What do you do when your team has one of the worst ERA's in baseball, are near the bottom of their division, yet have one of the best pitchers in the majors to keep some dignity alive for the pitching staff?
If you're the Cleveland Indians, you trade him.
With the trade, the Indians gain minor league prospects Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald and Lou Marson. They also lose their only starter with an ERA under four.
The moving of C.C. Sabathia last season was viewed by many as a mistake, but had merit as it freed the organization of his enormous salary.
Cliff Lee, on the other hand, makes a fairly typical salary of right around $4 million a year. This information eliminates team finance as possible reasons for the move.
The trade raises the question: Who does Cleveland have that can step up and fill the void in the rotation left by Lee?
Carl Pavano seems a likely place to look, seeing as he has been fairly consistent since rebounding from a terrible first start this season. He has posted a respectable 8-8 record, but with a 5.66 ERA so far in 2009.
Pavano is a veteran, and if he is to be the new ace, he needs to show some leadership in that rotation.
Aaron Laffey has shown some promise this season in the starting roll. He is the only Indians' starter with a winning record at 4-3 in 14 starts this year with The Tribe.
Laffey is a left-hander with a good assortment of breaking balls to keep hitters off balance while he's on the mound.
One pitcher the Indians refuse to give up on is Fausto Carmona. The hard-throwing righty has been plagued by injury and sent to the minors multiple times in his short career.
While having a power arm in the rotation can be a plus, Carmona's inconsistency and health problems simply don't make him a good prospect for a Cleveland pitching staff that is already struggling for stability.
Jeremy Sowers was great in his rookie year, with a 7-4 record and a relatively low 3.57 ERA in 2006. Since then, however, he has suffered a sophomore slump that has lasted into his junior and senior seasons with the Indians.
Sowers has yet to produce an ERA under five and has a combined 8-22 record from 2007 to the present.
While he has shown good poise at times as a starter, Sowers is more likely to have success out of the bullpen than in the starting rotation.
As it stands, the Indians severely lack adequate pitchers who can pick up the slack. Having a solid player who can show the others how to get the job done is a key to building a winning team.
The trade of Cliff Lee will likely be viewed with regret by the team's management down the road.