Cliff Lee Rumors

East Notes: Marlins, K-Rod, Braves, Lee, Hamels

The Marlins‘ best offer for Francisco Rodriguez was for two years and $10MM, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. While that was not enough to convince K-Rod to part from the Brewers, it does represent a relatively significant chunk of change that the team could presumably tap into at some point in the future.

Here’s more from the eastern divisions:

  • Braves owner Liberty Media continues to provide some interesting insight into the club through its legally-required Securities and Exchange Commission filings, as Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains. In addition to ticking through the accounting for last year’s emergency pickup of Ervin Santana and release of Dan Uggla, the filing documents that the organization has already borrowed about $100MM from credit facilities arranged to help fund its portion of the funding of its new stadium.
  • Atlanta’s biggest write-off may be yet to come, as struggling and now injured center fielder Melvin Upton could eventually go the way of Uggla. For now, the team is focused on finding a temporary replacement and getting him back up to speed as soon as possible, as David O’Brien of the AJC reports. One possible fill-in, prospect Todd Cunningham, says that the players in camp “can kind of smell blood in the water,” while Eric Young Jr. called it an “unfortunate situation” but acknowledged that “you’re kidding anybody if you don’t see it as an opportunity.” The most interesting possibility could be Eury Perez, who is just 24 and has a solid track record in the upper minors but never had a real chance with his prior clubs.
  • The Phillies have had one of their top advisers, Charlie Kerfeld, watching Red Sox prospects as the clubs continue to eye one another over left-handed pitching, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports. There is a sense now that Cliff Lee could be dealt before Cole Hamels, Cafardo adds, though that doesn’t necessarily mean Boston is the inevitable destination.
  • As Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reports, there are no signs of progress on a Hamels deal. The Sox are more likely to be willing to part with players like Garin Cecchini, Deven Marrero, and Jackie Bradley Jr. in any trade scenarios than they are some of their other top young players, Mastrodonato adds.

Phillies Notes: Rollins, Herrera, Oliver, Aumont

Former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins viewed the Dodgers as his number one choice for a new club, writes Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. But if a deal hadn’t been reached, Rollins would have considered a trade to the division rival Mets. Rollins said, “I considered the Mets to be No. 2. They have some arms over there.” Rollins clarified that he’s unsure if he would have ultimately accepted a trade to New York. Adam Rubin of ESPN New York tweets that the Mets inquired about Rollins in November but were told he would not accept a trade.

  • The Phillies are working quickly to evaluate Rule 5 picks Odubel Herrera and Andy Oliver, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes. Herrera will start in the outfield and Oliver will pitch an inning of relief as the Phillies take on the University of Tampa in an exhibition Sunday. Neither Herrera, who posted good on-base percentages in the Rangers system, nor Oliver, a hard-throwing but wild lefty from the Pirates organization, expected to wind up with the Phillies. “This is a good opportunity for me,” says Oliver. “I feel like I’m in a better place than where I came from.”
  • In addition to Oliver, Phillippe Aumont and non-roster invitee Jeanmar Gomez could make the opening day bullpen due to transactional reasons, writes Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. The Phillies acquired Aumont in 2009 as part of the haul from the Mariners for Cliff Lee. He’s the lone remaining asset from that trade and is out of options. If he does not make the club, he’ll be subject to waivers. Gomez, 27, would have to earn a spot on the 40-man roster, but the club isn’t in a position to pass on viable major league pitchers. He has a 3.28 ERA in 78 appearances over the last two seasons, although his peripherals suggest we should expect something closer to a 4.00 ERA.

Quick Hits: Japanese Signees, Phillies, McCutchen

This season will mark the first since 1995 that features no new players from Japan, MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby notices. Heading into the offseason, Hiroshima Carp pitcher Kenta Maeda looked like the most likely to make the leap to the Majors, but the Carp decided not to post him. Then infielder Takashi Toritani, who also looked like a candidate to cross the Pacific, re-signed with Hanshin. For the last decade, Japanese players have arrived at a rate of about three per season, with Masahiro Tanaka and Tsuyoshi Wada (who actually signed with the Orioles prior to the 2012 season) making their debuts last year. Here’s more from around the league.

