Cliff Lee Rumors
The Phillies have struggled to stay competitive this season and have been rumored to be a trade deadline seller for weeks, but GM Ruben Amaro Jr. doesn't plan on moving his most valuable pitching assets. Amaro told reporters (including ESPN's Jayson Stark) on Friday that he has "no desire to trade those guys. At all," referring to Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon.
"My job is to try and put a contending team on the field every year, and we have a much better chance to be a contending team with both of those guys on the club," Amaro said. "If we have those guys at the top of our rotation, we're a better club. ... It starts and ends with pitching, as far as I'm concerned. So the more quality pitching you have, the better chance you have to build around that to win."
The general manager didn't draw the line at any midseason moves, noting that "We have plenty of people to trade" and that "four or five guys come off the payroll" after the season, which could give the Phils more flexibility. It could also seem to hint that four of Philadelphia's pending free agents (Roy Halladay, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley and Michael Young) could be trade bait in July, though Young is the only one of the quartet who isn't on the DL, and Halladay's and Ruiz's injuries have greatly diminished -- if not destroyed -- their trade value.
Amaro didn't rule out bringing any of those free agents back in 2014 but noted that moves would still be made with an eye towards contending next season rather than beginning a rebuilding process.
"Whether you're talking about retooling or rewrapping or taking a different direction, I think there are ways we can do that," Amaro said. "But when you start talking about blowing it up, you're basically saying you're going to start from scratch. And that's not happening."
Dealing Lee (owed at least $78MM through the 2015 season) or Papelbon (roughly $33.6MM owed through 2015 with a $13MM vesting option for 2016) would count as sign that the Phillies were taking a step back to reload, and dealing Hamels (who just signed a six-year, $144MM extension last July) would count as the first step towards a major rebuild. Lee said yesterday that he wanted to play for a contender and that while his preference was to do so in Philadelphia, winning was his top priority. Lee has a partial no-trade clause in his contract that allows him to block a deal to 20 teams each season.
The latest out of baseball's Eastern divisions...
- Phillies ace Cliff Lee was noncommittal when asked by reporters (including CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury) if he'd like to stay in Philadelphia even if things don't turn around: "I definitely want to win. There’s no doubt about that. I want to win. I don’t know how to say it besides that. I want to win." Lee did go on to say he preferred to win in Philadelphia, but avoided discussing the possibility of pitching for another team.
- Alex Speier of WEEI.com reported yesterday that Red Sox top prospect Xander Bogaerts was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. The Sox deliberated on the decision, but with Jose Iglesias sticking on the roster, the decision was made to move Baseball America's No. 8 prospect up a level. The shortstop hit .311/.407/.502 in 56 games at Double-A Portland.
- The Red Sox and Phillies are both interested in Dominican prospects Rafael Devers and Luis Encarnacion, writes Ben Badler of Baseball America (subscription required). Devers and Encarnacion are thought to be two of the best hitters on this year's July 2 market, and Badler expects both to sign for over $1MM. Badler says that early reports on Devers liken him to Hank Blalock as a teenager.
- Evan Drellich of MassLive.com adds that Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is placing a large emphasis on this year's international market, and confirms with team sources that there is heavy interest in Devers.
Cliff Lee said yesterday that he wouldn't be surprised if he was dealt between now and the deadline, but he stated today that his first choice is to remain in Philadelphia, write Bob Brookover and Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The hurler also noted his desire to win, which is part of what drew him to Philadelphia in the first place as a free agent.
"Yeah, this is where I signed as a free agent and this is where I want to be," said Lee. "But I definitely want to win, there's no doubt about that. That's the main thing...I don't think anyone could have expected the way we played last year and being under .500 this year. I think it's a surprise to a lot of people, myself included. But there is still a lot of season left."
Lee, of course, has a no-trade clause that can allow him to block deals to 20 teams. While the Yankees, Orioles, and Rangers are among the clubs that are on his no-trade list, that doesn't necessarily mean that he won't OK a deal to those teams. The full list is not known, but the Cardinals are not among the clubs that the left-hander can turn down. While St. Louis wouldn't appear to be in need of pitching, it's not out of the question that they could get in the mix.
