Phillies trade for Cliff Lee, remembering the deal ten years later
Ten years ago the Phillies went all-in to acquire one of the best pitchers in baseball
Coming off their first World Series championship in 28 years the Philadelphia Phillies were hungry for another ring. Sitting 17 games over .500 and six games up in the National League East on July 29, the club decided to go all-in for another championship ring by acquiring the reigning American League Cy Young winner, Cliff Lee.
Pitching was not the Phillies strong suit when they won in 2008. Cole Hamels carried the load late in the season while Brett Myers and Jamie Moyer were serviceable.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. knew the club needed more depth after having to acquire Joe Blanton and rely on young starters like J.A. Happ and Kyle Kendrick at times. Amaro Jr. added veteran Chan Ho Park in the offseason and took a shot at Pedro Martinez midseason.
Through their first 48 games Phillies starters had a 5.94 ERA. Park had a 6.65 ERA through his first 10 games and Hamels was a shell of his 2008 self. Myers went on the 60-day disabled list, and Martinez didn’t sign with the club until mid-July.
The hottest name on the trade market that offseason was Indians starter Cliff Lee, an electric lefty with a dominant arsenal of pitches. In 2008 with the Indians Lee led the league with 22 wins and a 2.54 ERA en route to a Cy Young win.
Amaro knew he needed to make a big splash to boost the starting rotation entering the 2009 trade deadline. He made a push for Roy Halladay, whom he’d acquire the following offseason, and Lee.
On July 29 the Indians and Phillies came to an agreement on a deal that’d send Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco to Philadelphia. In exchange, the Phillies sent prospects Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Jason Donald, and Lou Marson.
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At the time Sports Illustrated rated Carrasco as the 68th best prospect in baseball. After some early bumps with the Indians Carrasco established himself as one of the best pitchers in the American League, winning 18 games in 2017 with a 3.29 ERA.
Neither Marson, Donald, nor Knapp ever established themselves as everyday big leaguers. Marson, one of the top catching prospects in the game, was a backup in Cleveland for three seasons.
Donald also worked his way up as a backup, but hit just .257 in 603 plate appearances for Cleveland. Knapp, a second round pick out of New Jersey, never played above Single-A for Cleveland.
For the Phillies, the deal provided instant gratification in the form of one of baseball’s best pitchers. After the deadline deal Lee won seven games and worked a 3.39 ERA with three complete games.
In the playoffs he was lights out with a 1.56 ERA in five games, in all of which he pitched into the eighth inning. He threw two complete games, one versus the Rockies and one in the World Series against New York.
It looked as if the Phillies would have a dominant starting pitcher for several years coming off the World Series loss to New York. Fans would be correct, but Lee wasn’t that guy.
Amaro Jr. was able to catch his white whale (Halladay) in an offseason move that included sending Lee to Seattle in order to restock the farm system. Philadelphia got a fraction of talent back, infamously adding Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont, and JC Ramirez.
Lee would later return to Philadelphia after the 2010 season via free agency, signing a six-year deal worth over $120 million. The immediate return was once again spectacular with Lee finishing third in the 2011 Cy Young race thanks to 17 wins, a 2.40 ERA, and a league-high six complete games.
Injuries and personality questions caught up to Lee, who made just 13 starts in 2014 before suffering an elbow strain. He’d miss the entire 2015 season with a flexor tendon tear before receiving a $12.5 million buyout.
Lee’s legacy in Philadelphia remains a rough one after many believed he never lived up to the six-year contract, mixed with his odd sendoff, one that enflatuated him in the fanbase.
The Lee trade highlights why going all-in can be worth it for clubs despite costing them their top prospects. Only one of the four players sent to Cleveland ever materialized into an everyday big league player, while Lee helped the Phillies win another pennant. If not for the Seattle trade the Phillies could have made an even stronger push in the 2010 playoffs.
Let the Lee trade be a lesson for all fans going into the trade deadline to not be overwhelmed by the package of players dealt, but to always be cautious about the kind of player being brought into a clubhouse.