  • Phillies pitchers Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon top the list of players who could be dealt before Opening Day, MLB.com’s Jim Duquette writes. Lee will need to prove he’s healthy after missing time due to an elbow injury last season. Last week, he faced hitters for the first time since July. Duquette lists the Dodgers, Marlins and Blue Jays as possibilities for Papelbon. The reliever has a limited no-trade clause, but last week he expressed interest in pitching for the Blue Jays.
  • Andrew McCutchen‘s current $51.5MM contract with the Pirates, which tops out at a mere $14MM per season before the Bucs get a $14.5MM team option in 2018, is one of the most team-friendly in the game. But that doesn’t mean it’s turned out badly for McCutchen, GM Neal Huntington tells MLB.com’s Tom Singer. “It has worked out well for him. He is a very wealthy young man,” says Huntington. “He has been open about saying that the financial comfort and security freed him up to just go play. He didn’t have to worry about the risk of injury, or the risk of not performing. The contract has been a part of why he became such a great player.” Huntington goes on to point out that teams assume risks when they sign players to long-term deals, and even if a contract results in a player being underpaid, as is the case with McCutchen, he’s free to sign a bigger deal once his contract is over.


Phillies Notes: Papelbon, Hamels, Lee, Cubans, Analytics

Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon told reporters today, including Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, that he was happy to see the news that Francisco Rodriguez had agreed to a two-year deal in Milwaukee. Papelbon described Rodriguez a “talent that needs to be in Major League Baseball.” Asked if he was disappointed that a trade to Milwaukee was seemingly no longer an option, Papelbon said no, but he did have an interesting response when asked if he would be open to playing for the Blue Jays. “Yes, Toronto, interests me — if it interests [GM Ruben Amaro]. I know some of the guys on their coaching staff. They’re a good team. If Ruben can do a deal with them, I’d be interested.” Papelbon said he is more interested in pitching in Toronto than he had been in pitching for Milwaukee, but his ultimate hope is to contend with the Phillies. “My storybook ending here is sneaking into the wild card and getting hot in the playoffs with these Phillies.”

Here are some more Phillies-related items…

  • The Red Sox don’t feel any sense of urgency to trade for Cole Hamels, writes CSN New England’s Sean McAdam. While the team’s reported agreement with Yoan Moncada prompted some speculation that Moncada’s presence made it easier for Boston to trade Mookie Betts, McAdam hears that the Sox are still steadfastly refusing to part with either Betts or Blake Swihart. The Phillies, too, are sticking to their guns, requiring that an acquiring team take on the entirety of Hamels’ salary in addition to parting with premium prospects.
  • Cliff Lee threw eight minutes of live batting practice yesterday, Salisbury writes, marking the first time he’s thrown to hitters since his injury on July 31. He threw primarily fastballs but did snap off a breaking ball to Ben Revere. Lee could throw to hitters again over the weekend, as he’s been throwing every three days, but he’s not likely to pitch in a game until the second week of the schedule. He’ll have many eyes on him as clubs evaluate Lee’s health to determine whether or not he is a viable trade candidate.
  • David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News spoke to Amaro about the team’s pursuit of Moncada and other Cuban talents that have now emerged as regulars, if not stars, at the Major League level. Amaro said that at a certain point, the risk a club takes outweighs the potential reward. “When you know you have an actual major league entity, that’s a known,” said Amaro. “I understand the devaluation as a guy gets older, there’s part of that too, but to me, it’s a risk/reward evaluation process that we go through all the time. Certain clubs have different ways of valuing or putting their dollars into the club and we have a little bit of a different one. Every club is a little bit different.” The Phillies have been involved in the pursuits of Moncada, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jorge Soler, among others. They did sign Cuban righty Miguel Gonzalez in 2013.
  • In a second article, Murphy also looks at the Phillies’ slow entrance to the era of analytics. The Phillies have made some recent hires and are investing more than $1MM in building a computer information system similar to that of the Red Sox, which will serve as a database for scouting reports, medical info and statistical models. Amaro said that while the team has used analytics to its benefit in the past, he’s looking to put more emphasis in the field now and become more creative with their usage of data and statistical trends.

Latest On Cliff Lee

The Rangers and Padres were among teams to at least “kick the tires” on Phillies starter Cliff Lee earlier this winter, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.  Of course, the Padres have since signed James Shields to a four-year, $75MM deal, which probably means that they won’t be making a play for Lee or teammate Cole Hamels.  The Rangers have also added to their pitching depth this offseason.