5:09pm: The Cardinals aren't on Lee's no-trade list, Morosi reports. Lee has some interest in playing for the Cards (they're close to his Arkansas home, in the NL and consistent winners), but he didn't cite him on his list since he doesn't think the pitching-rich Cardinals would need to trade for an ace. "It's not out of the question" that the Cards could pursue Lee due to his postseason record, Morosi writes, though they aren't in the market for pitching at the moment.
7:54am: As with most partial no-trade clauses, Cliff Lee and his agents at Frontline had the opportunity before the season to restructure his. Lee can block trades to 20 teams, writes Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports, including the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, and Orioles. Most of the 20 are projected trade deadline buyers, a source tells Morosi. Keep in mind that the presence of these teams does not mean Lee will automatically block a trade to them; it just means he has leverage if the Phillies strike a deal with one.
Lee, 34, has been dominant for the Phillies in 2013. His 88 1/3 innings rank second in the National League, his 2.45 ERA ranks eighth, and his 5.69 K/BB ratio ranks second. The Phillies, winners of two in a row, are 7.5 games back in the NL East and faring about the same in the wild card. Nonetheless, Clay Davenport's projections give them a 15.6% chance of making the playoffs. On May 11th the Phils were five games back, and around that time, a "Phillies insider" told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, "Every time I hear a Lee rumor, I don’t believe it. Don’t think we’d be that dumb unless what we got back in return was so overwhelming that we’d be dumb to pass it up. Will that happen? My gut is it won’t." By Sunday, however, a couple dozen executives, scouts, and players polled by Cafardo named Lee the best starter expected to be available at the trade deadline this year.
Lee signed a five-year, $120MM deal with the Phillies in December 2010. At the deadline he'll be owed about $6.25MM this year plus $62.5MM covering 2014-15, for a total of $68.75MM. That's if the record-setting $12.5MM buyout is paid on his 2016 club option, which becomes guaranteed if Lee is not on the disabled list at the end of 2015 season with an injury to his left elbow or shoulder, and has 200 innings in 2015 or 400 in 2014-15 (according to Cot's Baseball Contracts). If the option vests, it will probably be a good thing, but then the commitment would become $83.75MM through 2016.
At any rate, Cliff Lee needs to start checking MLB Trade Rumors. A Lee quote from Morosi: "Every time I’ve been traded, before that every organization would say, ‘You’ll be the first one to know if we’re ever going to move you,’” Lee said, recalling that he learned of each trade while watching television. “I was the last one to know every time." It's been an odd career for Lee since becoming an ace in 2008, as he's been traded three times since. The difference this time is that he comes with a market-value financial commitment.
The Orioles would like to add a veteran starter, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, but it doesn't appear they'll be a player on what many assume will be the biggest names on the trade market. Heyman says the Orioles spending $25MM per year on Cliff Lee is "out of the question," nor would they consider trading Dylan Bundy or Kevin Gausman. Additionally, the O's "appear to have little to no interest" in the Cubs' Matt Garza.
Orioles pitching coordinator Rick Peterson "very much likes" the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo from Peterson's time as that team's pitching coach, says Heyman, yet Baltimore's interest in Gallardo "doesn't seem strong at all right now."
Heyman speculates on a few other lower-tier names, such as Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Bud Norris, and Jason Vargas. I'll add Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva, Jake Peavy, Jason Marquis, Kevin Correia, Kevin Slowey, Kyle Lohse, Erik Bedard, Joe Saunders, Edinson Volquez, Lucas Harrell, Mark Buehrle, Shaun Marcum, Aaron Harang, and Mike Pelfrey as a slew of others working for teams that aren't contending now or may not be come July. Ian Kennedy is one other name to watch, should the D'Backs decide they can spare him.
In today's column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wonders if George Brett is being groomed to be the Royals' next manager now that he has committed to being with the team every day as hitting coach. Dennis Gilbert, who represented Brett as an agent and who has fallen short in bids to purchase the Dodgers, Padres, and Rangers, would have installed Brett as manager had he landed one of those clubs. Brett could very well be Ned Yost’s eventual replacement if he boosts Kansas City's offense, but there’s also a lot of sentiment for Jim Fregosi, who has ties to GM Dayton Moore. Here's more from today's column..
- Cafardo spoke to a couple dozen executives, scouts, and players over the past few days about who the top player on the trade block will be and the consensus was Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee. The Red Sox, Orioles, Indians, Angels, and Rangers would really like to have Lee and there are many more clubs who could be in the mix, including the Dodgers and the Yankees, who say they can’t swing it but have the means to do it. One American League exec indicated there would be 20 teams lined up for Lee. Lee might be the last guy Ruben Amaro Jr. wants to trade, but he'd yield the greatest return.
