Cliff Lee struggled in his first start back from the disabled list last night, allowing six runs on 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings, and while that outing likely didn’t bolster his trade value much, his name still figures to be bandied about in the days leading up to the trade deadline (and in August, if he isn’t moved this month). Lee has a no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to 20 clubs, and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick has the full details on that clause.
The nine teams to which Lee cannot block trades are the Braves, Indians, Astros, Marlins, Twins, Mets, Padres, Rays and Nationals. Should GM Ruben Amaro Jr. look to deal Lee to any of the other 20 clubs in baseball, Lee would have the ability to block the trade.
The list of teams to which Lee can be traded without his consent includes all four of Philadelphia’s division rivals (unlikely trade partners in the first place) plus a few teams that are either in states of prolonged losing/rebuilding or lack the financial wherewithal to take on Lee’s salary. In other words, Lee likely didn’t feel the need to include any of these nine in his no-trade clause, as the circumstances surrounding his current team and contract make a deal to any of the nine highly unlikely. (The Indians might be a sentimental exception to that thinking, although Lee’s salary would certainly be difficult for Cleveland to absorb.)
What Lee’s no-trade clause does do is provide him with leverage. We’ve already seen reports indicate that Marlon Byrd would approve a trade to the Mariners if they were to guarantee his third-year vesting option, and Lee could theoretically make a similar bargaining ploy to waive his own no-trade rights (that’s just my own speculation).
Of course, Lee will very likely need to convince clubs that he’s the version of Cliff Lee that everyone is used to seeing — or at least something close to it — before any team would take on a significant of his salary. As Crasnick notes, there were some positives on Monday: Lee fired a perfect first inning on nine pitches, many of the hits he gave up were “bleeders,” and he broke a few bats as well. However, one AL scout told Crasnick:
“His fastball command was off and he wasn’t nearly as precise as usual. He threw too many hittable pitches, and his overall stuff was flatter than normal. Give him another start before rushing to judgment. He threw strikes, but not with the level of precision he typically does.”
Lee is owed $9.43MM through season’s end (that number drops to $8.2MM from July 31 through season’s end), and he’s guaranteed $25MM in 2015. His $27.5MM vesting option triggers with 200 innings pitched next season, but even if he doesn’t hit that mark, it remains a club option with an incredible $12.5MM buyout. At that point, any team that controls Lee is essentially making a $14.5MM decision on whether or not to retain his services.