Meanwhile, Heyman believes that Lee would be a solid fit for the Red Sox as their own talks on Hamels seem to have stalled.  Boston won’t part with either catching prospect Blake Swihart or second baseman/outfielder Mookie Betts to pry Hamels away, but a Lee deal could get done with lesser assets.

A deal for Lee could even include former fan favorite Shane Victorino as Heyman hears the Phillies wouldn’t mind a reunion.  The Red Sox can certainly part with the Flyin’ Hawaiian given their crowded outfield, even though they’re pushing the idea that he’ll start Opening Day if he’s healthy.

While there haven’t been any known talks between the two teams regarding Lee, the BoSox do have an affinity for him and they’ve seemingly had interest since he joined Philly as a free agent.

He’s hard not to like,” one Red Sox person told Heyman.

However, another Boston official characterized the Lee possibility to Heyman as a “long shot” since he still has to prove his health.  On the other hand, it’s well known that Lee wants to play for a winner and his track record of pitching in the American League could appeal to the Red Sox.

Outside of the Red Sox, Heyman posits that the Cardinals are a team that would seem to fit since they weren’t all that aggressive in adding pitching and they’d be almost local for the Little Rock, Ark. resident.

Lee is owed $25MM for the coming season and can be controlled for another year through a $27.5MM option that comes with a hefty $12.5MM buyout.  Prior to his 2014 elbow trouble, Lee boasted a streak of six straight seasons with 200+ innings.  Over that stretch, he carried a 2.89 ERA with 8.1 K/9 against just 1.3 BB/9.  The 36-year-old (37 in August) has a no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to twenty teams per year.


NL East Notes: Lee, Hamels, Harvey, K-Rod

While attention remains focused on Cole Hamels, clubs should consider trading for Cliff Lee instead, writes Dave Cameron of FanGraphs.com. Lee’s struggles in 2014 can be chalked up to injury and bad luck, so teams should be willing to take a bet on better performance. Cameron thinks the Phillies should bite the bullet and swallow the entire $25MM owed to Lee this season, leaving an acquiring club to cover the $12.5MM buyout or $27.5MM club option for next season. If the Phillies eat enough money, they should receive at least one notable prospect in exchange for the ace. Lee dealt with a recurring elbow injury last season, so rivals are probably playing wait-and-see.

  • The Phillies are easing Lee back into regular action, reports Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly. Most pitchers are throwing bullpens every other day, but Lee will work from the mound every third day. His health this spring will determine if he is a salable asset. One consideration to keep in mind – Lee’s partial no-trade list includes many of the clubs most likely to acquire him. Meanwhile, Hamels list appears to name places least likely to contend.
  • Hamels wants to play for a winner, reports Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. He is comfortable in Philadelphia and hopes the club can be surprise contenders this season. However, he’s also pragmatic. He understands GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has to address the big picture, which could include dealing him to greener pastures.
  • Mets ace Matt Harvey will pitch within the first five games of the season, tweets Adam Rubin of ESPN. Manager Terry Collins says the club won’t skip any of his starts either. It was previously reported that Harvey will be on a strict innings limit, but they’ve backed off that position in the last day.
  • The Marlins continue to consider Francisco Rodriguez, reports Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. We recently learned K-Rod is seeking a one-year, $10MM guarantee. The Marlins appear to be interested in a much lower rate.

Phillies Notes: Hamels, Howard, Lee, Billingsley

Prompted in part by trade rumors surrounding Cole Hamels and also by the recent release of multiple top prospects lists, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs/FOX Sports examined the reasons behind the perceived over-valuing of prospects. As Cameron notes, roughly 70 percent of all prospects to have appeared in Baseball America’s Top 100 lists over the years have failed to produce meaningful careers (that isn’t a knock on BA — rather, just an illustration of the difficulty in projecting minor leaguers). Despite that high failure rate, teams have been reluctant to part with two premium prospects to acquire Cole Hamels. However, Cameron theorizes that the unwillingness to part with prospects isn’t due to overvaluing prospects, but rather to teams looking past the longstanding narrative of “proven veterans” to realize that veteran players carry significant risk as well. Cameron studied the 100 best players from 2009-11 (weighting recent performance more heavily) and looked at the output of those players from 2012-14. Even some of the game’s best talents from that period — Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, Mark Teixeira, B.J. Upton and many more — have quickly seen their skills erode or, in Halladay’s case, been forced out of the game. Twenty-five of the 100 players Cameron looked at have failed to outproduce the same line that Cameron set to determine a busted prospect in his study, while another 34 were merely average Major Leaguers.

