Reflecting on the Cliff Lee Trade

At mid-season, Philadelphia was making a well-publicized push for Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, a free agent after the 2010 season. With then Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi wanting the moon and then some, the Phillies organization looked elsewhere for pitching depth. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is looking like a very smart man.

Cleveland sent veteran southpaw Cliff Lee to the Phillies for four prospects: right-handed pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp, infielder Jason Donald, as well as catcher Lou Marson. Lee made 22 starts in Cleveland and was good for four wins above replacement (WAR). For Philly, he made 12 regular season starts and was good for a 2.4 WAR. In the playoffs to this point, Lee’s excellent pitching allowed Philadelphia the opportunity to win both of his starts (a 0.70 WPA).

So, how did the prospects end the season in the Cleveland organization? For Philly’s Triple-A squad, Carrasco – the highest-rated prospect in the trade – had a 2.92 FIP in 114.2 innings. In Cleveland’s system, he posted a 4.01 FIP in 42.1 innings, while allowing 31 hits and posting a walk rate of 2.98 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 8.79. He made five starts in Cleveland and posted a 7.08 FIP. He had equal walk/strikeout rates at 4.43. Carrasco’s fastball value was well below-average at -5.95 wFB/C despite averaging 92.3 mph.

Marson hit .250/.346/.386 with a .136 ISO in 44 big-league at-bats for Cleveland. He also hit .243/.319/.340 in 103 Triple-A at-bats for the organization. Donald hit .257/.350/.400 but appeared in just 10 games after the trade due to an injury. Knapp also struggled through injuries in his new organization. (He was dealing with shoulder woes before the trade, too) Cleveland, though, could not turn down the opportunity to acquire his blazing fastball and gaudy strikeout numbers in low-A ball (11.03 K/9). Once in the Cleveland organization, Knapp made four starts and pitched just 11.2 innings.

That’s not a whole lot for the 2008 Cy Young award winner. Also keep in mind that Cleveland also tossed in outfielder Ben Francisco, who has some value as a bench player. To be honest, Donald and Marson are likely part-time players at best. Clevaland has better options, especially at catcher. Knapp is a long way away and the injury to his shoulder is worrisome. Carrasco is a pitcher who has never been able to live up to his impressive potential. Lee, on the other hand, has already exceeded expectation.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

37 Responses to “Reflecting on the Cliff Lee Trade”

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  1. BATTLETANK says:

    steal.

    cliff lee has been dominant. and ben francisco had a .800+ OPS for the phillies coming off the bench/spot starts. plus cliff has another year left on his contract and ben is under team control for another 5 or so.

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  2. neuter_your_dogma says:

    So far so great, although I loved the Lidge/Bruntlett trade last year at this time too. Not so much this year, although Bourn probably wasn’t going to start ahead of Victorino anytime soon, and Bourn will be 27 this year.

    The potentially best part of this trade has yet to be determined, which is the prospects the Phils did not give up (Taylor, Drabek, Brown). If any of these three play to expectations, then the trade looks even better.

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  3. Drew says:

    Fire JP!!!

    Honestly, how can people continue to kill JP over “botching” the Halladay trade while Mark Shapiro is STILL EMPLOYED. Shameful.

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    • Matt B. says:

      Agreed. JP got a bit of a raw deal IMO. I think he accumulated the highest total team WAR for the lowest $$ IIRC.

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      • Bill says:

        He gambled and lost on the Rios and Wells contracts. Had they continued the success they were having when the signed the contracts, he would be praised for his foresight.

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      • Steve says:

        disagree on Wells. Wells was never, ever the type of player that should have gotten a contract like that. it was a terrible contract the minute before it was signed.

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    • Richard says:

      considering Donald was injured this year and Donald and Marson both were on Top100 prospect lists its hard to see what you’re going on here. If they both stink up the joint next year and Carrasco bounces between AAA/ and ineffectiveness in the MLB then i’ll agree with the sentiment of the post and the comments. But until then…….

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      • Marc says:

        Donald and Marson were considered Top 100 prospects by some, and narrowly at that if I’m not mistaken. They certainly won’t be on the updated Top 100 at this point.

