A Hypothetical Rangers Trade for Cliff Lee

With the unnerving (and, it should be noted, unexpected) success of the first edition of Hypothetical Trade Theater, in which the author suggested that Jean Segura and someone resembling (or actually being) right-handed pitching prospect Ariel Pena would likely be part of an Angels’ trade package for then-Brewer Zack Greinke, the same author now presents a sequel — in this case, in response to suggestions that the Texas Rangers might have interest in Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee.

A notable difference between Lee and most other players whose names are invoked at the trade deadline, is that Lee isn’t in the last year of his present contract — isn’t anywhere close to it really, having signed five-year, $120 million deal with Philadelphia before the 2011 season. Lee still has a balance of $75 million remaining for 2013-2015, plus a $27.5 million club option for 2016 (or $12.5 million buyout).

Indications are that, despite a season in which Lee has recorded just a single win in 17 starts, that his contract could still be entirely reasonable — not only in that Lee might very well be worth ca. 5.0 WAR over each of the next three seasons (which is roughly what $75 million would be paying for on the open market), but that the value of a marginal win is worth a great deal to a team like the Rangers, who are looking for the security of a playoff berth earned by winning the division.

In terms of the sort of prospects which Lee might yield from the Rangers, we must first consider at least two factors — both (a) what needs, if any, the Phillies have and (b) what prospects within the Rangers’ organization are comparable to those we’ve seen traded in other, similar deals.

To better guess at what the Rangers might consider their areas of need, let’s consider which players might be reasonably expected to occupy something like a starting role entering 2013 and the last year under which each of those players, respectively, is likely to be under contract. (As with Milwaukee, Philadelphia has little in the way of impact talent on the farm — apart from a pair of starting pitchers and maybe catcher Sebastian Valle and outfielder Larry Greene. This is borne out by the organization’s below-average ranking in Marc Hulet’s preseason minor-league systems rankings.)

Here’s the team’s likely construction in 2013, with last likely contract year of team control:

C – Carlos Ruiz, 2013
1B – Ryan Howard, 2017
2B – Chase Utley, 2013
3B – Placido Polanco, 2013
SS – Jimmy Rollins, 2014
OF – Domonic Brown, 2017?
OF – Hunter Pence, 2013

Outside of Howard and Brown, the Phillies have little in the way of long-term control over position players, suggesting that the only sort of prospect they wouldn’t actively pursue is a first base-type. Given the presence of Valle and the possibility that Ruiz could receive an extension, it’s likely that the Phils would less aggressively pursue a catcher. Polanco has a mutual option of $5.5 million for 2013, although he might not be a starter anymore on a championship-level team.

Looking at the Rangers’ farm system, then, we will privilege second base, third base, and outfield (with emphasis on a center fielder, owing to the possible departure of Victorino to free agency this winter). We will also look for ratings that were similar to the ones of the prospects netted by other elite starters in recent seasons. It appears to be the case — again, as we discovered a couple weeks ago — it appears to be the case that a typical package will include a fairly large group of minor leaguers (all the deals considered in that piece, for example, consisted of four prospects exactly), with one or two of those in the high-B range and another pair in the low-B or C-range. The Angels package for Greinke was more or less in line with this precendent, although included just three, and not four, prospects.

All this considered, here’s a hypthetical prospect package from the Rangers system (Sickels’ notes on which you can read here).

One from:
Mike Olt, 3B, B (although, who’s likely more of a B+ now, given his rating in Sickels’ midseason prospect list)
Leonys Martin, OF, B

Plus two from:
Cody Buckel, RHP, B
Justin Grimm, RHP, B-
Luis Sardinas, SS, C+

Finally, if the Phillies were to acquire Martin and not Olt, it’s possible that they’d acquire third baseman Christian Villanueva as a fourth player in the deal.

This, of course, is a game that anyone can play at home using prospect ratings (link). The idea is that, with some kind of framework established for what a front-line starter can yield, we’re at least capable of playing the game a bit more realistically.

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39 Responses to “A Hypothetical Rangers Trade for Cliff Lee”

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  1. Bernice says:

    what about Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, and Mike Napoli for Cliff Lee?

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      A friend suggested Hamilton for Hamels straight up (before the extension was signed). I facepalmed.

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  2. Josh says:

    That package seems excessive if the Rangers take on Lee’s entire contract.

