Phillies Willing to Ship Cliff Lee to the Desert If They Have To


The Phillies seem intent on trying to find a taker for Cliff Lee.

Yesterday, it was the Texas Rangers. And while those talks have reportedly cooled (mainly because Amaro wants to pick up just a portion of Lee’s salary and wants 3B prospect Mike Olt in the deal) or never got real serious in the first place, Amaro may have a potential new suitor in the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported overnight that Arizona general manager Kevin Towers wants to deal for a premier starting pitcher.

If you haven’t been paying attention (and if we’re talking about the Diamondbacks, chances are you haven’t) Arizona has won eight of their last 11 games and are now just 3 1/2 games out of first place in the National League West. Suddenly, they’ve gone from sellers to buyers, and Towers believes a front-line ace pitcher could give them what they need to win the division.

The Diamondbacks also have a young outfielder that would fit perfectly with the Phillies in Justin Upton. Last year, Upton finished fourth in the NL MVP balloting, hitting .289/.369/.529 for an OPS of .898, with 31 HRs, 88 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases. This year, Upton has fallen off of those numbers, hitting just .273 with an slugging percentage of only .404 and just eight home runs so far. Still, he has an OBP of .364, so he’s still getting on base at a high rate.

Upton also might be the perfect “change-of-scenery” guy. After all, the D-Backs have treated Upton like a wet sock over the last two years, dangling him in trade rumors over the upstairs bannister. Whenever a team consistently tells you that they don’t want you around, it tends to affect your play.

Financially, if something between Arizona and the Phils is going to work, the Phillies will need to eat a lot of Lee’s contract. The Diamondbacks can’t take on all of the remaining $87.5 million. As Rosenthal points out, Upton is set to earn $38.5 million over the same length of time that Lee is under contract, through 2015.

If Amaro agrees to take on the difference between Lee’s and Upton’s contracts, or at least a large portion of the difference, a deal between the two sides might actually work.

Still, there are huge landmines to navigate. It’s unclear if Arizona is a team on Lee’s partial no-trade list. And there would be reverberations throughout the clubhouse to deal with as well. However, none of these players has a right to gripe about anything Ruben Amaro does today. They’ve forced his hand.

And honestly, while dreaming of Justin Upton in a Phils uniform is a fun way to spend three or four hours, it seems far-fetched that Towers would deal for a pitcher who will turn 34 next month.

If Towers is serious about adding a front-line starter, what are his other options?

Florida’s Josh Johnson would probably be his first choice. He’s the same age as Upton and is cheaper. I would imagine the Marlins would jump at the chance to acquire a player like Upton for Johnson, if they’re intent on moving their big right-hander. Seattle’s Felix Hernandez is another, but the Mariners have said he’s not available under any circumstances. Who else is left? Tampa’s James Shields? Chicago’s Ryan Dempster? Aside from Lee and Johnson, there aren’t a lot of big-time starters on the market.

It’s unknown as of early Tuesday morning if there have been any discussions between Towers and Amaro regarding Cliff Lee. Rosenthal mentioned something about “rival executives” and “indications” and “possible conversations that may or may not have been conducted while in a mushroom-induced haze,” or something like that.

But one can imagine Amaro at least dialing Towers up, you know, just to say hi.

Acquiring Upton would give the Phils the corner outfielder they need to move Hunter Pence in the offseason. It would also allow them to go after a third baseman like Chase Headley after the season as well. Even if the Phillies have to eat some of Lee’s contract, the Phils would be bringing in younger positional talent in exchange for an aging starter, something the Phils desperately need to do.

The Phillies need a balance between pitching and offense. They haven’t had that since 2009.

Look, this deal probably isn’t going to happen. But it’s not a ridiculous thought.