Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cliff Lee, Boston, and demanding a bounty

Some 28 hours remain until baseball's non-waiver trade deadline, and the chatter across the industry centers on Cliff Lee. He is the best available player - yes, he is available - and most speculation ties him to Boston.

Cliff Lee, Boston, and demanding a bounty

Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

Some 28 hours remain until baseball's non-waiver trade deadline, and the chatter across the industry centers on Cliff Lee. He is the best available player — yes, he is available — and most speculation ties him to Boston.

The Red Sox crave pitching in an ultra-competitive American League East. They saved money last summer when they dumped most of their bad contracts on the Los Angeles Dodgers. They were frugal this past winter and built a powerful team by adding complimentary players.

They possess a strong farm system, led by infield prospect Xander Bogaerts. One scout who has intimate knowledge of Boston's minor-league system labeled Bogaerts "a clear bit above everyone else." It's not hard to see why. He is 20 years old and has adapted without a hitch at triple A. Baseball America ranked him the game's eighth-best prospect entering 2013. His status has only risen since then.

Imagine a left side of the infield of Bogaerts and Maikel Franco.

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Lee is owed some $70 million over the next three seasons. He is one of the National League's best pitchers. He has never suffered an elbow or shoulder injury. He is 34, and no, he is not getting any younger.

But if Ruben Amaro Jr. does not receive what he wants in the next 28 hours, he can keep Lee. The trade discussions can be revisited in the wintertime or next July, when any acquiring team will still have a year-plus of Lee's services. The Phillies believe their best chance at winning in 2014 is with Lee and Cole Hamels atop the rotation. There is no rush to move him, unless the return is right.

As the three previous trades involving Lee show, obtaining fair value for the ace pitcher is difficult. The Phillies acquired him for Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp in 2009. None of those players are currently in the majors. 

When Amaro dealt Lee to Seattle, he fetched Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez. That package is nothing less than a massive disappointment.

Seattle flipped Lee to Texas for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson. Beavan and Lueke are middling relievers in the majors. Smoak has never lived up to his promise as a slugging first baseman.

If Bogaerts is in the discussion, the Phillies could also look at pitcher Brandon Workman. They drafted him in the third round of the 2007 draft but did not reach an agreement. Boston selected him in the second round of the 2010 draft.

Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and pitcher Henry Owens are Boston's other top prospects besides Bogaerts. But the 20-year-old infielder is the key to any deal.

Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.

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