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    • Robbie G. says:

      I do not understand this argument. If a player is signed at a perfectly reasonable price–and, as the author suggests, this price seems perfectly reasonable–then why shouldn’t the Rangers be expected to pay this entire contract? And why isn’t a reasonably priced legit #1 starting pitcher–and Lee is still a legit #1 who could put this Rangers team over the top–worth the prospects package being suggested here? Especially when the Rangers are in win-now mode and there is no starting pitcher anywhere close to as good as Lee who is available right now?

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      • Taylor says:

        Maybe we’re just not confident saying that a pitcher entering his mid-30s will be a 5-6 WAR pitcher throughout the entire contract.

        CRAZY, I know

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      • cpebbles says:

        A player making what he’s “worth” has no significant marginal value, and the Rangers’ circumstances don’t multiply his value THAT much.

        Besides, I have a really hard time believing that if Cliff Lee hit the market this offseason, he would get three years $87.5 million guaranteed with a vesting option to make it 4 years @102.5M.

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  3. Ross says:

    I’d do Martin, Buckel, Grimm and Leury Garcia (closer to the bigs, lower ceiling perhaps (maybe not) but higher floor) in a heartbeat, and if they ate some salary or threw in Dominic Brown I’d gladly throw in Villanueva as well. Part of me has always wanted to see if David Murphy could be a Phillie, just to see if beat writer David Murphy would have a new favorite player.

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    • nik says:

      Entire point for the Phillies is to plug third base. Either with Olt or flip prospects for Headley. I don’t think Phillies trade unless Olt is there.

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  4. Steve says:

    Think we could get ’em to take Julio Borbon instead of Martin?

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  5. Bernice says:

    Maybe Colby Lewis, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, and Hamilton for Lee?

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  6. Clifford says:

    theres no way the Phillies will give up Lee for anything less than Olt and Grimm IMO…people see his W-L record and think hes terrible…this isnt Lincecum here…Lee has gotten a no decision in something like 9-10 starts where his ERA is about 2.80…hes still one of the top 5-7 pitchers in the game…top 10 at the very worst…the Phils are certainly trying to unload his contract, but not for a bag load of trash and a cuban defector who can run fast and strike out a lot…oh Justin Grimm? he looked real good this year…all these ranger fans are all the sudden the biggest Mike Olt fans in the world because hes had 1 great couple month stretch in the minors…you know how many guys put up the numbers he has this year and never turned out to be anything?

    last year in 118 games, Jorge Vasquez had the following stat line

    .262, 67 runs, 32 HR, 93 RBI, 166 Ks, 30 BB

    Mike olt’s numbers this year in 92 games?

    .291, 64 runs, 27 HR, 80 RBI, 95 Ks, 61 BB

    exactly. not to mention hes almost 24 which isnt exactly super young or anything for a guy in AAA…his minor league numbers prior to this year were decent at best. if the Phils trade Lee for just him, that would be a terrible idea…bad contract and all, Lee is way too valuable to give up for a prospect whose had 1 good year

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    • Justin says:

      Olt struck out half as much and walked twice as much.

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      • J!m Future says:

        Yes, because obviously a completely dissimilar batting line including completely irrelevant stats from a 29-year-old DH makes a perfect comparison to a 23-year-old 3B.

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      • Clifford says:

        well actually he would be on pace to strike out about 120 times which is only about 25% less…and yes, he walks a lot more, but in the minors, i dont see that as an indicator of success in the bigs…you’ve got guys down there that cant throw strikes or have been there for multiple years and are just not big league SP…to me, the minors is more about the counting stats than anything else…if you can flat out rake in the minors, you are more likely to be able to flat out rake in the majors…Olt is good, dont get me wrong, but i wouldnt deal a top 10 SP for him, even one who may be in his 30s, cause for SP, thats still his prime…especially a guy like CLiff Lee that doesnt rely on velocity to get guys out…he could easily put up big numbers for the next 3-4 years, and then be a solid #3/4 for another 2 years after that

        olt’s numbers this year are good…but not like elite, elite…solid, everyday 3B are becoming easier to find these days, and while I agree the Phillies need an upgrade at that position for sure, i think they could seek out other options…the only reason they would move Lee was to free up some sort of cap space for next season so they dont exceed the luxury tax, and actually sign a few players…unfortunately, its going to be hard to get a team to take on that contract….however, with the rangers losing in the WS back to back years, and Josh Hamilton a FA this year, you better believe Nolan and Daniels are thinking that they better do everything they can to win this year cause it might be there last with Hamilton in the lineup…and without hamilton, plus you add in a rapidly declining michael young, an inconsistent injury-prone Nelson Cruz, a .230 power-hitting catcher who might be the streakiest player in baseball, several underachieving arms in Holland and Feliz, as well as a guy coming back from major surgery in Colby Lewis, and you’ve got the makings of a team that will finish 12 games back of the Angels

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    • John says:

      Those stat line aren’t remotely comparable. Try again!