While Cameron’s piece is only loosely tied to the Phillies, here are a few more items focused directly on the team…

  • Hamels’ candid words to Bob Nightengale of USA Today earlier this afternoon — the left-hander stated that he wanted to pitch for a winning club and knows that won’t happen in Philadelphia — have hurt the Phillies’ bargaining power in trade talks, opines Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Beyond that, however, they’ve made the job of manager Ryne Sandberg more difficult and sent a poor message to his teammates, with whom he may still share a locker room for at least several more months. Between Hamels’ words and Jonathan Papelbon‘s infamous 2013 quote, “I definitely didn’t come here for this,” Sandberg has multiple veterans on the roster who may prefer to be elsewhere, Brookover notes.
  • Brookover’s colleague, Jake Kaplan, also spoke to Sandberg and was told that Ryan Howard is ticketed to be the team’s first baseman and had a “very positive” talk with the manager one month ago. Sandberg did leave open the possibility that Howard will be unseated, but it seems clear that the Phillies recognize that there’s little hope of trading the 35-year-old and won’t release him with $60MM remaining on his contract. Kaplan notes that Howard’s 10-and-5 rights will kick in on May 2 of this year, though he already has a 20-team no-trade clause in his contract as it is, and that certainly hasn’t been the reason that Philadelphia hasn’t been able to find a match.
  • The Phillies obviously will face many questions this spring, and MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki took an early look with Sandberg as the club gears up for camp. Per Sandberg, veteran lefty Cliff Lee — a possible summer trade candidate — has been on schedule except for a delay caused by a mild illness. “He’s got no complaints and he’s pretty much where he usually is,” said Sandberg. Fellow starter Chad Billingsley, himself at least a theoretical mid-season flip, has “looked very good,” per the skipper (though Kaplan noted in the piece above that it’s no guarantee that Billingsley will be ready for Opening Day). And Sandberg says that second baseman Chase Utley, who has been surprisingly absent from any significant trade chatter, may get additional rest over the course of the season.

Amaro: Four Teams Have Made “Real” Offers For Hamels

Cole Hamels remains available on the trade market, and as many eight teams have kicked the tires on the ace left-hander, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. Asked by Salisbury how many clubs have made offers, Amaro replied, “Real offers? Four.”

Amaro wouldn’t comment on which clubs made those “real” offers, though earlier today it was reported that the Padres made an “aggressive” offer for Hamels prior to signing James Shields. Other teams that have been seriously linked to Hamels include the Cardinals, Rangers and Red Sox. Boston has reportedly balked at Amaro’s insistence on top catching prospect Blake Swihart‘s inclusion in a potential trade package.

Earlier this month, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that “five or six” teams were still trying to swing a trade for Hamels, though the Padres’ signing of Shields may remove them from that race. Padres ownership has said the payroll could land around $100MM, and they’re at roughly $96.5MM right now after adding Shields. However, some reports have indicated that $105MM might be the team’s max limit, so it strikes me as at least plausible — albeit unlikely — that they could attempt to squeeze Hamels into the mix if the Phillies eat some 2015 salary or take a different contract back.

The Phillies are more eager to trade Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon than Hamels, Salisbury writes, and they’re also very willing to trade Cliff Lee. Amaro wouldn’t rule out the possibility of making a trade prior to the onset of Spring Training, Salisbury adds, but moving someone like Lee would likely require him to demonstrate his health in Spring Training. A number of teams have told Amaro they’ll be monitoring the Phillies this spring.


Phillies Could Make Cliff Lee Available This Spring

Lost in the commotion somewhat in Philadelphia is veteran ace Cliff Lee, who made only 13 starts last year while dealing with elbow problems. But he, too, could be a trade candidate — possibly sooner than expected. The Phillies will consider trading Lee during camp if he can prove his health, the team told at least one rival executive, who relayed that information to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

It is not exactly surprising that the club is preparing to listen on Lee, of course. The Phils front office has candidly acknowledged that it is embarking upon a rebuilding effort, and has already moved several veterans.

