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By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It’s not the sort of thing you like to talk about after the team has won two games in a row, and seven of the last ten. It’s not the sort of thing you wanted to discuss in a year that was supposed to be the last gasp of an aging core. And it’s certainly not the sort of thing you want to ponder the day after Cliff Lee looks dominant.
But whether you want to talk about it or not, if the Phillies don’t show some signs of being a serious contender very quickly, trading Cliff Lee has to be at least something the team will, and should, discuss.
“He’s one of the most attractive people on the trade market,” MLB analyst Peter Gammons told Angelo Cataldi and the 94WIP Morning Show on Thursday. “The problem that you have is, that under the new draft rules, if a player is traded during the season and decides to move on at the end of the season, that team doesn’t get any draft choices. Now, Lee is a long-term contract so he should be able to stay away from that, but still, it’s one of those things you have to think about it.”
Lee is 5-2 on the season, with an ERA of 2.48. He’s been dominant in his last four starts, going 3-0, allowing just four earned runs in 31 innings. He’s following up a strange 2012, where he pitched very well, but struggled to get the number of wins that are usually associated with the sort of numbers he put up otherwise.
“I think if they went out there and look at, whether it’s Texas or even the Yankees—although I don’t know, at this point, the Yankees are aging so much,” Gammons said. “As much as they’re in contention, I’m not sure they would give up a lot. Baltimore maybe, I think that would be an ideal spot for him because they desperately need a veteran starting pitcher. I think that there would be a few teams—St. Louis could be one, they have a great farm system. So, I think there would be a lot of call for him. I mean, Cliff Lee is an absolute animal. He is so strong, he loves pitching under pressure, he has shown that he can move in the middle of the season as high-end guy and perform.”
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports ranks Lee as the 12th most likely starting pitcher to be traded by this year’s deadline. “He’s still a star,” Heyman wrote. “And someone last summer was willing to claim him (OK, it was the Dodgers) and absorb his $25 million salary, and even the $12.5 million buyout at the end. Lee still has about $82 million to go through 2015, which sounds high, especially with the Dodgers quite possibly not being a buyer this time. It’s hard to know how much the Phillies are willing to do, too. If available, a game changer.”
Of the Phillies veterans that could be available come July, Lee’s performance this year probably makes him the most value, especially if the Phillies would eat some of his contract. Chase Utley is only a rental, and has injury problems. Rollins could be of value to a competitor, but isn’t the sort of game changer that Lee is. Ryan Howard figures to be impossible to trade, given his contract. The only Phillies player on the roster who could bring back the kind of haul Lee could figures to be Jonathan Papelbon.
It’s important to remember as well that just because the Phillies may try to “sell” at the trade deadline, it doesn’t mean the team would be in full “rebuild” mode. The organization has put itself in the position that modes like the one the Marlins and Astros are in will likely not exist for the foreseeable future. The Red Sox made a major “sell” move last year with their blockbuster with the Dodgers, and they’ve actually improved.
Whether the Phillies trade Lee remains to be seen, but what seems like is for sure is that they will have the option to do so.