With the July 31 Major League Baseball trade deadline nearing the top trade target being mentioned repeatedly in various reports is Philadelphia Phillies starter Cliff Lee. In addition, the St. Louis Cardinals are being mentioned as one of the possible destinations for Lee. In many ways the trade seems like a perfect fit. The Phillies need to get younger and jettison some of their payroll. The Cardinals would be better with a proven, veteran starter at the stretch of the season. The Cardinals have the prospects to acquire Lee, and they have the payroll flexibility as well. Here are the latest reported rumors over the last 48 hours related to Lee and the Cardinals.
– Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that it is still unlikely that Lee will be traded. Rosenthal quotes a rival executive as saying that the Phillies are willing to trade Lee, but only “for a lot!!!” in return. Rosenthal also cites Lee’s contract (he is still owed $74 million through 2016), time constraints, the Phillies inexperience as sellers, the lack of financial pressure on the Phillies, and Lee’s stiff neck as reasons why a deal likely will not get done.
– On the other end of the spectrum, an NL executive told Andy Martino of the New York Daily News that he does believe Lee will be dealt. The executive cited Boston as Lee’s likely destination, and said the belief was based on “informed speculation” rather than anything he had heard directly from Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr.
– ESPN’s Jayson Stark reported that the Phillies are asking other teams to take on all of Lee’s remaining contract while also giving up top prospects. Stark quotes a MLB executive as saying that is likely too steep of a price to pay or any team.
– Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the price for Lee is said to be “enormous.” Heyman quotes one competing executive who stated it would “take your three or four best prospects” to get Lee. For the Cardinals, that would look something like Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, and Kolten Wong – at minimum.
– Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Cardinals GM John Mozeliak as stating “I would say I don’t feel that right now we’re close to doing anything at this point.” At the same time, Mozeliak stated, “Things may change. I would say that we’re not looking just to do something incrementally. …We understand that if we really want our team to get better there’s going to be a cost.” An acquisition of Lee would certainly not be an incremental move. In the Goold article Mozeliak also signaled a willingness to deal from the Cardinals best prospect pool for an impact player “if we feel it’s the right piece.”
This Author’s Thinly Supported Speculation Based on the Reports Above
Based on numerous media reports it appears obvious that Amaro and Mozeliak have at least had a phone call concerning Lee. The real question is how long that phone call was, whether offers were exchanged, and how far apart the two sides remain. Are the two men still texting and calling each other today or has the phone line gone cold?
Both team’s seem to be trending in the right direction for a trade. The Phillies have gone from saying they have no intention of trading Lee to saying they would trade him for the right offer. The Cardinals have gone from saying they have no intention of trading their top prospects to saying they would trade them for a long-term impact acquisition like Lee would provide.
Having said all that, it is also clear that some distance must remain otherwise we would all be talking about whether Lee would start in the Pirates series rather than whether he would be traded. If the Jon Heyman report is true, the Phillies are probably asking for three or four prospects from a list of Michael Wacha, Matt Adams, Carlos Martinez, Kolten Wong, and Oscar Taveras while also asking the Cardinals to take on all of Lee’s salary. If the report from Derrick Goold is true, the Cardinals are likely willing to part with one or possibly two of those prospects (i.e. Martinez and Wong), and possibly asking the Phillies to eat a small portion of Lee’s contract.
As the deadline nears will the Phillies come down on their asking price? Will the Cardinals feel pressure to include more as they feel the Pirates knipping at their heels? To know that we would need to read the minds of the management for both teams. So for now, we will just have to stay tuned.
Odds of a Lee Trade to the Cardinals – 20% or Less
Those odds may seem low, but they are much better than a week ago, when the odds would be zero percent. Still, a number of obstacles remain to Lee being a Cardinal including: (1) Boston’s offer which may be better; (2) the Phillies high asking price; (3) the Cardinals willingness to give up top prospects; (4) the Cardinals willingness to take on that big of a salary; and (5) Lee’s health. Overcoming one or two of those issues might be doable. Overcoming all five of those obstacles appears doubtful at best.