      And you can leave out the R/RBI category.

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      • Cliff says:

        Where did I leave out runs and RBI?…pretty sure they’re right there….and that’s great that he’s a slick fielder at third, but so is Matt Dominguez…if you can’t hit, you won’t be playing in the bigs…not saying he can’t hit…I think he can…I just think people, especially rangers fans, see him as like a top 10-20 overall prospect and he’s just not…He’s a B/B+ level prospect…not an A-/A prospect

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      • blahblahblah says:

        He said you should leave out RBI and Runs, and most people would agree considering they are completely useless, purely team-dependent stats that tell you nothing about the hitter.

        I would also like to address this comment of yours though:
        “his minor league numbers prior to this year were decent at best”

        .293/.390/.468, .406 wOBA, 151 wRC+ ~ 2010, A(-), 310 PA
        .349/.433/.764, .480 wOBA, 173 wRC+ ~ 2011 (R), 127 PA
        .267/.387/.504, .396 wOBA, 151 wRC+ ~ 2011 (A+), 292 PA
        .291/.404/.582, .432 wOBA, 172 wRC+ ~ 2012 (AA), 406 PA

        …so, uhm, sorry, but what the F* are you even talking about? A 151-173 wRC+ each stop the last 3 years is “decent at best”???

        .403 wOBA, 150 wRC+
        …thats “decent at best” Josh Hamilton the last three years

        .408 wOBA, 159 wRC+
        …thats “decent at best” Ryan Braun the last three seasons

        .397 wOBA, 153 wRC+
        …thats “decent at best” Matt Holliday the last three

        .390 wOBA, 148 wRC+
        …thats “decent at best” Albert Pujols over those three

        .374 wOBA, 139 wRC+
        …thats apparently “meh” Evan Longoria since 2010

        .359 wOBA, 120 wRC+
        …that line, which must be trash, was produced by Ian Kinsler the last 3

        should I go on?

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    • Akalhar says:

      Olt has a glove that you seem to be forgetting. A really slick glove.

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    • Kyle says:

      Jorge- .262/.314/.516, 33.2% k rate, 6% walk rate, 0 sb, 7 games started at 3b w/ 0 E, 29 years old (the peak of a hitters physical ability) *over 500 PA

      Olt- .291/.404/.582, 23.3% k rate, 15% walk rate, 4 sb, 78 games started at 3b w/ 11 E (.950 Fld %) 23 years old *over 407 PA

      You must be stupid if you think Vasquez and Olt are comparable 3rd base prospects.

      +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Justin says:

    I think these packages are kinda ridiculous. I don’t think Texas is willing to be bent over for a great pitcher that makes 25MM + a season and is in his mid 30’s.

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  8. John says:

    If the Phils want Olt, they are going to eat some of the Lee contract. Period.

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  9. Taylor says:

    There’s no way Philly gets a deal even close to that unless they pick up like $9 million/year on Lee’s contract

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    • Taylor says:

      Butt hey, at least this is better than that Swartz genius who threw out Profar + Olt earlier

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    • nik says:

      HAHA… yeah ok. You want an ACE at 16Mil/year on a 3 year commitment? Good luck with your post-season run, Rangers.

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      • John says:

        Rangers seemed to have a pretty good post-season run last year w/o an ace, no?

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      • nik says:

        And are now minus their best pitcher from last year. (Wilson)

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      • Tony says:

        Am I the only one who finds it mildly hilarious when fans of a team that is 16 games out of first place mocks a team with the second best record in the league with a sarcastic “good luck in the playoffs…”?

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  10. Ruggiano's Pizza says:

    The Rangers’ farm system has been habitually overrated for at least 5 years now. When is this supposed top tier system going to, you know, actually produce something resembling major league talent? There’s something wrong when your best player from your system is Mitch Moreland, yuck.

    Even the White Sox have brought up Sale, Viciedo, Reed & Ramirez in recent years.

    -9 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • MB says:

      Yeah, you know, since Smoak (used in a trade to get Cliff Lee, who helped them to the Series), Andrus, Harrison, Feliz, Ross, and Holland weren’t produced by their system? Add to that Profar, Olt, etc., and I’d say that’s quite a bit of homegrown talent in recent years.

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      • dig says:

        I wouldn’t consider Andrus, Harrison, or Feliz — the 3 most proven major leaguers on that list — “homegrown” Rangers.

