Breaking Down the 3 Most Likely Cliff Lee Trade Scenarios

Josh Schoch@JoshSchochAnalyst IIIJuly 26, 2013

Cliff Lee could be on the trading block after all.

The Philadelphia Phillies' ace has once again found himself among the names being discussed at the MLB trade deadline, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.

According to Crasnick, several teams have inquired about Lee and are making offers:

Multiple teams are making a late run at the Philadelphia Phillies with offers for pitcher Cliff Lee as Wednesday's trade deadline nears, baseball sources told Friday.

Although Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. declined to address the extent of other teams' interest in Lee, he said he's keeping an open mind on Lee and numerous other Philadelphia players who might generate interest at the deadline.

Despite general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. previously saying that the Phillies have no interest in trading away their ace, that no longer appears to be the case.

Amaro was singing a different tune to Crasnick on Friday, saying that it's possible that Lee gets dealt:

I never put any real absolutes on anything. Although we don't have any desire to move a guy like that because we view him as someone who will be key to our future, I am a businessperson as well and I'll be a good listener.

I can't sit here and say I'm not going to trade Chase (Utley), or Cliff, or Michael Young or Chooch (Carlos Ruiz), or any of these guys. Some guys are less tradable than others. But I think I owe it to us as an organization to listen. If teams are going to come at us and suggest things, I'm not going to turn off the faucet and stop listening to them.

That doesn't sound like a man who has no intention of trading away his players. However, it does sound like a man who doesn't want to go back on his word but realizes that his team has a 2.3 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN.

The team is eight games back in its division before Friday's games and has some of its best players on the disabled list. Domonic Brown, Ben Revere, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay and four key relievers are all on the DL for the Phillies, and the team is a mere shell of what it once was.

The writing is on the wall for Amaro and the Phillies, and the team may need to reconsider its strategy of not selling. And fast.

With just five days until the deadline, Amaro may have to make some quick moves, and one of them could be to trade Lee.

It looks like Amaro is at least considering dealing Lee, as he has been scratched from his start on Saturday. Mike Axisa of CBS Sports not-so-subtly implied that it could be because Lee will be traded, not because of his supposedly stiff neck.

If Lee and the more than $70 million he is owed are to be dealt, it won't be easy. However, there are three teams that have the pieces and need to make a deal for Lee.


3. Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians find themselves just three games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central before Friday's results, and in a position to make their second postseason appearance in 12 years.

The team needs an ace if it's going to make a run to the playoffs, however, as Cleveland doesn't have a single starter with an ERA below 3.57.

Cleveland ranks in the bottom third of the league in ERA as a team, and the biggest problem is far and away the starting rotation. The bullpen has been solid, but the starters simply aren't good enough to make it to the playoffs.

That's where Lee comes in.

The Indians are already spending over $84 million this year, and adding Lee would considerably increase that number. Cleveland is a small-market team, but they might be willing to drop the kind of cash needed to bring in Lee in order to make a playoff push and attract more fans.

Lee won't come cheap in the way of prospects, either. The Phillies are going to want a lot for a legitimate ace who is signed for at least two more years, and Amaro believes Philadelphia will compete next year with Lee.

If the Indians are going to get this done, they won't want to trade top-prospect Francisco Lindor, but pitcher Trevor Bauer will be the centerpiece of the prospect package. The team will then need to throw in another highly-touted prospect like Ronny Rodriguez or Tyler Naquin to entice the Phillies.

Like I said, Lee won't come cheap.

It will be difficult for the Indians to give up so much for one pitcher, but if they are going all-in this year, then trading for Lee is a possibility.


2. St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in baseball, but that doesn't mean they're perfect.

Sitting just 2.5 games up on the Pittsburgh Pirates in the competitive NL Central, the team needs to add a key piece if it is going to maintain its lead on the Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.

St. Louis actually ranks third in the MLB in ERA, but they are behind both their division rivals. The team's starting rotation is its biggest concern at the moment, and Jon Heyman of CBS Sports has identified the Cardinals as a leading contender for starting pitchers, including Chicago White Sox starter Jake Peavy.

If Lee becomes available at the deadline, he'll be a hot commodity, and the Cardinals won't be able to stay away from him.

Adding Lee to a rotation that already includes Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller borders on being unfair. The Cardinals would have a ridiculously dominant staff, and if the team decided to go to a three-man rotation in the postseason, there wouldn't be a team out there that could consistently score runs against them.

Unfortunately, the team is already spending over $112 million, which is probably the ceiling for the Cardinals. However, if they can find enough money to add Lee or a prospects package so enticing that the Phillies will pay part of his salary, St. Louis will be in a great position come the postseason.

The Cardinals obviously don't want to give up their No. 1 prospect, Oscar Taveras. However, they might be willing to part with him to add an ace like Lee for up to four seasons.

If Taveras is not included in the deal, the Cardinals will have to trade pitcher Carlos Martinez. Other than Martinez, the Phillies will likely ask for infielder Kolten Wong or pitchers Michael Wacha and Tyrell Jenkins. One of those three will be paired with Martinez, and then the Cardinals will have to throw in another prospect or two. If the team wants Philadelphia to pay part of Lee's salary, that extra prospect will have to have quite a bit of upside.

It's going to be tough for St. Louis to add Lee, but they have the second-best chance of any team in baseball to do it.


1. Boston Red Sox

There isn't a better fit for Lee than the Boston Red Sox.

The Red Sox boast the second-best record in baseball and are leading the American League. They still could use an ace like Lee to bolster their bid for another World Series, and they have the prospects and cash to make it happen.

Let's start by looking at why the team needs Lee.

While Boston leads the MLB in runs scored, they rank in the bottom half of the league in ERA. The team needs better starting pitching if it's going to fix this problem, and Lee would certainly help.

With Clay Buchholz on the DL, the Red Sox lack a true ace. Adding Lee and bringing back a healthy Buchholz would give the Red Sox arguably the best one-two punch in baseball.

Lee has found quite a bit of success in Fenway Park over the past four years as well, posting an ERA of 1.59 when he pitches there. If he were to be traded, the Red Sox know that he can shut down opponents at home.

While Lee's no-trade clause includes the Red Sox, it's highly unlikely that he vetoes a trade that sends him to a contender.

Lee is the perfect fit for the Red Sox, but are they the perfect fit for him?

I've discussed at length how difficult it is to find a team with enough money and talent to trade for Lee, and finding a team that meets those qualifications and is willing to buy at the deadline is next to impossible.

But not completely impossible.

Boston meets all three requirements and is the only team in MLB who does.

The Red Sox are only spending over $155 million this year, which is well below what they are capable of. The team has enough money to take on Lee's salary without any help, and can afford to pay for his salary throughout the remainder of his contract.

What's even better for the Red Sox is that they have the minor-league talent that the Phillies would find attractive.

With Jimmy Rollins aging and struggling, the team needs a new shortstop. Xander Bogaerts could be that shortstop, as he is almost MLB-ready and has proved that he is one of the best prospects in the game.

By trading Bogaerts, the Red Sox would only have to give up another prospect like Brandon Workman and possibly a lower-tier player to acquire Lee.

The Red Sox have everything the Phillies want, and this is a match made in heaven. If Lee is traded, expect it to be to Boston.


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