Cliff Lee is one of the most popular Phillies of most of our lifetimes. After 2009, Lee captured Phillies' fans hearts with a dominant stretch run and 2009 playoff run. Then, as soon as he captured peoples' hearts, he was gone. Traded to Seattle. But the Phillies made good on that botched trade by signing Lee back prior to the 2011 season. The 2011 run and subsequent attempts failed. Could Lee be traded now?
CBS Sports' Jon Heyman thinks so. In fact, two teams have already "kicked the tires" on Lee, and might the Boston Red Sox consider Lee?
The Rangers and Padres were among teams to at least “kick the tires” on the Phillies' returning pitching ace Cliff Lee over the winter. But the Red Sox have a much more obvious need for a frontline starter now and are also known to like Lee, and with Boston and Philadelphia still believed to be at a standstill in their Cole Hamels talks, it is fair to wonder whether Lee could become a consideration for them.
In moving Lee to the Red Sox, Heyman suggests the Phillies take back a popular former Phillie, who has little value to the Red Sox these days:
The sides do seem to have potential matches for either pitcher on the main pieces, and maybe even a secondary piece, as well, as word is the Phillies wouldn't mind bringing back old Philly hero Shane Victorino, whose position in a crowded Bosox outfield appears tenuous.
The prospects are the real draw for the Phillies. Victorino, who had an injury-ridden 2014, would probably sell some Phillies tickets since he has a following in Philadelphia.
Lee's contract, as we have written plenty before, is very complicated. There are just nine teams to which Lee can be traded, and he purposely picked non-contenders/teams the Phillies would avoid. The teams are: Atlanta, Cleveland, Houston, Miami, Minnesota, NY Mets, San Diego, Tampa Bay and Washington. When Lee picked the teams San Diego was not a real consideration for the playoffs. But, Heyman suggests that the clause is moot, as Lee wants to win.
The other complicated point to Lee's contract: if healthy, he will earn $25 million this season and $27.5 million in 2016, should Lee end the season without the disabled list or pitch 200 innings in 2015. Unless Lee is hurt, this option is good as certain. When the Phillies were paying Lee $11 million in 2011, this seemed like a good idea. Right now, the back-loaded deal seems like an albatross.
Until Lee proves that he is his healthy, old self, without a reasonable doubt, the Phillies will retain his services. With likely two years remaining, a healthy Lee may be attractive to contending teams, since the prospect cost back to the Phillies will be lower than Cole Hamels for five years, indeed. But the money and no-trade clause will make this very, very difficult.