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Philadelphia Phillies: Pros and Cons of Dealing Cliff Lee Before Trade Deadline

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Philadelphia Phillies: Pros and Cons of Dealing Cliff Lee Before Trade Deadline
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Know this straight away: In my opinion, the Phillies should not trade Cliff Lee. Not this season, not next season and preferably not ever.

But there is little use in going over the pros and cons of trading the likes of Michael Young, Carlos Ruiz or even Jonathan Papelbon.

Young is a subpar defensive third baseman who hits for a decent average but little power. Substitute defensive prowess for an ability to stay healthy, and Young is basically doing a Placido Polanco impression.

If anyone wants to give the Phillies a useful major league-ready bullpen arm or a solid prospect for Young, Ruben Amaro Jr. should fax the paperwork to the other club while he has that opposing general manager on the line.

That goes double for Carlos Ruiz. Everyone loves Chooch. His contributions to the greatest era in Phillies baseball from 2007-2011 will never be forgotten. 

For that matter, his yeoman efforts to drag an injury-riddled club to a .500 finish last season—his greatest statistical season by far—were remarkable to watch.

Too bad it seems now to have been a lot of mirage and little real water.

So if Ruiz has to go to a contender, well, goodbyes are hard but they are usually unavoidable.

As for Papelbon, that signing was a mistake when it happened. Didn't Ruben read Moneyball? You know what usually wins the game when you have a lead going into the ninth inning? The fact that you have the lead going into the ninth inning.

All three of these players are expendable now. Papelbon, particularly, is a Corvette parked outside of a modest apartment complex.

The idea of trading Chase Utley is intriguing, but until an offer commensurate with his value appears, the Phillies will probably cling to Utley like a drowning man hanging onto a splintering piece of driftwood.

Not one of the aforementioned players would bring the haul that Cliff Lee is likely to bring back to the Phillies if they deal him. As such, the pros and cons of trading Lee are the weightiest of any current member of the Phillies.

Per my disclaimer up front, to my mind, there are two pros and more cons to trading Lee.

The pros are very simple:

  1. The chance to restock the farm system in a meaningful way via prospects coming back in the deal
  2. The clearing of at least $50 million from the books.

The cons, though, are really significant.

Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images
Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Domonic Brown and Ben Revere comprise an enviable nucleus, one the Phillies need not break up.

The biggest downside to trading Lee would be that with him goes any pretense of contending in either 2013 or 2014.

The Phillies are a .500 club right now instead of a real contender for at least a Wild Card largely because their franchise first baseman hit like a fourth outfielder, their bullpen is an atrocity, and Utley missed a month.

But even if the Phillies' quest to return to the postseason dies young this season, the thought of bringing back a core of Lee, Cole Hamels, Domonic Brown and Ben Revere is suddenly very attractive.

How many other teams can say they have their center fielder, their power bat, and two aces in the rotation in place?

As for the money, a lot of people might look at Lee's $25 million per year contract and gasp that it is too much. If anything, though, Lee is a little bit underpaid.

If Lee were to hit the free-agent market this winter, his .625 career winning percentage and the supporting peripherals would probably get him that money for at least four more years.

Finally, there is that bit about needing to sell tickets.

Even if the Phillies retain Lee at the expense of splurging in the free-agent market this offseason (doubtful), keeping Lee and Hamels for 2014 gives fans a subtle peace of mind about buying tickets to Phillies games.

Specifically, it means that fans can justify their ticket purchases by saying to themselves that they have a 40 percent chance of seeing an ace pitch every time they go to Citizens Bank Park.

Boar's Head had a terrific campaign touting its delicatessen products a while back, and their tagline was perfect: "Compromise Elsewhere."

That would be my message to the Phillies about trading Cliff Lee.

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