It's July 9.
Anyone can look at their calendar and figure that out, and it's not a date that is particularly pertinent to the game of baseball. At this point it is a matter of looking forward. A week from today, Major League Basbeall will host its annual All-Star Game.
Roughly two weeks later, the trade deadline will round into focus. One team that should be busy this July 31 (and the days leading up to the deadline) is the Philadelphia Phillies, and one player that they should seriously consider trading is fan-favorites, left-handed starting pitcher Cliff Lee.
Any deal that the Phillies make prior to this summer's trade deadline should focus on the future, and any player that will not help guarantee the club a World Series over the life of his contract should be considered expendable.
That's what makes players like Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Michael Young easy trade targets. All of those players are in the final yearsof their respective contracts and will help a contender this season as a rental.
That group does not include Lee, who still has roughly two and a half seasons and $75 million remaining on his contract, as well as a hefty $27.5 million club option that can be exercised for the 2016 season, when he will be 37.
In spite of that contract, there is an argument to be made that Lee has been among the best, most consistent pitchers in all of baseball since the 2008 season, making him a worthwhile investment to annual contenders with the budget for a front-of-the-rotation starter.
Lee, who has posted a record of 10-2 with a 2.73 ERA through 18 starts, has generated 3.5 WAR already this season, according to FanGraphs. Only five pitchers in all of baseball (Adam Wainwright, Matt Harvey, Max Scherzer, Derek Holland and Clayton Kershaw) have generated more WAR.
Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, Lee is still one of the most valuable pitchers in the game, even if he is going to cost a pretty penny over the life of his contract, and that should generate one, resounding question in the collective mind of the Phillies' fan-base: Why in the world would the Phillies want to trade Lee now?
The answer is relatively simple: The current market dictates the best possible return.
With Scott Feldman and Ricky Nolasco having already found new teams, the market for starting pitching has become thin. After Lee, the next-best trade target is Chicago Cubs' starter Matt Garza, whom the Cubs have struggled to find the right deal for in the past.
The market for free agent starting pitchers following the season is also thin, making the few years of team control over Lee all the more appealing.
Right now, the perfect storm is brewing for a Cliff Lee blockbuster. His contract is not going to become any more valuable. The already-high level of demand is not going to get much higher.
Take, for instance, this recent article from Danny Knobler of CBS Sports, in which he details the increasing desire from the Texas Rangers to reacquire Lee.
"Lee was a difference-maker in 2010 (even though the Rangers' record in regular-season games he started was only 6-9). Without him, the Rangers likely don't get to their first-ever World Series.
They would love to get him back, or to find someone else like him.
Most of that sentiment is speculation on Knobler's behalf, undoubtedly derived from conversations he has heard surrounding the trade deadline, but it perfectly outlines the point of this article: The Phillies have an opportunity to make a franchise-altering trade in dealing Lee.
The possibility of acquiring a player of (or similar to) Profar's level of talent has to be intriguing to a Phillies' organization with a rising farm system. Lee is the most valuable asset the Phillies have to deal, and while doing so would not be easy in the short-term, the club could reap the benefits of the haul for many years into the future.
At the end of the day, you have to look at the situation realistically. Can Cliff Lee help the Phillies win a World Series over the next two and a half seasons, well into his mid-30s?
The Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals are good, young teams with more help on the way. Even the New York Mets have a pair of blooming aces in Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler and a franchise player in David Wright.
The Phillies have the potential, both in the farm system and on the payroll, to keep pace with those clubs, but not as they are currently constructed. This Phillies team does not need to "rebuild," but they most certainly do need to "retool."
This is the honest truth: Trading Cliff Lee right now, while his value is high and demand for his service is higher, just makes sense.
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