Why Phillies Trading Cliff Lee for Jacoby Ellsbury Would Be a Terrible Idea

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Why Phillies Trading Cliff Lee for Jacoby Ellsbury Would Be a Terrible Idea
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Do the Phillies really want to trade Cliff Lee?

The Philadelphia Phillies still need an outfielder. The Boston Red Sox could still use another starting pitcher. 

While those two situations exist during the offseason, those who follow and cover MLB will try to connect dots and speculate that a trade between the Phillies and Red Sox involving Cliff Lee and Jacoby Ellsbury would be a good idea. 

Curt Schilling—who pitched for both teams in his 20-year major league career—is one such person, suggesting on Twitter that the Phillies give the Red Sox a call and try to make this deal happen. As you might imagine, that stirred up Boston sports talk radio. 

Could this trade really happen? At this point, such rumors look like total speculation, trying to play matchmaker between two teams that could seemingly help each other. As the weather gets colder throughout the country, it's an attempt to keep baseball's hot stove season burning. 

Neither side seems interested in making such a deal, though general managers could always be posturing for the media, trying to throw reporters off the trail and placate fans starving for any sort of juicy trade rumors. 

CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury reported that the Red Sox indeed proposed trading Ellsbury to the Phillies for Lee. Boston was told, however, that Lee wasn't available. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. wants to keep his starting pitching trio of Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels together. 

Salisbury points out, however, that Amaro's stance could change by the July 31 trade deadline if the Phillies aren't in contention. Reporters like to keep the possibility of juicy trade rumors going too. 

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro says he won't trade Cliff Lee.

For what it's worth, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington says he doesn't want to trade Ellsbury, according to ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes. Cherington expects the center fielder to be an important contributor for the team next season. 

Of course, if Salisbury's report is accurate, Cherington might feel that way because the Phillies shot down an Ellsbury-for-Lee proposal. 

Rumors of the Red Sox trading Ellsbury just won't go away, however. The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo has been working hard at chasing them down.

One American League executive told him that Boston might be trying to trade Ellsbury so that they can re-sign Cody Ross. The Red Sox could then move Shane Victorino to center field. MLB general managers apparently like to play the trade speculation game as well. 

Cafardo also checked on the possibility of the Los Angeles Dodgers trading Andre Ethier to Boston for Ellsbury, which would give them a needed leadoff hitter. But Cafardo's source with the Dodgers put that rumor out with a quick denial. 

Maybe reporters and fellow general managers are trying to do Cherington's job for him and put together a deal. But if other MLB teams think the Red Sox are eager to trade Ellsbury, Cherington likely isn't going to find a very good deal. Thus, he's publicly keeping his arms folded and insisting that Ellsbury won't be dealt away. 

Trade speculation isn't going to die down, however.

Ellsbury has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining and, as a Scott Boras client, isn't going to agree to a new contract without testing out the free-agent market for maximum possible value. That has most people thinking that the Red Sox will try to get something in return for Ellsbury before he skips town for a rich contract elsewhere. 

This is why the Phillies aren't going to take Ellsbury in a trade for Lee.

Claus Andersen/Getty Images
Does Jacoby Ellsbury have another MVP-caliber year ahead?

Lee still has three years on his contract, with a club option for 2016. Though it would give Philadelphia some payroll flexibility to trade Lee and the $87.5 million remaining on his contract (which would go up to $102.5 million if his option is picked up), Amaro isn't going to trade one of his best players for someone who will likely leave as a free agent after the season. 

Sure, the Phillies could use Ellsbury. He had an MVP-caliber year in 2011, hitting .321 with a .928 OPS, 46 doubles, 32 home runs, 105 RBI and 39 stolen bases. He was also one of the best defensive center fielders in MLB, according to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, saving nearly 16 runs more than the average player at that position.

If Ellsbury is capable of putting up that kind of performance again, any team would want him. He would obviously be a tremendous addition to the Phillies outfield. 

Even if Philadelphia already traded for Ben Revere, the team could move him to right field, where he played most of his games last season. Amaro could probably live with Darin Ruf or Domonic Brown in left field with Ellsbury on his roster. 

Again, however, it's not going to happen. Lee isn't going to be traded for one year of Ellsbury. He definitely isn't going to be dealt at the trade deadline for what would amount to a three-month rental of Ellsbury if the Phillies aren't a contender. And if the Red Sox are in the chase for a playoff spot, they probably wouldn't want to trade Ellsbury either.

That won't stop reporters and analysts from trying to connect the dots, of course. Trade speculation will follow Lee and Ellsbury throughout the season. The match between the Phillies and Red Sox is just too enticing to ignore. 

 

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