Cliff Lee To Philadelphia

Ruben Amaro has taken a lot of crap from the sabermetric community since stepping into the role of Phillies GM. He just built himself a really huge wall today, though, with the outstanding acquisition of Cliff Lee. Amazingly enough, he was able to get one of the game’s best pitchers without surrendering any of his highly coveted talents.

Instead of giving up J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek, and Dominic Brown or Michael Taylor to get Roy Halladay, Amaro managed to hang onto all four and get Lee instead. This is simply a fantastic deal for the Phillies, who add a frontline starter for 2009 and 2010 without giving up any players that were going to help their team in the short term.

Lee, you know about – last year’s AL Cy Young winner, he reinvented himself and has sustained his excellence this year as an All-Star caliber LHP. The Phillies hold a no-brainer club option for 2010 at just $9 million, making him a massive bargain. He’s a top shelf starting pitcher making a fraction of his value and without a long term commitment required. He’s an extremely valuable asset.

To get him, they gave up a good teenage arm currently on the DL with shoulder problems in Jason Knapp, a solid pitching prospect that is a lower risk/lower upside guy in Carlos Carrasco, and decent-but-not-great infield prospects in SS/2B Jason Donald and catcher Lou Marson.

Put simply, the Indians should have done better than this or just kept Lee. For a +5 win pitcher, they got quantity over quality, and all four of the guys they acquired come with pretty significant question marks. Carrasco’s probably the best prospect of the bunch (his upside is lower than Knapp’s, but the risk is much, much lower), but none of these guys are premium, high value guys.

Sorry Cleveland – you got hosed here. This is just not a good deal for the Indians in any way, shape, or form. Ruben Amaro just cleaned Mark Shapiro’s clock on this trade.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

65 Responses to “Cliff Lee To Philadelphia”

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  1. Steve says:

    Shapiro wanted Knapp. While I agree that he should have pushed for the inclusion of at least Michael Taylor, it’s clear the Phillies held the cards. Few teams were willing to give up AAA talent. The Indians were obviously underwhelmed by offers around the league, and the Phillies lucked out. The economic slump probably has helped the Phillies more than any other team in baseball, as the World Series win and great attendance figures has left the team relatively insulated from the downturn.

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  2. John says:

    It seemed pretty obvious that the Jays wanted Drabek and Happ, but the Phillies were reluctant. I’m not sure why the Indians couldn’t have said “We’ll give you Lee for ONE of them.”

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  3. Will says:


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  4. Futant462 says:

    Don’t forget about Francisco too. Insult to injury

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  5. Davidceisen says:

    The funny thing is that the Phillies still could make the trade for Halladay, as they have everything that Toronto wanted.

    The best part is that the Phillies can offer Lee arbitration in a year and a half and get two 1st round draft picks if they can’t sign him.

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  6. Joe R says:

    So, are the Indians a farm team for the Phillies, I imagine that tomorrow in the newspaper it will say:

    SP Cliff Lee called up from AAA Cleveland
    Philadelphia optioned Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson to AAA Cleveland

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    • Evan says:

      I think you’re overlooking some of the bigger prizes Cleveland came away with. Sure the newspaper will mention:

      Cleveland Trades LHP Cliff Lee for Ryan Howard Bobblehead, Box of Crackerjacks

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  7. big baby says:

    to be fair to shapiro, there is the idea that you should say, “damn the prospect rankings” and go with your instincts. if you don’t like happ, or you don’t like drabek, and you really like carrasco (4.00 FIP with lots of Ks in AAA), well, it doesn’t help your team to placate people on the internet/radio/mom’s basement, it helps your team to get the best players.

    that being said, it’s hard to believe that he could really love these players more than taylor/brown/drabek and not be able to get one of them.

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  8. Phillies Red says:

    Dave, it seems you were so shocked by this trade you forgot to mention the other piece the Phils got: a very capable 4th outfielder in Ben Francisco. He’s entering his prime, cost controlled for years to come, can play ok D in the corners, and has speed on the base paths. This is not a minor piece for the phils, who needed a right handed bat off the bench, especially one that can give Ibanez days off against tough lefties. Hell, with some patience, Ben F might even turn out to be more that a 4th outfielder.

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  9. Davidceisen says:

    The downside of the trade is this:

    Lee: LHP
    Hamels: LHP
    Blanton: RHP
    Moyer: LHP
    Happ: LHP

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  10. Mariano says:

    Wow did this trade really happen?

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  11. connor says:

    This is really frustrating as a Braves fan. The Phillies get Lee and Francisco without trading Drabek, Taylor, or Brown (who I think are their 3 best prospects). I can’t believe Cleveland let Lee go for this package.