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  4. Brent says:

    Is it possible to say that J.P. Riccardi also looks smart now (even though he is out of a job)? 2006-2008 AL Cy Youngs have all been traded now and the best prospect so far is Matt Laporta ( as part of Sabathia deal). Look at the other players that have changed hands for these three pitchers, Marson, Carrasco, Donald, Knapp, Brantley, Gomez, Humber, Mulvey and Guerra none of these players are impact players and most will likely flounder in the coming years.

    Toronto should take the two draft picks for Halladay and at least go after some high end talent.

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    • neuter_your_dogma says:

      Why trade Halladay? Toronto actually doesn’t look bad next year.

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    • Luke Appling says:

      Consider the Twins return on Johan Santana. The Mets sent a package of Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Deolis Guerra, and Kevin Mulvey (later traded to Arizona for Jon Rauch).

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      • Brent says:

        I am not saying they should trade Halladay. They should play ’10 with him, offer arbitration and collect the two draft picks they receive as comp. It seems that a team could better value by using the compensation picks and going after high end talent (ie players that slip due to signability purposes) through the draft.

        The market seems to be set on what it takes to acquire the best pitchers via trade, multiple mediocre pitchers, and toolsy/raw position players, no sure things.

        Keep this in mind Dayton Moore when contemplating Zach Greinke’s future!

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    • rolo says:

      No I don’t think it is apparent that from not trading Halliday you can make the argument that he looks ‘smart’. You probably can not claim he looks dumb either, but I don’t think he came out of that looking smart. So he came away looking like the guy that gets blamed for giving Wells a bad contract.

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      • H says:

        There’s a lot of speculation that management forced JP into the Wells signing. If so, JP shouldn’t be blamed for that one. Between getting someone (Kenny Williams) to take Rios’s contract thereby undoing one of his prior bad moves, getting a couple of young arms and salary relief for Scott Rolen and not giving up Halladay for the underwhelming package that the Phillies offered, it seems as though JP’s last few months on the job were his best and that he has set his successor up pretty well going forward.

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      • Matt B. says:

        I don’t remember many complaints from ANYBODY when Wells signed that deal to be honest.

        With the way the market was going, most felt that it was prudent to get him locked up ASAP with escalating salaries. Who know we would go through a huge recession.

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    • Bill says:

      So, I guess Andy MacPhail should be praised ’cause he got real value for his ace. Of course, a lot of that had to do with his bumbling trade partner.

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  5. Omar says:

    Yeah, Shapiro got had here and in the Victor Martinez trade. He traded the 2008 ALCYA winner for a high ceiling 18 year old rightie, a back up catcher, a five starter, and a player who looks like he’ll be a viable major league infielder. Steal sauce. He traded an all-star level talent for a reliever who can’t get lefties out, a high ceiling 23 year old lefty who already underwent TJS, and Bryan Place. Shapiro gets a lot of love in the SABR community, but for all the praise he gets his team has made the playoffs twice in his tenure as GM.

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  6. Sam says:

    I believe Cameron wrote a piece at the time saying as much, that the Indians got hosed. But nobody did a monetization exercise with Victor Wang’s methodology that some writers seem to love here. I wonder what the outcome of that exercise was at the time.

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  7. Paul says:

    First of all, I’m sad to say I have never seen or heard the term Steal Sauce, but it is a new favorite.

    The lesson here, along with reference to Minaya’s working over of Randy Smith is that when the media screams that you must “get something” for an impending free agent, you tell them you just can’t wait until next June’s draft when you’ll have two extra picks. That as a good boss you want to give your scouts the gift of scouring the countryside for the next Adam Jones (supp 1st 03). This ridiculous storyline that small market teams must trade their impending free agents for peanuts must be stopped. If I were a GM in that situation I would hire Rod Blagojovich and refer all media inquiries on the issue to him. Maybe even line up a reality show for him.

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    • hans says:

      Actually there is no “lesson learned” here. You cannot judge the deal at this point in time based on results when the results have yet to be turned in? This article is appropriately entitled as a “reflection” its simply looking what has transpired to this point, yet people can’t help but stumble into declaring a winner when starter pistol has only just been fired.

