With the trade deadline less a little more than a month away, it’s time to start thinking about potential deals that might vault the Indians into serious contention. This week, the subject is former Wahoo Cliff Lee.
Thus far (as of 6/21), Cliff Lee has gone 9-2 with the Phillies this season while pitching to a 2.53 ERA, with one of those losses coming against the Tribe. In all but two of his starts this season, Lee has gone at least 7 innings, bringing his total to over 110 IP with a couple of starts left before the All-Star break. Outside of a rough stretch mid-April to May 1st, the Phillies have won all but one of his starts. He has recorded 98 strikeouts while pitching to a WHIP of 0.95. He is a true ace-caliber pitcher worth every penny of the ridiculously expensive 5-year, 120 million dollar extension the Philadelphia signed him for. One of my favorite stats of Cliff Lee is that he has pitched 7 games of double-digit strikeouts without a walk since the start of 2010. He has pinpoint command, he misses bats, and he pitches long into almost every ball game he starts. What else can you possibly ask of a major league pitcher?
The real question here is not whether the Indians need Cliff Lee this year. Anyone asking this question to themselves or others should have their head promptly dunked into a toilet followed by a series of flushes accompanied by joyful cackling. Yes, we’ll would be ecstatic to have him back. But we need to look at two very important factors before we get our hopes up. The first is whether or not the organization can afford his 25 million dollar salary over the next two years, plus a vesting option for 27.5 million in 2016. The second is how much of our thin farm system we might have to gamble in order to land the trade.
In order to properly fantasize about a playoff run, we have to assume that the Dolans have suddenly decided to open up their pockets to do whatever it takes to make a postseason charge possible. Their commitments to Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Brett Myers and Mark Reynolds were admirable and has given the fans a reason to be excited. So let’s assume for all intents and purposes that the owners will somehow find it within the budget of their new TV deal to spend an extra quarter million a year on a pitcher who can help push them to October.
The easiest way to get Cliff Lee from the Phillies’ hesitant clutches would be a package headlined by shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor. Jimmy Rollins‘ contract will be up soon and they don’t have any notable prospects in their system to replace him other than their first-round selection this year, high schooler J.P. Crawford. Like all high school draft picks, he’s not a sure bet, and he likely won’t be ready when Rollins’ contract is up. In my opinion, Lindor should be regarded as untouchable. But it’s a possibility nonetheless.
The other asset in the organization that might tempt the Phils is middle-infield prospect Dorssys Paulino. Granted, Paulino alone would not be nearly enough to pull Cliff Lee, but the Phils do need a good second baseman to fill the void when Chase Utley leaves. Paulino’s ceiling is probably an everyday middle-infielder and 20/20 guy, while his floor is a solid backup infielder who can give your 4, 5 or 6 a rest on any given day of the week. The Tribe would likely have to give up a good pitching prospect in addition to Paulino to make this trade work. I’m thinking Danny Salazar over Mitch Brown, because he’s closer to major-league ready. Realistically it might need to be Carrasco over Salazar, but if the youngster continues to grow at Columbus this year he could be a valuable trade chip. A solid fourth outfield prospect like Tyler Naquin or LeVon Washington along with a standard player-to-be-named-later would round out the deal.
Yes, the Indians would significantly increase their chances of a playoff berth by getting Cliff Lee back. The price would be heavy, but if there’s a way to do it without betting the farm system it would be an absolutely great move for the Wahoos not only for this season, but through 2016, a window in which we can feasibly contend every year.