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  12. Justin H says:

    I dont really like the trade that much either, I like Knapp a lot, and many scouts like him over Drabek as well.

    Carrasco, is there #2 prospect according to BA prior to the season, and he is only 21 in AAA, but I am not a huge fan, but also, he could turn into a legit #2-3 starter one day. Age is on his side.

    Donald is alright, and is more likely to be a 2B

    So, if it was these three and say Michael Taylor, I would say this is a win for the Tribe as well, but Lou Marson??? Come on. He is a an average catcher, with average defensive ability, and the most troubling thing about this is that they have someone named CARLOS SANTANA probably as there backstop next year. Marson makes no sense to me.

    Knapp, Taylor, Carrasco, and Donald would have been fair. The Tribe got HOSED.

    I mean does that mean the Red Sox could have gotten Lee for Bowden, Reddick, Masterson, and another B-Level prospect, b/c that is a better haul than they got.

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  13. mymrbig says:

    Davidceisen, that is a pretty interesting point. The Phillies are now theoretically aligned to neutralize their own lineup in the playoffs. Or something.

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  14. rhino_howard says:

    maybe pedro martinez will replace moyer to help balance out the pitching

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  15. mymrbig says:

    Lee + prospect to the Jays for Halladay? That would be pretty funny.

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  16. Randy says:

    The other thing this deal does, albeit indirectly, is pave the way for the Tribe to bring up LaPorta to replace Francisco in LF.

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  17. DavidA says:

    Cleveland got more than hosed. Cleveland got pwned.

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  18. Glanzer says:

    Cleveland was my preseason World Series pick. Instead of unloading they should have just added a little more pitching and they might have been a contender. Oh well, as a Twins fan I’m okay with being wrong this time.

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  19. Sammy says:

    So does this trade change the landscape for what the Jays and M’s can get for Halladay and Washburn?

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  20. bflaff says:

    Biggest difference between this and the unrealized Halladay fiasco is that Shapiro knew how to make a deal. Riccardi’s ‘On your knees, slave! This is ROY HALLADAY’ silliness was antagonistic from the jump.

    Shapiro will win some and lose some, but at least he is professional enough to get to the finish line when he needs to.

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  21. RKO36 says:

    This is a great deal for Philly. Not only did they not give up much to get a great pitcher, but the difference between Lee and Halladay is not a whole lot, but the difference of what they gave up for Lee and what they would have given up for Halladay is vast. Excellent job by Amaro Jr. here.

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  22. RKO36 says:

    Oh and Lee is a whole lot cheaper in terms of money too.

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  23. Another Brent says:

    I’ve seen references on this site to a rough formula for NAV of prospects. In other words an A prospect is worth $25M, B prospect 12M, etc. Or perhaps even by draft round. If anyone has a link to such a discussion or wants to do an actual analysis of the trade it would be greatly appreciated. Looking at the haul, my initial guess was that the prospects were worth at least 40-60M. 6 years of playing four guys at about a 75% discount!

    The CW is that the Indians “got took” but maybe both teams were helped by the trade. The Phillies saw their WS odds go up (what would you say from 15 to 20% for the next two years?). That’s very valuable. On the other hand the Indians playoff odds are still 0 for 2009 and for 2010 they go from say 2% to .1%. If one or two of the players make it to the majors and becomes league average (and earns 450K) their playoff odds shoot way up in 2011 and 2012.

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  24. Bill says:

    Whoever came up with the notion Cliff Lee was a decidedly less valuable commodity than Roy Halladay… Ruben Amaro has a medal for you.

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  25. Kyle Boddy says:

    “Instead of giving up J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek, and Dominic Brown or Michael Taylor to get Roy Halladay, Amaro managed to hang onto all four and get Lee instead.”

    Yeah, Dave – Amaro was really thinking about doing this. Comparing this to what Lee was traded for is absurd.

    Furthermore, how many playoff appearances can Cleveland expect to make if they hold on to Lee + Francisco for another year? If they have Carrasco + Knapp +Marson + Donald?

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  26. Chris says:

    Another Twins fan here. I know how the Indians feel, the Twins got about the same return for Santana. That was a 4-1 too. They’ve already cut one of those guys and only 1 is playing semi-regularly in the bigs. Not enough for Santana…

    On the flip side, Cliff Lee barely made the team in 2008 out of spring training. He’s not as good as he was last year and not as bad as early this year.

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  27. Another Brent says:

    And if you’re a devote of fangraphs and a strict worshiper at the altar of WAR this trade is a slam dunk funk for the Indians. Whatever you think of the prospects, they are going to accumulate more WAR over the next 6 years than Cliff Lee does over the next year and a half. The reality is the Phillies as a result of this trade are much better this year and next year at the expense of 2011-. The Indians are much better off 2011- at the expense of this year and next year. Fair trade.