      No conclusions can be drawn nor should be drawn at this time.

      Also there was no media support for the Indians to trade Lee and Martinez within their own media market (which is the only market that counts to a team), the moves were likely financially based coupled with deciding to rebuild the team due to a collapse of pitching depth (even with Lee the Indians would have had a terrible rotation going into next season) on the ML and AAA rosters.

      Additionally the compensation picks for one player are less likely to be any more if not less valuable then having four prospects, and particularly three AAA level prospects that were acquired in this deal.

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  8. Nick F says:

    Shapiro should have been fired for this and the V-Mart trade. The AL Central is terrible, by adding a few more pieces, maybe they could have made a run at it next year. Instead he somehow gets swindled by Ruben Amaro, who has shown himself aside from this to be an utter retard as a GM.

    Plus they’re cheap and V-Mart REALLY wanted to stay. There is absolutely no reason he couldn’t have kept them or traded them for packages that were appropriate for their value. Knapp’s elbow is going to implode, Masterson is one of the dozens of super overrated Boston prospects, and who knows with the rest.

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    • Chip says:

      What about finishing this season more than 20 games back makes you think the indians had a chance next year? Yeah, sure, maybe. But thats a hell of a longshot to continue to lose $15 million a year on.

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    • M.A. says:

      “utter retard”?

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    • Bill says:

      The only other move Amaro has made of note so far is picking up Ibanez, who was worth 1.5 times his salary for this season.

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      • M.A. says:

        Suppose we put aside the work he did in buying out the arbitration years of several key players (Hamels, Howard, Werth, Victorino). Making only two moves of note is the mark of an “utter retard”? Tough crowd.

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      • BATTLETANK says:

        Ibanez
        Howard contract
        Cole contract
        Werth contract
        Chan Ho Park(disaster as a starter, but exceedingly good as a reliever)
        Cliff lee
        Ben Francisco
        avoided arbitration with like 6 others.

        exec of the year

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      • Steve says:

        i agree that Amaro is not an “utter retard”, but i don’t think the Hamels contract is anything to write home about it.

        it’s not bad, nor is it good. he simply took Hamels expected arb payouts and guaranteed them. Hamels gets free injury insurance, and the Phillies get?? i guess they get some goodwill, which might help them when Hamels becomes a FA.

        again, it’s not bad, but it’s not like Amaro bought out any of his FA years. he didn’t, he didn’t even buy out all of his arb years. it’s a nothing.

        i’d replace it with picking up Pedro.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        And how is the Howard contract a check mark for him at all? He didn’t buy out any FA years, he just gave him pretty much the upper bounds of what he would have won in arbitration.

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      • M.A. says:

        Hey, I agree. That’s why I put that point aside. To buy out roughly have the roster of WS winner, all at once, is child’s play. And the objective value of controlling costs and avoiding future, recurring wrangling (with nearly half the roster) is, as you say, nil.

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    • Bill says:

      The Lee and VMart trades were bad, it’s hard to argue otherwise. But, we don’t know the whole situation. Maybe Shapiro was given orders to cut salary or pack his bags. Unfortunately, the only salaries he could cut were those of good players. Should we fault him for not being able to dump Hafner, a (suspiciously) powerless DH? Even in a world populated by Minaya, Wade, Sabean, and Moore, this is hard to do. It’s amazing that JP was able to dump Rolen and he’s a better and cheaper player than Hafner. At the end of the day, the guy who caved has a job and the guy that held out for a good trade was canned. Who made the smart decision?

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      • Jay Levin says:

        Lots of speculation about the motivation for these deals. My own view is that while money was a factor, the drying up of pitching talent in the organization was the greater factor. A year ago, the Indians hoped to get significant contributions from Carmona and Westbrook in 2009, not to mention Adam Miller and David Huff. Rafael Perez looked like he might be that rare reliever who’s a quality pitcher for many seasons in a row, and Jensen Lewis found a serious groove to close 2008.

