Cliff Lee is still an elite pitcher in Major League Baseball. Cliff Lee was perhaps the most beloved player in Phillies history never to play a full season with the team. And then he was dealt. And then Phillies fans rejoiced as he re-signed prior to last season.
As the trade deadline nears and Cole Hamels could be traded if he is unable to agree to a contract with the Phillies, the Phillies should remember just what Cliff Lee fetched in trade. Not once, not twice, but three times.
Trade 1: Cleveland Indians send LHP Cliff Lee and OF Ben Francisco to the Phillies for P Jason Knapp, P Carlos Carrasco, C Lou Marson, and IF Jason Donald
This may be the best return in a Cliff Lee trade, and it's not that great. For Lee (and Francisco) the Indians got three players who have played in the major leagues.
Infielder Jason Donald is in AAA after hitting just .188 in two separate stints in the major leagues this season. He is hitting .268 in AAA.
Pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp have been injury-plagued. Knapp was injured when the Indians traded for him. Carrasco is missing 2012 after having Tommy John surgery. He is 10-15 with a 4.93 ERA in 33 major league starts. Knapp made a whole 13 minor league starts for the Indians and has had two major surgeries. He has not pitched since making nine starts in 2010.
Catcher Lou Marson has been the most useful player for the Indians so far. However, he is a backup catcher. He is having a nice season at the plate, batting .274, but will not take playing time away from All-Star catcher Carlos Santana.
So, the Indians got one useful piece, a backup catcher.
Trade 2: Phillies trade Lee to the Seattle Mariners for RHP Philippe Aumont, RHP J.C. Ramirez, and OF Tyson Gillies
I am sure you know this story well.
Gillies is a AA outfielder with injury issues and missed significant time in 2011. He recently was suspended by the Reading Phillies for a verbal altercation with a bus driver. He is hitting .291 in 44 games at Reading, but does not project to have too high a ceiling.
The two pitchers acquired are at AAA with no sign of a call up to the Phillies. Aumont is wild and has a 4.35 ERA; Ramirez allows more than two runs every three innings - a 6.27 ERA.
Mostly, this looks like a total loss for the Phillies. Of course, they could have just signed Lee to what he was asking for that offseason, and he may have been some $7 million cheaper per year.
Trade 3: Seattle Mariners trade Lee and RHP Mark Lowe to the Texas Rangers for 1B Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson.
Justin Smoak was the centerpiece of this deal. A top-notch prospect and hot-hitting first baseman, Smoak was to provide the offense the anemic Mariners really needed. After 298 at bats in 2012, the Mariners finally had to send Smoak back to AAA.
Beavan, Lueke, and Lawson? None are considered major prospects. Beavan is relieving for the Mariners and has a 5.54 ERA in 14 games in 2012. Lawson was spun to the Indians for Aaron Laffey, who was designated for assignment a few months later. Lueke was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for backup catcher John Jaso.
So, once again, all there is to show for a Cliff Lee trade is a backup catcher.
The possibility exists that Lee could be dealt again; many reports keep linking Lee to the Rangers, though I would still think a trade to be likely. But I believe a Cole Hamels trade happens if he refuses to sign a deal. Each day that goes by without a contract extension, the more likely it is that he will be traded.
Many fans are lusting over Rangers 3B prospect Mike Olt in the same way Mariners fans lusted over Justin Smoak. Just remember - prospects are hit and miss, and the Lee deal sure shows that 11 players all can miss.