What would a third Cliff Lee trade mean for the Phillies?

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As the trade deadline draws closer, the demand for Cliff Lee will rise considerably. (AP Photo / Mike Carlson)

Right now, Phillies tickets would be easier to find if they were printed on gold paper and wrapped around chocolate bars and distributed throughout the city at random.

But there is another option for passionate fans who are interested in supporting the cause:

Pray for Chone Figgins.

And, while you are at it, send Casey Kotchman an encouraging note. And buy a Milton Bradley jersey. Heck, buy some board games too.

Because right now, the biggest threat to the Phillies' third straight National League title might be a failed state in Seattle.

Regardless of how you felt about the Phillies' decision to trade Cliff Lee this offseason, or the prospects they received in the deal, you had to give the club credit for the location where they chose to return their Rent-An-Ace. Back in December, club president David Montgomery dismissed the notion that the team used geography as a factor when deciding how to jilt the lefty. Whether or not you believe his claim, it is impossible to ignore the convenience offered by shipping Lee as far from Philadelphia as physically impossible. Not only did the ownership ensure that they would not have to read about the vast majority of Lee's starts while consuming their Sunny Delight and microwaveable breakfast sandwiches each morning -- not even Cliff Lee can figure out how to get a late West Coast game into an East Coast newspaper -- they also seemed to limit their odds of facing him in any setting outside of the All-Star Game. Even with Lee and Felix Hernandez atop their rotation, the Mariners would have to overcome some significant hurdles in New York, Tampa Bay, Boston, Minnesota and Los Angeles to make it to the World Series.

In Montgomery's perfect world, Lee would keep the Mariners in contention for most of the season, lose to Roy Halladay in the All-Star Game, then  watch his season end as the big-monied American League contenders seized control of October. It was a logical way to think -- even if the Phillies weren't actually thinking that way. And, despite the Mariners horrid start, it still is, given the level of disinterest among the candidates to fill the power vacuum in the AL West.

But numbers are numbers, and right now, the Mariners couldn't buy a hit if they played their home games in Hamsterdam. They are 10 games under .500, and have exactly two regulars hitting above .255. Figgins, their marquee addition to the line-up this offseason, not to mention a player the Phillies wisely avoided signing to play third base, has nine RBI and seven extra base hits in 135 at-bats this season (to put that in perspective, Phillies pitchers have four RBI and three extra-base hits in 84 at-bats).

Nobody should expect Seattle to start looking toward the future any time soon. But as the trade deadline draws closer, the demand for Lee will heat up considerably. And the Mariners could easily reach a point where they realize flipping him for prospects is their smartest decision.

Which is where the Phillies should begin to shudder.

Because when it comes to rogue states and Weapons of Mass Destruction, the biggest concern to the establishment is not the rogue state itself, but its potential business partners.

And you can bet the National League would field its share of interested parties, shadowy or otherwise.

Dodgers - They have been hamstrung by the ongoing divorce battle between the McCourts, but you don't think Ned Colletti will lobbying hard for an established veteran to add to Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw? They control virtually their entire line-up through at least next season, and they have close to $30 million coming off the books this offseason in Manny Ramirez and Hiroki Kuroda. This close to free agency, Lee is almost sure to test the market. But it wouldn't be too big of a stretch to see the Dodgers making a run at a long-term deal with Lee this offseason. They were reported to be looking at Halladay last year, and they added Ramirez two years ago in a blockbuster deadline deal. Their farm system isn't in great shape, but they have so much young talent at the big league level that you have to think they could put together a legitimate offer.

Imagine a Best-of-Five first-round series against a Dodgers rotation that sends Lee out to the mound twice against the Phillies line-up? Not to mention Kershaw, Billingsley and Kuroda.

Mets - Anybody want to face Lee and Santana four times in a playoff series? Like the Dodgers, the Mets aren't in great shape in their farm system. But they are also lagging in attendance, and stewing over the Phillies' recent domination of the division. Yeah, they've struggled here lately, and could be out of contention come deadline time. But if they are anywhere close to striking distance, two-and-a-half months of Lee-Santana-Pelfrey could work wonders. Heck, maybe Seattle would even be in a position to take on a change-of-scenery project like Oliver Perez (along, of course, with a considerable financial package) as a kick-in.

Reds - They have a slim lead in the National League Central, but have a rotation that ranks in the middle-of-the-pack in ERA, and they don't have a single lefty starter.

Lee's cheap $9 million salary means there would be plenty of teams who could convince their ownership to fit him in to the payroll. An additional $4.5 million could easily pay for itself at the gate with a postseason run. And you only have to look back to C.C. Sabathia with the Brewers for evidence of how much one dominant starter can impact a small-to-mid-market club who has plenty of other pieces in place.

There are plenty of things that would have to happen before the Mariners trade Lee to a National League team. It is only mid-May. Lee has only been in the rotation for a couple of weeks. If the Mariners are still within striking distance at the trade deadline, chances are they become buyers and not sellers. Even if they do decide to deal, there will be plenty of interested American League clubs.

But two years ago, the Indians landed a haul in exchange for a half-season of Sabathia. Given Lee's minimal salary figure and his recent track record, in both the regular season and postseason, he should create a seller's market for his services. If the Mariners think there is a chance they can end up in the black on Net Talent, and if they think there is a chance that all they'll get out of Lee is some early season headlines, they'll have to seriously consider the possibility.

Sure, there are plenty of American League teams who will be looking for pitching. But history suggests that these things usually happen interleague. Think Sabathia and Joe Blanton two years ago, Lee last season and this offseason, Halladay this offseason, Bartolo Colon back in the day. So while a team like Minnesota would seem to have both the need and resources to put together a competitive package for an ace like Lee, the Mariners would hardly be a trailblazer in deciding to take a little less to get him out of the American League.

I realize the season is still in its early stages, and given the local hysteria surrounding the decision to trade Lee, writing something like this is like opening up a Hot Dog Stand on Survivor Island.

But given the Mariners' ugly start, and the fact that every other contender in the National League is devising ways to beat the Phillies in October, the possibility of Cliff Lee falling into the hands of a rival faction is something that, at the very least, is worth pondering.

Besides, it is never to early to Pray for Chone.

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