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Philadelphia Phillies: Would Cliff Lee-Matt Kemp Trade Make Sense?

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Philadelphia Phillies: Would Cliff Lee-Matt Kemp Trade Make Sense?
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Now that baseball is in the thick of the winter meetings, rumors and potential signings and trades will be heard out the wazoo. Plenty will be going around throughout the next two days or so, and Bleacher Report's Adam Wells has done a fantastic job of keeping track of them so far.

Among the rumors involving the Philadelphia Phillies are that closer Jonathan Papelbon is being shopped, as is young outfielder Domonic Brown. These came to light thanks to tweets from FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal and Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan, respectively.

However, the most intriguing Phillies rumor emerged on Tuesday when ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted the following concerning the Phillies' pitching staff:

 

Considering that the Phillies are still seemingly immersed in a "win-now" mode, it's strange that they're contemplating trading the two most reliable cogs of the team, let alone the rotation. What makes this even weirder is that it completely contradicts the signings of Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz. Then again, so does the notion that Domonic Brown could be dealt. So what is the Phillies' strategy, exactly?

It's becoming more and more apparent that the Phillies may not have one. But they're not wrong for listening to potential deals. It's simply due diligence, though ESPN's Jayson Stark provided an interesting update on the Lee/Hamels front not too long after Olney's tweet: 

The prospects of a deal under those circumstances are slim to none. It's pretty clear that that's the case. But have the Phillies considered a deal in which established major leaguers, not minor league prospects, are the return?

That possibility lingers in only a few instances. It would involve two high-priced stars being swapped for one another, with each filling holes for the two teams involved. That's not so easy to find.

However, one instance in which this is a possibility is with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers, who have been connected to Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price, per CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, are hesitant to trade away top prospects in their barren farm system to get him. This tidbit comes from Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

Where does that leave the Dodgers? It means that they're still likely interested in acquiring an ace starter, though they would prefer to give up pieces on the major league team as opposed to within the minors. This is where they could match up in a trade with the Phillies.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Matt Kemp's no bargain, but he's closer to a spring chicken that most of the Phillies' other options.

Hernandez of the L.A. Times provides even more information, this time coming from Kemp's agent, Dave Stewart. Stewart believes that Kemp is likely to be traded, even with six years and $130 million remaining on Kemp's extension signed before the 2012 season.

That's a hefty price to pay for Kemp, who's been meddled with injury woes since signing the deal. Such a drawback may not appeal to the Phillies. But the ability to upgrade at a position of need while dealing away another large contract? It's at least thought-provoking.

The Dodgers want Price, a left-handed ace with two years of team control left. Is Cliff Lee not the same caliber of a pitcher, with two guaranteed years left on his deal and is a southpaw ace?

There is a difference, and that's cost. Price is still arbitration-eligible, so his salaries will spike from year to year, yet still remain below those of Lee. Lee has two years and $62.5 million guaranteed on his contract, though he could earn $15 million more if his 2016 vesting option kicks in.

The perk to Lee, though, is knowing his cost and knowing that he's got that potential third year of control left. That may be appealing to the Dodgers if they seek longer commitment than two years, since Price will more likely than not pursue free agency as one of the top starters on the market after the 2015 season.

Kemp appeals to Philadelphia because he's still a top-flight player when he's healthy. He's right-handed and has power, which would be even greater at Citizens Bank Park. His defense is extraordinary. And he's flashed speed on the basepaths to the point that he nearly achieved a 40-40 season in 2011.

But the kicker? Kemp's only 29 years old. Lee is 35. For a Phillies team looking to get younger, it doesn't get any better than this.

The good news with Kemp's deal as well is that it's not back-loaded like Lee's. According to Cot's, Kemp makes a consistent $21.5 million for each of the last four years of his deal, whereas Lee makes $25 million in 2014 and 2015, with the potential to make $27.5 million as a 37-year-old in 2016.

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Per season, Kemp's average annual value would actually be $4 million less on the Phillies' payroll than Lee's, providing some slight wiggle room under the luxury tax. The Phillies wouldn't have to eat any of Lee's contract, which is what they're looking for in any deal involving him. And they'd be receiving an All-Star center fielder who's a game-changer when on the field.

This trade would have some ramifications on the rest of the Phillies' outfield, of course. It would mean that Ben Revere would likely be a fourth outfielder, a role which doesn't utilize his speed enough. In that regard, it isn't the most practical trade, unless Revere was shipped off with Lee. Given that the Dodgers have an outfield conundrum as well, though, that's unlikely to happen.

Such matters can be resolved later, though. In many ways, a Lee-Kemp swap makes a ton of sense. But will it happen? Probably not, unless Phillies and Dodgers general managers Ruben Amaro Jr. and Ned Colletti get creative. But given that Prince Fielder and Ian Kinsler were traded for one another this offseason, nothing can be ruled out.

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