If it’s July, Cliff Lee must be on the trade market.
Actually, Lee hasn’t been traded during the season since 2010. Chances are, he will not be traded before the non-waiver deadline at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday. But the Phillies are discussing their All-Star left-hander with other clubs, according to major league sources, creating the possibility of another Lee blockbuster.
One rival executive on Sunday night acknowledged the Phillies’ willingness to trade Lee but said the team would do it only “for a lot!!!” — meaning, a steep package of talent.
The Phils’ demands, however, would be but one obstacle to a deal. The other obstacles would include:
• Lee’s contract:
Lee, 34, is owed nearly $9 million for the rest of this season, salaries of $25 million in both 2014 and ’15 and a $27.5 million option or $12.5 million buyout in ’16.
A team such as the Boston Red Sox or Los Angeles Dodgers might be willing to absorb such a deal but likely would not part with substantial talent unless the Phillies assumed some of the financial burden.
Lee’s contract also includes a 20-team no-trade clause. The Red Sox, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers are among the teams that would need Lee’s permission to acquire him, sources told FOXSports.com’s Jon Paul Morosi. The St. Louis Cardinals are among the nine teams that could acquire Lee without restriction.
• Time constraints:
Until this weekend, the Phillies seemed undecided about whether they even wanted to trade veterans. Their stance changed after they went 0-6 on a trip to St. Louis and Detroit, falling 11 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. But now, the non-waiver deadline is only days away.
The Phils, sources said, did extensive background work on teams that might have interest in Lee. But could general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. put together such a major deal so quickly? Rival clubs are skeptical, and Amaro might need to wait until the August waiver period or the offseason if he is serious about trading Lee.
• Amaro’s inexperience as a seller:
Amaro took over as GM on Nov. 1, 2008, the day after the Phillies celebrated their most recent World Series title with a parade down Broad Street in Philadelphia. The team made the playoffs in each of the next three seasons before falling to 81-81 a year ago.
“Ruben has always been a buyer,” one rival executive said. “He doesn’t know how to sell.”
That statement is not exactly true — Amaro last season traded outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence and right-hander Joe Blanton. But only once before has Amaro moved a player the caliber of Lee — when he sent Lee to the Seattle Mariners as an outgrowth of the deal that brought righty Roy Halladay to Philadelphia in December 2009.
The meager return from Seattle outfielder Tyson Gillies and pitchers Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez — haunts the Phillies to this day.
• The lack of financial pressure on the Phillies:
The Phils traded Lee in ’09 in part to clear a salary slot for Halladay, who agreed to a three-year, $60 million contract extension after arriving in a separate trade from the Toronto Blue Jays.
That extension might have gone to Lee, but the Phillies at the time believed they could not sign him to a similar deal. So, the Phillies acquired $6 million from the Jays to cover the difference in Halladay’s and Lee’s salaries in ’10, then signed Halladay long-term.
This time, the Phils are under no such constraints, even though left-hander Cole Hamels is in the first year of a $144 million extension and Cuban free-agent right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez agreed to a five-year, $48 million deal last Friday.
The Phils’ current local TV deal expires after 2015, and their new deal is certain to be a whopper.
They can afford to keep Lee.
• Lee’s stiff neck:
What team would want to trade for an injured pitcher? The Phillies scratched Lee from his start in Detroit on Saturday, raising concern that he might not be healthy.
“I don’t see how they can trade him if he isn’t going to make a start before the deadline,” one rival executive told Morosi.
The injury does not appear to be a ruse; one of Lee’s teammates described it as “totally legit.” If that is the case, however, then Lee qualifies as something of a risk.
Put it all together, and Lee figures to stay put through the non-waiver deadline. The Phillies then could try to trade him in August, but Lee would need to clear waivers. He didn’t last season — the Dodgers claimed him, and the Phillies then pulled him back, wanting no part of a deal.
Of course, this is a player who was traded from Montreal to Cleveland in ‘02, from Cleveland to Philadelphia in ‘09, from Philadelphia to Seattle during the ’09 offseason and from Seattle to Texas in 2010.
It’s July, and Cliff Lee is back on the trade market.