UPDATE (5:20 p.m.): Ruben Amaro strongly denied the Lee-Upton report, saying "I don't comment on rumors but that one is absolutely and unequivocally false."
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The first out-of-the-blue rumor bomb just dropped here at the Opryland Hotel, with ESPN's Pedro Gomez reporting that the Phillies are discussing a trade that would send Cliff Lee to Arizona in exchange for Justin Upton. Keep in mind that this is still just a bit of gossip forwarded via Twitter, so we don't really have a good handle on how serious things might be.
Still, here is why it would make sense:
The free agent market is ridiculously pricey right now, with reports out of Boston that Shane Victorino has been offered somewhere around three years and 38 million. There simply are no bargains to be had. Even Jonny Gomes signed for two years and $10 million. I'll write more on this later, but I've been doing some crude Consumer Price Index type comparisons between contracts last year and contracts this year, and my current working estimate is that we're seeing between 40 and 50 percent inflation (Example: Cody Ross signed for one year and $3 million last year. Gomes' numbers are similar to Ross'. Gomes landed $5 million per year. That's a 40 percent 60 percent increase over what a similar player received last year in AAV).
At this point, teams are going to overpay at any end of the spectrum. The question is how much do they feel comfortable overpaying. I really get the sense that the Phillies are not in a position to be overpaying anybody. They need value. And Upton represents a value. He has three years and $38 million left on his contract in Arizona. Cliff Lee has three years and $87.5 million remaining. Clearly the Phillies would have to kick in some cash, or prospects, or both. But they'd be saving a ton and addressing a need by adding Upton, and the starting pitching market is one place where prices do not appear to be outlandish. At least there are some options. Like, for example, the Phillies could trade Lee for Upton and then go out and try to land a pitcher like Anibal Sanchez. Or, hell, maybe they make a late entrance into the Zack Greinke bidding. Regardless, pitching is a strength right now for the Phillies. Outfield is a weakness. The outfield market is overpriced. It could make sense to swap a strength to bolster a weakness and save some money to address their other areas of need. Look, Cliff Lee has been everything the Phillies hoped he would be when they signed him. But when they signed him they thought they had a championship caliber lineup. They clearly do not. And given the zaniness of the current market, Ruben Amaro Jr. and company just might have to audible.