|Photo by Rich Wilkins|
Okay, but why trade him?
First, let's look at this from a purely "winning" standpoint. This team is .500, not the Marlins. Lee remains one of the best pitchers in baseball (second best ERA in MLB over the last five years, 2.45 this year). In a big market, where teams shouldn't be going through three or five year rebuilding processes, why not keep him around and try to improve the club (yes, addition by subtraction is exactly what I'm thinking in some spots), with a mix of young guys and veteran signings, and have Lee around to anchor that staff. His health is impeccable, the man is a workout machine. Having him and Hamels to start with in 2014 gives the Phillies a decent chance to rebuild faster from the current old, declining team to a young, upstart one.
Then, there the contract itself. Lee's $120 million deal for five years will be past the halfway point in years after 2013. He'll have two years, and $50 million of pay left, as well as a $15 million buyout that you may just decide to skip and pick up the option if he stays healthy. The point is, it's not an extremely long contract going forward. It's two, maybe three years. Yes, he's in his thirties, but is it overly risky to play out a short term deal?
Then, there's the return itself. Assume this- no team will eat all of his salary anymore. The one that would, the Dodgers, is in last place and not a position to buy. They're poorly put together. They also aren't one of the most stocked up minor league systems either. You'll have a couple of teams- Texas and Baltimore specifically- who have a need for him and great systems- but both will want us to eat a lot of that money for us to get good pieces. In other words, I don't see a great fit. History tells us the return won't be great either- Lee's deals to and from Philadelphia, and from Seattle to Texas all did not return great packages in hindsight for his services. You never really do get value when trading an ace. Toronto didn't for Halladay for that matter. It's hard to get that much value back. Most GM's won't give you that many sure things.
Finally, there's that partial no-trade clause, and the idea that you need to keep some fans in the stands in 2014 if you want to have money around to keep this a "big market." He probably blocked all the teams that could take him and are good enough to want to. If you move him out, who comes to the games?
I don't see a Lee trade as doing much more than relieving us of some salary and making us much further from rebuilding into a playoff team. In other words, I see no point. I'd rather see us look at trading Papelbon and Rollins, both of whom have sizable but less crazy deals, and have worth to contenders. I don't see a Lee trade as improving our fortunes much.