        All of that went down the drain in 2009, mostly early in 2009. Carmona and Westbrook can’t be counted on for anything, Miller continues to be the living embodiment of TINSTAAPP, Huff had trouble repeating his very fine 2008 season, Lewis is utterly unreliable, and Perez has become an option-clock problem rather than a relief ace. The Indians graduated a couple of fine prospects to the high minors in 2009 in Rondon and Gomez, but their ability to contribute at the ML level in 2010 is questionable. Their peer Kelvin De La Cruz went down for the season early, and more significantly, there was a distinct lack of quality arms looking to make that jump to Double-A in 2010 and 2011.

        Simply put, not enough horses in the majors to make a run in 2010, not enough in the minors on the way for 2011, nowhere near enough for a sustained run through 2015 (the LaPorta-Choo-Cabrera-Valbuena window if you will). The Indians don’t have the money to buy their way out of this kind of problem, but then again, THEY NEVER DID, and for that matter, 25 other teams don’t, either.

        The payroll this season was intended to lose a little money if the Indians made the playoffs. Since they tanked — and tanked hard, and tanked early — they are losing well over $10 million, and not just this year, but next year, too. So the ownership mandate was this: You can keep the team together, and we’ll eat the upwards-of-$30-million loss for 2009-2010, but there’s no money to add anyone for 2010.

        The front office saw their other option as this: Cash in Lee and Martinez at relatively peak value and bolster the talent for 2011 and beyond. I think they foresaw that if they held it together for 2010, they might luck into a title, but they’d be tearing down completely after that. The bottom line is that they regard their young, core position players — from Sizemore down to Chisenhall — much more highly than their chances to go to the playoffs in 2010 with Lee/Martinez on board.

        Viewed under that prism … frankly, it’s hard to argue with their choices. Of course, you can agree with the idea of making the trades while disagreeing with the specific trades they made.

        JSL

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  9. Jay Levin says:

    Hey, checking in from LetsGoTribe.com.

    I’m not really clear on the point of this article. The content is basically evaluating a trade based on two months of statistics for each player involved — as little as 10 games in one case. This is not analysis.

    I know that Marc’s specialty is the fantasy league stuff, and in a fantasy league, this is how you evaluate how your trade came out, I guess. It has little if anything to do with actual major league baseball.

    The user comments are interesting here. I reminded of how often that non-statistically-oriented Pat Gillick would get ripped on sabermetric forums, both as Mariners GM and Phillies GM. The arrogance and short-sightedness was stunning, considering that Gillick arguably is the most successful GM of the past 25 years or more.

    Now we see Mark Shapiro getting ripped for the return he got when he traded veterans for prospects. Shapiro has a lot to answer for as a GM at this point, but seriously, trading veterans for prospects? Shapiro is pretty clearly the most accomplished GM in the game at this little maneuver, with a long history of acquiring players who eventually were productive.

    A reader at my site pointed this out … check out the 2004 season stats for Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore. Hardly any production at all for the big-league club, and only Sizemore really looked like he would ever be a quality player, and even that was by no means guaranteed.

    Now consider this: Those stats are as of the end of the 2004 season, fully 2.5 seasons after Bartolo Colon was traded for those three players. And this: That trade is widely considered within the industry to be the greatest trade of its kind in terms of the prospect haul.

    And yet, folks here are prepared to condemn deals for similar prospects only 2.5 months — not years, MONTHS — after they were pulled off. And yet, folks here are prepared to condemn the guy who pulled off that deal and half-dozen other similar and successful deals for prospects.

    I have my own doubts about recent deals, but one thing I know for sure. The clearest indication that someone knows nothing about dealing for prospects … is a willingness to judge prospects after just a few weeks.

    JSL

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  10. Jack Boulia says:

    Look, I’m thirteen, and a diehard Red Sox fan. Both trades were god awful, but like the post above me said, you can’t really take those trades, and consider them lopsided. Because what if that one player is great, and the others that you got for him are great? It kind of is a gamble, but one of those prospects usually turns out to be great. And also, the Indians were not asking the world for either V-Mart or Lee, but Shapiro had his reasons for making that trade. Obviously the Indians could’ve asked for the world, like the Blue Jays and Roy Halladay, but you know what? Both players were not going to fit into the future, and decided they wanted to get some solid prospects back.

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  11. Jack Boulia says:

    Oh, by the way Nick F, who’s the utter retard now?

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