The Phillies are in the midst of a long overdue rebuild and it’s looking more and more like a full-on clearance sale for established – and well-paid – veteran talent.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has already moved Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd via trade, let A.J. Burnett walk via free agency, and he’s been working to trade Jonathan Papelbon and Cole Hamels for most of the winter.
On top of that he’s been very honest about wanting to move on from the albatross that is Ryan Howard and his sizable contract.
One player that has been surprisingly absent from trade rumors this offseason is Cliff Lee.
That no longer appears to be the case, as Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reported earlier today:
As Stark mentions, moving Lee is entirely dependent upon his health.
The left-hander was limited to just 13 starts last season with a flexor pronator strain in his pitching elbow. It marked the first time in his entire career that he’d been placed on the disabled list.
Despite the injury cutting his season short, he was able to avoid surgery. Instead he received platelet-rich plasma injections which – seemingly – got the job done.
Lee is reportedly healthy, throwing off a mound, and – barring any unforeseen setbacks during spring training – should be ready for Opening Day.
While health is paramount to moving the southpaw, money will also be a key factor.
Lee is owed $25 million in 2015 and has a $27.5 million option – or a not insignificant $12.5 million buyout – for 2016, so moving him will also require the Phillies to eat some cash.
Luckily, unlike some of the Phillies other, um, “less-desirable” trade chips, Lee still offers incredible value on the field.
Despite pitching injured last season, Lee still managed a 3.65 ERA, 2.96 FIP, 102 ERA+, and 8.0 K/9 in 81.1 innings; and he has been one of baseball’s best pitchers since breaking out to win the American League Cy Young award in 2008 with Cleveland.
Between 2008 and 2013, he put up an aggregate 2.89 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 140 ERA+, and a 1.08 WHIP; all while averaging 200 strikeouts and 222 innings pitched per season.
He split those six seasons between Cleveland, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Texas – dominating at every stop.
It is worth noting that Lee can block a trade to 21 teams as part of his partial no-trade clause, but he cannot block a deal to the Braves, Marlins, Indians, Astros, Twins, Mets, Padres, Nationals and Rays.
The only team on that list that could be a wild card for Lee’s services is San Diego.
Depending on which rumor of the day you read, they’re reportedly in pursuit of Hamels or free agent James Shields, but if they’re unable to land either of those two, Lee could make for a very interesting fallback option.
It’s also not hard to imagine Lee waiving his no-trade clause to pitch for a contender and there are plenty of teams that could use an ace of Lee’s caliber to put them over the top for a World Series run.
Admittedly, there are still plenty of hurdles to clear before we get too excited about Lee’s potential landing spots.
He needs to prove he’s healthy – no small task at 36-years-old and coming off an injury to a heavily-worked elbow – and the Phillies need to prove willing to eat a sizable chunk of his salary.
Needless to say it could be a very interesting spring training for Lee and the Phillies.