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Perplexed About Lee

As Dave noted earlier this afternoon, several teams are currently trying to improve their starting pitching, presently plugging holes either internally or via stopgap veterans. Two of the bigger names on the market, Erik Bedard and Jake Peavy, have battled health issues all season, vastly reducing their perceived value in the market, especially given the haul of prospects required to entice their respective employers. Another name tossed around a bit, Brandon Webb, is out for the season and potentially half of the 2010 campaign.

Rumors regarding Roy Oswalt have been floated with increased regularity as well, but his no-trade clause combined with a very lucrative contract and Drayton McClane’s unwillingness to realize the current incarnation of his franchise is doomed, makes the Astros ace hard to move. The other popular trade candidates are Jarrod Washburn, Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Jason Marquis, and potentially, Aaron Harang.

All of this brings us to Cliff Lee, currently a better pitcher than any of the guys mentioned above, who also has a pretty favorable contract relative to his contributions. Lee makes $5.75 mil this season with an $8 mil option for next season. His 2010 salary will actually be $9 mil on the option based on the incentive stipulating a $1 mil raise should he win the Cy Young Award in either 2008 or 2009. Seeing as he won the award last year, the incentive has kicked in.

With the Indians tanking and Lee’s value likely higher than it ever will be, it makes sense for Shapiro to kick the tires on a potential deal netting him prospects, but for some reason, more rumors and trade talks have involved guys like Marquis, who is actually making almost double Lee’s salary this year, and is a free agent at the end of the season with no option on which to hang his head. I am honestly perplexed as to why Lee has not attracted more attention; or if he has, why we have not heard about it yet. It is almost as if teams are still waiting for the massive regression to occur, when we now have a year and a half of awesomeness from the Indians lefty proving his worth.

Since the beginning of last season, Lee has thrown 334.1 innings over 47 starts, with a 2.67 ERA almost matched by an equally low FIP, a 1.17 WHIP, a sub-2.0 walk rate, and a 4.2 K/BB ratio. The only thing missing is the reputation that usually accompanies the name of a pitcher with numbers like that over an extended period of time. It is time to start realizing that Cliff Lee has become a very good pitcher, not a back of the rotation upgrade. If any of the Phillies, Brewers or Rangers is serious about solidifying their rotation by trading a young stud prospect, they should start amping up efforts to acquire Lee. He might not win the Cy Young Award again, but given his contract and current established level of performance, as well as the lack of health issues, no other pitcher being discussed as a trade target would be a more significant upgrade.