- The Phillies have another interesting piece in Jonathan Papelbon and if they decide they are retooling, they probably don’t need a top closer. Several baseball people say the Tigers would be a tremendous fit for Papelbon since pairing him with that starting rotation would be rather formidable. He would also be an option for the Angels and Red Sox, but the Sox want to give Andrew Bailey every chance to do the job. The Indians would also be a possibility.
- It shouldn’t be long before a long list of teams start to inquire about free agent Grady Sizemore. Sizemore has begun baseball activities after being sidelined by knee surgeries and so far he’s had no setbacks. Cafardo suggests the Mets could be a fit as they are in need of outfield help.
- The White Sox, Blue Jays, and Twins might hold some of this year's top trade chips. “Alex Rios, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and you can add Justin Morneau, are definitely the major guys scouts are focusing on,” said one AL GM.
- After Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury stole five bases Thursday night against the Phillies, it started to dawn on people — including some in the Philadelphia organization — that Ellsbury would be a nice piece in the Phillies’ lineup next season. However, he also hurt his groin during the game, and the injury question popped up.
With one-fourth of the season in the books, let's have a look around some injury situations and how they might impact the developing trade market.
- The Cardinals and Yankees provide an interesting case study as we enter the second quarter of the season. Both have excellent records and lead their division. Both have sizeable payrolls as well as large portions of those payrolls sitting idle on the DL. Both have had to insert players onto their active roster that they did not anticipate. But, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch well explains, the source of those substitute bodies has been drastically different. While the Yankees spent well over $20MM to bring in players like Lyle Overbay, Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, and Vernon Wells -- all of whom are 34 or older -- the Cards reached into their minor league system. Remarkably, St. Louis has plugged all of its holes with players making league minimum, including young pitchers John Gast, Shelby Miller, and Seth Maness.
- The Goold piece also includes some valuable insight from GM John Mozeliak. According to Mozeliak, amongst the team's Double-A and Triple-A rosters, "there is almost at any one position, if we needed help at the big leagues, someone we could call on from there." He acknowledges that such cheap, youthful depth cannot always be achieved, and says the team is prepared to pursue other markets as necessary. "I don't want us to go down the path where we feel like we've created this functional model and don't utilize a really robust pro scouting model that makes sure we understand the trade market and understand the free agent market. We can't be scared of those." Yet, by looking internally first, the team has managed to retain salary flexibility to add outside impact down the line. "This organization's way now of staying healthy is not being tied to those outside markets to fill needs," says Mozeliak. "Having some young players step up like they are now gives us additional flexibility when we're going to need it."
- The Cards' internal depth will once again be put to use with starter Jaime Garcia now staring at a strong possibility of season-ending shoulder surgery, writes Goold. Even with fellow starter Jake Westbrook also stuck on the DL, the team has multiple options among its current relief corps and Triple-A rotation that make a look outside the organization unlikely. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Garcia's replacement(s) can match his strong start to the year. He had thrown 55 1/3 innings of 3.58 ERA baseball to open the season. Veteran starter Chris Carpenter is increasingly shaping up as a viable mid-season option for the club. But any setback in his surprising recovery, or hiccups among the team's young hurlers, could lead St. Louis to consider eventually utilizing some of its salary reserves and young minor league depth in a trade.
- The Braves are another National League contender dealing with injured arms. As Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com's Matt Snyder writes, Eric O'Flaherty appears likely to join fellow setup man Jonny Venters as a season-ending Tommy John patient. While the team seems likely to utilize internal options to fill in for the present, the loss of its two late-inning lefties leaves the team with just one southpaw in the pen, Luis Avilan. Ultimately, then, Atlanta could be forced to explore the trade market to re-establish its depth as the season wears on.
- Teams shopping for starters at the trade deadline appear likely to find a limited supply of attractive arms, says ESPN.com's Buster Olney (Insider subscription required). Two Cubs pitchers headline the developing market, with Scott Feldman shaping up as the surprise top option at the moment. (Matt Garza, of course, will begin his potential audition on Tuesday.) In addition to several other well-documented trade candidates in Ricky Nolasco of the Marlins and the Astros' Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell, Olney pegs the Padres' Jason Marquis and Edinson Volquez as likely available. Meanwhile, Bartolo Colon of the Athletics and Cliff Lee of the Phillies could also be dealt, writes Olney, with the A's having other internal options and the Phils still weighing how to proceed with their excellent (but expensive) 35-year-old co-ace.