But Lee’s health questions made the timetable uncertain. It now appears at least plausible that he could come available before the season, which is not only significant in its own right but may have some impact on the trade market for other arms (including, perhaps, his teammate Cole Hamels).

Of course, the major issue with Lee is the fact that his elbow problems coincide with the tail end of a significant contract. Lee is owed $25MM for the coming season and can be controlled for another year through a $27.5MM option that comes with a hefty $12.5MM buyout.

While it is conceivable that a healthy Lee would make that 2016 option look reasonable, it is difficult to imagine a competitor giving value and taking on $27.5MM in obligations at this point. It probably does not help that Lee has lost a tick off his average fastball in each of the last two seasons. There will no doubt be interest if Lee looks his old self this spring, but it figures to be hard for Philly to find an attractive offer unless it waits til the summer.

Apart from his recently-balky left elbow, Lee has been nothing short of outstanding even as he has aged. Lee’s 2014 campaign broke a streak of six straight seasons in which he had gone over 200 innings. Over that stretch, he carried a 2.89 ERA with 8.1 K/9 against just 1.3 BB/9.

It is worth noting that Lee does have a no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to twenty teams per year. Last year, Lee could only be traded without consent to the remaining four NL East clubs and the Indians, Astros, Twins, Padres, and Rays. That seemingly strategic list appears fairly likely to have undergone some changes this time around.

While Lee managed only a 3.65 earned run average last year, he otherwise posted strikeout-to-walk ratios that were completely in line with his past results. Once a .358 BABIP was accounted for, ERA estimators valued his work right around his typical three-earned-per-nine level.


East Notes: Sanchez, Rays, Smyly, Lee, Mets Lawsuit

Highly-regarded Blue Jays prospect Aaron Sanchez is proving that his stuff plays at the MLB level, writes Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca. His upper-90s fastball is generating swings and misses along with plenty of groundballs, and he’s also found success with his curve. As Nicholson-Smith notes, Sanchez has shown that the two-pitch combo can make him a force out of the pen, but the next step will be for him to incorporate his change as he looks to establish himself as a big league starter in the future. Sanchez is currently rated the game’s 37th-best overall prospect by MLB.com.

Here’s more from the east:

  • The Rays expect their payroll to drop below this season’s franchise record of over $80MM, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports on Twitter. Overall spending is “clearly going to be lower,” said owner Stuart Sternberg. That is hardly surprising, especially given that the team will not be paying David Price a big arbitration raise and has Heath Bell coming off the books. On the other hand, it would seem to indicate that Tampa does not expect to add significant salary via free agency or trade, as the team will be paying raises to players like James Loney and Grant Balfour (whose free agent deals were backloaded) as well as arbitration-eligibles such as Matt Joyce, Jeremy Hellickson, Jake McGee, Desmond Jennings, and the recently-acquired Drew Smyly.
  • Since going to the Rays in the Price trade, Smyly has increased his strikeout rate and improved his effectiveness against righties by elevating his fastball, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports originally explored and Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs further explains with the aid of many interesting statistics and GIFs. As Sullivan writes — and as Fangraphs has been discussing more generally of late — there is an increasing movement among some teams (including Tampa) and some pitchers to pursue the use of high heat as batters have adjusted to lower pitching.
  • Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says that he expects Cliff Lee to deliver significant on-field value next year, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Lee is on track in his rehab plan, which currently means continued rest. As Gelb notes, Lee’s situation will likely not begin to clarify until he begins throwing this fall and begins to ramp up for the spring.
  • The Mets have issued a statement denying the allegations of former executive Leigh Castergine, as MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reports“We have received and reviewed the complaint,” the statement reads. “The claims are without merit. Our organization maintains strong policies against any and all forms of discrimination.” In a rather scathing assessment, meanwhile, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports argues that MLB should investigate immediately and act firmly in the wake of Castergine’s troubling allegations. As Passan notes, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon — whose alleged statements and actions form the basis for much of the lawsuit — not only occupies a key position with the team, but also sits on the boards of MLB Enterprises and MLB Network.