        Perhaps Feliz who blew up in the Rangers system as a starter after Atlanta traded him, but Andrus & Harrison were the Braves 2 best prospects outside of Salty (who was also in that deal, of course), and Harrison was a minor leaguer since 2004, and called up like a year after he was traded. Andrus arrived a stud and was just waiting for his chance/Michael Young to move over to third, but the Rangers deserve credit for swindling the Braves in the Tex deal, not for developing these two.

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      I can only echo MB. “your best player from your system is” not Mitch Moreland. It’s Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, Craig Gentry, Neftali Feliz, or maybe one of the guys who spent a short time somewhere else before entering the Rangers system – like Nelson Cruz or Matt Harrison.

      But yeah, basically when you said Mitch Moreland is better than Ian Kinsler you proved you’re a poophead.

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    • JoeyO says:

      To address your argument with (just some of) the BA Top-10 Ranger Prospects from merely the last 5 years

      Derek Holland, lhp
      Neftali Feliz, rhp
      John Danks, lhp
      Edinson Volquez, rhp
      Blake Beavan, rhp
      Martin Perez, lhp
      Nick Masset, rhp
      Taylor Teagarden, c
      Justin Smoak, 1b
      Joaquin Arias, ss
      Elvis Andrus, ss
      Chris Davis, 3b
      Julio Borbon, of
      John Mayberry Jr., of
      Leonys Martin, OF

      I see it as already enough to build an okay (and complete) team before adding a single other exterior or preexisting part, and it doesn’t even include other guys still in the minors now.

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  11. Cliff says:

    Listening to Jayson Stark on Philly radio…here’s what he said about Lee

    1.) The Phillies would require the Rangers to eat almost his entire contract

    2.) The Phillies are almost certainly asking for Olt, Martin Perez, AND Leonys Martin

    3.) Everyone who has talked to the Rangers has consistently said Olt and Profar are off the table completely

    4.) The Rangers are one of the toughest teams to deal with in the league

    5.) Put the likelihood that Lee is dealt at 25%

    Put those all together and I’d say this article was kinda just a utopian dream…even if the phillies were to eat Lee’s entire contract, every penny, which they would never do, this deal wouldnt happen if they’re asking for Olt, Perez, AND Martin…Stark said it would take at least Olt and likely Perez….also this is just pure peculation on my part, but what if they also included victorino?…that would make an Olt/Perez deal more realistic IMO…would allow josh and Cruz to DH

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  12. Phantom Stranger says:

    He’s stilled pitched decently, but Cliff has not looked the same since the infamous Lat Strain game where he went 10 innings. He’s mostly been throwing as good as ever, with the exception of throwing too many flat cutters in the zone. Flat cutters in the strike zone get deposited for homeruns. He’s not getting as much back extension and tilt on his windup, which has nicked his velocity a bit.

    He’s still one of the ten best pitchers in baseball if he’s 100% healthy.

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  13. Drew says:

    Cliff left out runs and RBI, hugely important stats.

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  14. Antonio Bananas says:

    If he were a free agent after 2013, maybe. I just don’t trust a SP in his mid 30s making that much. I’d rather take my chances with Perez and Feliz making 1/10 as much. Saw Olt in person earlier this year. I’m not a scout, but everything he hit was hit hard.

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  15. Billion Memes says:

    I’ve read 3 or 4 articles on this proposed trade now. I find it funny how Phils fans say Lee with full contract going to Rangers is worth at least Alt and 2 more B prospects, if not more. Rangers fans say Lee isn’t even worth Olt alone with Phils picking up some salary. I tend to agree with Cistulli’s formulation: Lee, without much salary relief for the Rangers, is worth Olt and 1 or 2 lower B prospects. That’s been the market for pitchers of Lee’s caliber.

    I think the risk of Lee’s contract basically offsets the fact that a team gains more than a 2 month rental by acquiring him, rendering his value mostly unchanged from above. Its clear the Rangers like Lee, they traded a good prospect (at the time) for a 2 month rental of him, and they made a serious push to sign him for virtually the contract he has now and were the frontrunners at one point.

    To me, its down to: who flinches? As low an opinion as I have of Amaro’s work (Phils fan here btw), I think Amaro has the better fallback position. He can just keep Lee and let him be an elite pitcher earning his value and trade him next year if he wants to move salary. Daniels has some pressure to get this excellent organization he has built up over the top and get a flag.

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  16. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Cligg Lee already thumbed his nose at the Rangers, why on earth would they get him again?

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