The Lee Dilemma
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Lee injury hurts the Phillies in two ways. The most obvious is that he is out of the rotation and is their best pitcher. That puts this current season in jeopardy. A little less obvious (but not that much) is that should the Phillies drop out of contention, then they will start a rebuilding process by trading veterans, but Cliff Lee becomes significantly less attractive to other teams. Jayson Stark of ESPN was on the Mike Missanelli show today and he said that he recently spoke with a club president who was interested in Lee, but said he would now be concerned about Lee’s elbow and his contract.
Let’s talk about that contract. After this year in which Lee will be paid $25 million, he will be paid the same amount next year. Then there is a vesting option for the 2016 season at $27.5 million. In the craziness of the world of baseball salaries, it could be said that Lee was worth that amount relative to the rest of baseball. Plus, he has been quite durable. Until now. If the Phillies were going to trade 35-year-old pitcher getting paid that much at least the other team could be assured of his durability. Now that durability is in question. This means that should the Phillies look to trade Lee, they will probably get a little bit to significantly less in return and pay a little bit more to a lot more of his salary.It all depends on how quickly he comes back and how he performs, especially around the trading deadline. If he is in one of those Cliff Lee zones, then maybe the Phillies can get lucky. Time will tell.
What does this mean for right now? It all depends on how well his replacement does. At first glance, that may seem like a tall order considering the guy replacing him, David Buchanan, was terrible in his last outing after which came after his own injury. While Buchanan had a nice spring, his minor league numbers are quite mediocre. That being said, sometimes minor leaguers have short-term success due to the fact that hitters haven’t seen them yet (Vance Worley, anyone?) Also, while Lee had a nice ERA, he was not having a classic Cliff Lee year, leading the league in hits allowed. So, maybe Buchanan can be a stop-gap until Lee (hopefully) returns and returns to form in a month. Why not former first-round pick and local product Jesse Biddle? Jayson Stark also spoke about how the Phillies don’t think he’s ready yet (and that’s probably true). Stark also said that some scouts who have seen Biddle pitch this year are less impressed with him than in the past. Let’s hope they are wrong. Here is an article on CSNPhilly.com about how Biddle has improved this year from last.
This situation is why I suggested the Phillies look into trading Lee for a while now. Not that I wanted him to leave necessarily, (and not that Amaro got anything for him the first time) but I was concerned about his age and contract combined with the fact that the Phillies probably weren’t going to be contenders over the remainder of Lee’s contract. It could be that I will be proven wrong and Lee comes back strong. But if not, the Phillies are going to be in a tough situation.