pitchers can you think of who are still considered to be "elite" at that age?
Before you say "well he doesn't have to be elite," think again—he's being paid as an elite pitcher for the duration of his contract.
Common sense tells us that the older a player gets, the less effective he becomes.
The Phillies' Window to Win Is Closing
The heart of the Phillies is getting up there in age as well.
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Ryan Howard is 32. Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley are 33. Roy Halladay is 35.
The point is that the core of the Phillies is beginning to age—and their window to win is beginning to close.
Cliff Lee circa 2011 has left the building—and to expect him to show up again in 2013 is simply unrealistic—just as it's unrealistic to expect Howard or Rollins to win another MVP award.
While the Braves, Marlins and Nationals are built (or being built) with the future in mind, the Phillies are still living in the past.
Allowing Cliff Lee to head to Los Angeles, whether as a salary dump or in a trade would have been a step toward moving into the future.
His Contract Will Limit Their Ability to Upgrade the Rest of the Roster
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Would you sign Cliff Lee to a four-year, $102.5 million contract if he were a free agent this winter?
If you're being honest, the answer is no—or at the very least, you are not as quick to say yes as you would have been two years ago.
As we just noted, the core of the Phillies is aging—and in some cases, not gracefully.
Heading into the 2013 season, Philadelphia has $123.5 million in salaries committed—to seven players with an average age of 32 years old. Four of the seven are pitchers.
That leaves 18 players who need to be signed, whether it be contracts awarded through arbitration or signed as free agents.
Going back to 2008, the Phillies have averaged a payroll right around $140.5 million, with this season's $174.5 million representing the most in team history.
If we go by their five-year average, that doesn't leave the Phillies with much room to fill out a roster.
They May Not Be Able to Move Him Next Year
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There was most definitely a market for Cliff Lee this year—and there will be one this winter.
But will that be the case next season?
And if so, would they be able to extract the same package of players as they could have this summer?
It's far from a sure thing.
It's commendable that the Phillies want to keep the band together—but sometimes the band needs to change their tune in order to release their seminal album.