Some perspective on Cliff Lee

It is funny how our brains work. As a sports writer, a large chunk of my job involves typing names and typing them correctly, often in a short frame of time. A lot of us have certain names that give us trouble. Earlier this season, while filing a story involving Matt Lindstrom, the Marlins closer, I accidentally typed the name Nik Lidstrom, the hockey player (and, coincidentally, as I tried to write Nik Lidstrom earlier today on this blog, I typed Erik Lidstrom). During spring training, when writing about John Mayberry, the Phillies outfielder, I would often catch myself typing Jermane Mayberry, the former Eagles offensive lineman. And just now, while writing a headline for a blog post about Cliff Lee, the Indians ace, I found myself typing a headline about Travis Lee, the former Phillies first baseman.

Lee, the Phillies first baseman, was involved in the deal that sent Curt Schilling to Arizona in exchange for a less-than-blockbuster package of players. Now, we are talking about another Lee, in the opposite circumstance, potentially headed to Philadelphia in a cost-cutting move by Cleveland.

But my dyslexic brain has also provided me with an appropriate, although meandering, segue into the current situation: if the Phillies are going to land Cliff Lee, they are going to be giving up a whole lot more than Travis Lee.

I think this is important to point out, because I've read a number of reports that suggest the Phillies view Cliff Lee as a far cheaper alternative than Roy Halladay. And while this may be true from a monetary perspective - Lee is owed just $9 million next season - nothing I have heard from folks around the league suggest that it will be true from a prospects perspective.

I would be very surprised if any deal for Lee does not require the equivalent of a Kyle Drabek. Now, maybe the Indians value someone like Carlos Carrasco (see the previous post for details on his situation) as a near-major-league-ready pitching prospect with huge upside. If that is the case, then perhaps Drabek would not be required. But the Indians had a scout watching Drabek pitch last night, and - at least on paper - Cleveland might have even more leverage than Toronto currently has with Halladay:

1) Cliff Lee's financial price tag is far less than Halladay's. Lee will earn $9 million next year. Halladay will earn nearly $16 million. While Cleveland might be under pressure to get rid of that salary, it would make little sense to do so in exchange for a package of players that does not involve at least one pitcher who is close to major league ready and can slide into the rotation next season. $9 million is not a high price to pay for a top-of-the-rotation starter, and unless Cleveland gets a player who can take his place next  year, thereby giving them an actual savings of about $8.5 million on that roster spot, it doesn't make sense to me or other more informed people I have spoken with to trade him.

2) Cliff Lee has won a Cy Young much more recently than Roy Halladay. I'm not comparing the two. Halladay is far and away the cream of the crop. Lee had a great season last year and is having a very good one this year. But he does not have the track record of Halladay. And he is left-handed. The Phillies already have three lefties in the rotation. Hand dominance is not a deal-breaker. But in a perfect word, the Phillies would like a right-handed pitcher. That said, Lee is still a darn good starting pitcher. There is nothing second-rate about him, at least not over the last two years. Remember, we are talking about leverage right now, about the price-tag the Indians can demand in good conscience. And on paper, they have every right to ask for a blockbuster package.

3) Lee does not have a no-trade clause. Part of the reason why the Phillies have been labelled the front-runners for Halladay is that they are one of the few teams he would accept a trade to. Lee has no such limitations, meaning the number of teams who could land him might be greater than the number of teams who have a shot at Halladay. Greater demand equals greater price. Just ask OPEC.

4) One baseball person I talked to yesterday speculated - and, again, this is just speculation - that the Indians could be satisfied with a package that makes up for a drop-off in individual quality with quantity. But quantity does not mean five mid-level prospects equalling one top-level prospect. It means four or five very good prospects - think Carlos Carrasco, Michael Taylor and Lou Marson, among others.

5) A lot of this could depend on Cleveland's desperation to move Lee. Obviously, the more desperate they are, the greater the chance of acquiring him for a lesser package of prospects. There is no question the Indians' asking price should be lower than the Blue Jays. I'm just not convinced it will be as low as a lot of people think.

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