Buster Olney wrote about the Cliff Lee situation over the weekend. The Dodgers have put in a waiver claim for Lee, meaning the Phillies can either work out a trade with the Dodgers or just let the claim go through, meaning the Dodgers pick up the $87.5 million owed Lee after this season while the Phillies get nothing except the financial savings.
Buster outlined the Phillies' predicament and why letting Lee go would be the wise decision:
- The Phillies have saved a lot of money already in unloading the contracts of Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, and if they get rid of Lee's contract, they could put themselves in position to be much more aggressive. They've made mistakes and they're paying for them, but now the Dodgers -- with their bottomless wallet -- are essentially offering them a bailout. The Phillies would be crazy to pass it up, unless they are confident he's going to perform at a $29 million level during the next three seasons.
When the Phillies signed Lee, there was the chance the Phillies' window of opportunity would be short, due to the aging core of their position players. The 2011 team lived up to expectations, as the Lee-Roy Halladay-Cole Hamels triumvirate did headline one of the great rotations in baseball history and the Phillies won 102 games. Expectations for 2012 were similar, although somewhat quelled due to the injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. But none of the Big Three has pitched as well:
2011: 2.40 ERA, 2.6 runs/9, 5.67 SO/BB ratio, 0.7 HR/9, .607 OPS
2012: 3.78 ERA, 3.8 runs/9, 5.17 SO/BB ratio, 1.2 HR/9, .718 OPS
2011: 2.35 ERA, 2.5 runs/9, 6.29 SO/BB ratio, 0.4 HR/9, .582 OPS
2012: 4.02 ERA, 4.0 runs/9, 4.53 SO/BB ratio, 0.8 HR/9, .662 OPS
2011: 2.79 ERA, 2.8 runs/9, 4.41 SO/BB ratio, 0.8 HR/9, .596 OPS
2012: 3.34 ERA, 3.6 runs/9, 3.68 SO/BB ratio, 1.2 HR/9, .696 OPS
The question Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro faces: Can the Big Three bounce back in 2013? Certainly, the core abilities for all three remain. Lee ranks second among National League starters in SO/BB ratio and Hamels ranks 13th (Halladay would be fifth if he had enough innings). But Lee turns 34 at the end of August and Halladay will turn 36 next May. Beyond that, Utley will be 34 and coming off three straight injury-plagued seasons; Howard will be 33 and unlikely to revert his decline; Jimmy Rollins will be 34 and owns a .314 OBP over the past four seasons.
Still, a healthy Lee, Halladay and Hamels can go a long way. Do you gamble that Lee is once again one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2013? Are the home runs just a random fluke, or the result of too many meaty pitches? (He's allowed 18 in 133.1 innings, the same as he allowed in 232.2 innings in 2011.) Do you take advantage of maybe your only chance to get rid of Lee's contract? Because if he performs in 2013 like he did 2012, the Phillies are likely stuck with him the remainder of his deal. Most importantly, does Amaro believe the Phillies' window has closed, and use the money saved on Lee, Victorino, Joe Blanton and Placido Polanco to pursue new options?
What would you do?