May 29, 2013

Hot rumor: Cliff Lee’s next locale. Could it be Texas?

The Phillies’ slide has their ace thinking about winning with another team.

When Cliff Lee was here, he obviously didn’t want to be here any longer than he had to be here.

Cliff left us in a hurry, too. He ran eagerly into the arms of... where?


We’ve been dumped before. Will be dumped again. But being dumped for the city of Philly, now that’s a direct kick to the sensitive ego area.

Some 2 1/2 years later, however, the final verdict on the brief saga of Cliff Lee’s local relationship/departure with the Texas Rangers says this:

He lost.

Or let me quote Mr. Lee from last week:

“I definitely want to win. I want to be on a winning team. That should be what it’s all about.”

The Phillies haven’t and aren’t winning spit since Lee signed on as a free agent before the 2011 season, joining at the time what was supposed to be the best pitching staff in baseball for years to come. Halladay, Hamels and him.

His Phillies, of course, got knocked out of the first round of the playoffs in ’11, didn’t make the playoffs last season and, while it’s early this season, a postseason slot seems extremely unlikely.

Meanwhile, the Rangers went back to the World Series without Lee in 2011 (I won’t mention Game 6), won 93 games last season (I won’t mention how it ended) and, even with a little dip of late, have 32 wins already this season.

Lee lost. At least based on Cliff telling us winning is the only thing that matters to him.

Which brings up the obvious next step.

Jon Daniels trades for Cliff Lee.

Forget the local Lee hate, or the local Lee disgust.

Forget that Cliff’s wife, after the family left us, said it was too hot in Arlington and the traffic to the ballpark from Dallas was too much. (Hey, don’t live in Dallas, OK?)

But the hottest trade rumor going in baseball at the moment is the locale of Lee’s next team.

And let it be known that Lee didn’t dislike it around here as much as we thought, or his wife indicated.

Cliff has a deep list of clubs in his Philly contract that are on a no-trade list. Twenty of them to be exact. But one of the nine teams where he will accept a deal is the Rangers. (A possible disclaimer: The Rangers were one of the nine on the original list, but players usually have the right to change the teams each year.)

Would the Rangers be interested in Cliff Lee?


Are the Rangers a fit for Philly in a trade?


The Phillies have a bloated payroll, an aging roster, a disaster from a run production standpoint, key major injuries and, the kicker, a depleted farm system.

Despite all that, Lee, now 34, has been one of the best pitchers in the game this season. He’s 6-2, with a 2.34 ERA, despite receiving an average of three runs a start.

If this kind of performance continues in July, and Philly’s slide continues, Lee will be in great demand.

The hang-ups are many, of course.

Philly will want Jurickson Profar. The Rangers will say no. But then the negotiations will start.

Here’s the way one major league GM explained it to me on Wednesday:

The contract Lee signed with the Phillies when he left the Rangers was a simple five years, $120 million. But the deal was heavily backloaded. Starting this season, three years into the contract, the big money kicks in.

Trading for Lee at midseason would start the cash register at $12.5 million, but to finish out the last two years, a team would be paying $62.5 million, and if a vested sixth year on the deal kicked in, it would be $75.5 million for three years.

Lee will be 35 in August.

The Phillies will want a boatload of prospects.

The negotiations with the Rangers, or whomever, will center first on the remaining money.

A team could offer to pay $20 million a year for the next two or three years, and the Phillies have to pick up the rest of the contract. If agreed upon, then the club offers an A-list of prospects.

If the Phillies demand a club assumes the full contract, then only a B-list of prospects will be offered.

That same GM said he’s doubtful a Lee trade can be pulled off by anyone because the Phillies have pressure to get back top prospects and won’t be willing to pay off some $20 million.

But the flip side is it’s a wealthy franchise, with massive attendance, and the club needs a huge infusion of top young talent. The money part may not be a sticking point with Philadelphia.

Then there’s the Rangers.

It’s a club that wants to make the postseason for the fourth straight year (assuming you consider last season actually making the playoffs) and then make an impact once it gets there.

Bless those boys (Tepesch, Grimm, Mr. Wolf, etc.) who have held the depleted rotation together, but there is no assurance that Colby Lewis or Matt Harrison is going to come riding to the rescue at some distant point. If at all.

The Rangers have to have rotation help.

Cliff Lee figures to be an option, and at the moment, the best option out there.


Do you trade Profar for a soon to be 35-year-old pitcher? Does Profar have to be included to make the deal happen? Can Lee be a rotation-difference maker this season and for the next two seasons?

The answers are:

Well, originally, yes, yes, yes. But let me think on it some more. What other pitchers will be available? And at what price?

Sure, there’s a large segment of local fandom mad because Lee dumped us.

But the consolation is the Rangers still won. The Phillies didn’t win.

Everyone can gloat on that, and then figure out a way to bring back Cliff Lee.

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