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  28. Steve says:

    Are the Indians that much better after 2011? Are Donald and Marson even good? Knapp is a long way from the majors and Carrasco has a pretty low ceiling.

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  29. Bill says:

    Fangraphs unfortunately doesn’t always account for the revenue in that a player might bring. Prospects might bring zero, Cliff Lee might bring 3 playoff series and 80 sellouts next year.

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    • Another Brent says:

      The Indians have decided to dismantle their team and start over (I’m assuming this was done in conjuction with a V-mart trade in the next 6 months). So – no Cliff Lee couldn’t bring them 3 playoff series and he wouldn’t bring them 80 sellouts.

      Maybe the bigger question is should the Indians be dismantling?

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    • Jesus says:

      I think it’s also fair to note that, for what it’s worth, Cliff Lee is a year and a half removed from being really, really, really, really, really, really bad. Apparently there’s a new version of Cliff Lee out there now, and that’s held up for 375 innings (more like 220 innings, and we’ve seen a pretty decent version for the last 120 or so) but I’m still not sold. Sure, right now this looks like an awesome deal for the Phillies, I guess, but I’m also glad that my favorite team didn’t give up anything for him.

      I just think maybe Shapiro shouldn’t immediately be ripped a new one for dealing a guy with a career average 2.5 K/BB. Perhaps Lee suddenly just figured out how to not walk people at all, and how to keep giving up just as many fly balls, yet 1/3 of the home runs he did as a 28 year old. But if so, perhaps the Royals should shell out for whatever this miracle working AA pitching coach the Indians are hiding down there and see what he can do with Ponson.

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  30. AMANSLIFE says:


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  31. Another Brent says:

    A high likelihood of 3 guys being league averagish or even a little below little average has value if you can get away with paying them <500K. With Knapp if there’s a 25% chance he becomes Chad Billingsley that’s still pretty damn valuable. Is that a fair assessment of the prospects? All that said I’m not sure why the Indians wanted a catcher or middle infielder unless they just view them as chips.

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  32. Alireza says:

    In that ballpark, having extra left-handed starters isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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  33. Xeifrank says:

    Cliff Lee goes from a very HR friendly pitchers park, to a not so HR friendly hitters park. But he also does go from the AL to the NL.
    vr, Xei

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  34. Brian Recca says:

    @Another Brent
    The thing you are looking for is the research that was done by Victor Wang at Hardball Times.

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    • Another Brent says:

      Excellent! Thanks for the link!

      So, Cliff Lee if he keeps up the pace will earn $40M over 1 1/3 years and will be paid $11M (NAV= $29M)! I significantly oversold him.

      Ben Francisco might earn 20M over 4 1/3 years and be paid 450K, $1M, $2M, and $3M (my assumptions) (NAV = 13.5M)

      According to the linked analysis a sandwich pick (2.63M) and early second round pick (0.76M) are worth a total of 3.39M.

      So the Indians are giving away $56M in surplus value.

      The other side of the trade is more complicated. The author Victor Wang uses Wins above Bench (WAB) but it has roughly the same translation ($4.88M/win) so I’l treat it interchangably with WAR. The study only covers top the 100 prospects but it concludes that the 76th-100th hitting prospect was worth on average 5.5 WAB and the 76th-100th prospect is worth on average 3.89 WAB. If you assumed that all 4 trade chips were right around the top 100 cutoff, they would be worth 18.8 WAB or $91M. I dont have the BA prospect list, but I dont think that’s the case with all of them at least. I’d guess most are in the 100-200 range? Since the study only covers the top 100 prospects I can only extrapolate and guess the loot might be worth a little over half that…maybe 50M?

      It seems clear that the Indians didnt just decide they want to trade Cliff Lee. They’re getting rid of everything that’s not bolted down so clearly they’ve decided they aren’t competing next year. In that context, giving up assets that will help mostly in 2009 and 2010 for assets that will help from 2010-2015 is a very logical move.

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  35. Brent says:


    Don’t you also have to consider how this will negatively impact the Phillies chances of making the playoffs? They were already at the 90% mark of marking the playoffs (or close to it), so this seems to be one of those transactions that is not necessary given their sky-high likelihood of making the playoffs. At the same time, there is currently no information that can help us determine Lee’s chances of helping IN the playoffs and this might be more of an impact.

    I just feel like you are only looking at this trade from one perspective, when there are many.

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  36. Bobbo says:

    The long term view that the prospects are worth more than Lee may be true but that will likely be offset completely by the Phils because they also got Francisco (at a very low salary for a number of years) + the possibility of losing Lee as a Type A free agent will generate an additional draft picks in the future.

    I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a PV of WAR formula, but I’d rather have extra wins today then the possibility of a couple extra wins in 2+ years.

    I think this trade is as much about the Phils taking advantage of their very lucky situation of having a GREAT year revenue wise when the rest of the league is likely hurting then anything else…

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  37. Brent says:

    It’s just weird because the Indians are a smart organization and they did not need to trade Lee. At the same time, they sure are selling high.

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  38. Boss says:

    Brent just wanted to remind you that Lee will most likley be a Type A free agent so that alone will probably make up for Knapp. On top of that you have to factor in the increased revenue from the excitement it brings and the further we advance into the playoffs the more revenue our team brings in. And its a boatload of money if you havent noticed how much our revenue expanded after last year.

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  39. B says:

    The funny thing is they threw in Ben Francisco for pretty much nothing too!

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  40. Marco says:

    Those 5 wins from Lee really would have come in handy for the Tribe in their fight for 3rd place, huh?

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    • H says:

      I don’t think that that’s Dave’s point as it pertains to the Tribe. I think his point is that, if they had decided to trade Lee, they should have gotten more for him, especially when considering they also threw in Ben Francisco. As we have since learned, San Francisco gave up a higher rated player for Freddy Sanchez than any of the four players that Cleveland received.

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      • Kyle Boddy says:

        “San Francisco gave up a higher rated player for Freddy Sanchez than any of the four players that Cleveland received.”

        Are you suggesting Cleveland should have traded Cliff Lee to resident idiot Brian Sabean? Good idea, except he doesn’t need pitching (perhaps obviously, given what he traded for Sanchez). These types of arguments are awful.

        Cliff Lee does not hold the same value to all teams. Furthermore, comparing the return to what JP Riccardi’s wants for Halladay in his wet dreams is ridiculous.

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  41. Jamie says:

    people get fixated one the number prospects are ranked in a system. sure they aren’t 1-3prospects in the phils system. but all 4 guys are top 10 guys.

    i think it speaks more to how good the phils system is that they’re 4-8 guys are still highly regarded.

    marson has above average plate discipline and should be a big league for a while. donald has hit at every level he’s been at and is profiled as an average SS or an above average 2b. carrasco is 21 years old and in AAA. he leads the IL in strikeouts. he loses concentration and lets thing get to him on the mound. but the dude is 21. what 21 year old doesn’t get lost? he’s always said to have a + fastball and a solid changeup. his slider this year is supposed to be clicking for him.

    knapp is 18 and throws 97. has over 150k’s in 100 innings. supposed to have a good secondary pitch as well. there is no ceiling on him if he can stay injury free.

    they may not be 1-3 in the phils system but they’re all top 5 in just about any other system in baseball probably and all are major league ready sans knapp.

    i think this is a win for the phillies, but not as big as others are claiming

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  42. Rays Fan says:

    The brass in Cleveland will wonder why all those fas will look like seats. When is BB going to realize it is all about competition ans not 5-6 select clubs?

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  43. ryan says:

    Cliff Lee isn’t exactly going to the Hall of Fame, he’s had 2 good seasons in his career. He’s a good pitcher (with a career WHIP over 1.30 that doesn’t K many people) but, most of you are treating him like HE IS Roy Halladay. Carrasco and Marson are good prospects. All the bashing on this trade seems a little overboard.

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  44. Edwin Nelson says:

    It’s just a salary dump and a signal the the tribe is finished and starting over.

    How do you start over. Not by placing your hopes in the lap of one or two prospects because prospects flame out. Often. The point is to establish a quantity of talent and see who sticks, then use the excess to trade for what you need. That’s exactly how the Phillies got to where they are now. Good trade for both teams.

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  45. Posiguy says:

    Dave, I agree with your analysis wholeheartedly. The Indians got completely hosed on this deal and could have gotten more knowing what they were willing to offer for Halladay. I think the Indians have problems evaluating talent as none of the players they received in return are remotely major league ready or have extremely plus WARs.

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    • Kyle Boddy says:

      “I think the Indians have problems evaluating talent as none of the players they received in return are remotely major league ready or have extremely plus WARs.”

      The latter part would be pretty tough to do considering NONE of them have accrued service time.

      And who cares if they are major league ready? Do the Indians need to win now? That’s why it would matter.

      Shapiro himself said that his analysis says high-ceiling young players are better values than semi-established players who are “league ready.”

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  46. neuter_your_dogma says:

    Phillies fan here. Good thing we did this deal instead of the Dodgers.

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  47. Logan says:

    Bump. What a gem.

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