The Yankees and Dodgers are the two most expensive teams in baseball and similarly beset with injuries, but things couldn't be more opposite in terms of results, writes Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. The Bombers have a big chunk of their payroll on the disabled list but the understudies are doing so well that one American League scout quipped, “Do they really want those injured guys [Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, and Mark Teixeira] back?” Meanwhile, the Dodgers have not been able to overcome injuries to pitchers Zack Greinke and Chad Billingsley and shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Here's more from today's column..
- There’s always a lot of talk about Cliff Lee being trade bait if the Phillies slip, but one team insider said, “Every time I hear a Lee rumor, I don’t believe it. Don’t think we’d be that dumb unless what we got back in return was so overwhelming that we’d be dumb to pass it up. Will that happen? My gut is it won’t.”
- Angels skipper Mike Scioscia was once considered invincible, but the club's struggles have many saying that his job is in jeopardy. One Angels exec doesn't see a shakeup coming anytime soon, saying, “I doubt it. It’s Mike Scioscia. Did he get dumb all of a sudden? Or do we have a few issues with our pitching and a couple of our big hitters?”
- Left-hander Neal Cotts had a streak of 14 and 1/3 scoreless innings for the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate and has retired 21 of the last 22 batters he’s faced. Cotts, who has completely shut down lefthanded batters, could be had, as the Rangers don't have room for him on the big league roster and have a team policy that they will let go of players in that position.
The Phillies have made multiple inquiries on the availability of Giancarlo Stanton over the past several months, Major League sources tell Jim Sailisbury of CSNPhilly.com, but have received the same answer as every other team in baseball: Stanton isn't available for the time being.
Salisbury notes that while the Phils lack a deep farm system, they do have plenty of near-MLB-ready arms such as Jesse Biddle, Jonathan Pettibone and Adam Morgan that could be used to headline a Stanton package. Of course, as Salisbury notes, if and when the Marlins decide to listen to offers on Stanton, they may not be keen on trading him within the division. That hasn't stopped the Phillies -- and reportedly the Mets -- from showing interest.
Salisbury writes that the very reason that the Phillies have such great need for Stanton's services could lead the team to be sellers come the trade deadline. Philadelphia outfielders are hitting just .215/.285/.330, which has contributed to their 13-16 record. Here are the highlights from his list of potential trade chips...
- Cliff Lee could become the prize of the July trade market should the Phillies sell. The Red Sox inquired on Lee before the Winter Meetings but were rebuffed. Given their first-place standing, they could look at Lee as a means to push them toward a World Series run.
- Jonathan Papelbon is another expensive piece that the Phils could move, and Salisbury wonders if the Tigers could be interested, given deep-pocketed owner Mike Illitch's desire to win a World Series. Detroit has had bullpen issues all season and recently re-signed Jose Valverde to reprise his role as closer. However, Salisbury reports that the Tigers are one of the team's in Papelbon's no-trade clause.
- Jimmy Rollins could be moved but would have to waive his full no-trade clause in order for that to happen.
- There's a sentiment that the Phillies would prefer to keep Chase Utley than deal him this summer if he remains healthy. Utley will gain 10-and-5 rights in August, Salisbury notes.
- Salisbury also mentions Carlos Ruiz, Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Delmon Young as players the Phillies would consider. Halladay's inconsistency and Howard's price tag would be prohibitive factors in any trade talks for that duo.
After receiving his work visa, former star closer Francisco Rodriguez is set to begin his comeback with the Brewers, MLB.com's Adam McCalvy reports. Rodriguez had been working out in extended spring training while waiting for the visa. The Brewers signed Rodriguez to a minor-league deal in mid-April. They have until May 17 to decide whether to promote him or allow him to become a free agent. Rodriguez appeared in 78 games for the Brewers in 2012. Here are more notes from around the majors.
- If the struggling Phillies don't move up in the standings, they could be very active on the trade market in July, MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince writes. Chase Utley, Michael Young and Delmon Young are all free agents after the season, Castrovince notes, and there's also the possibility the Phillies could begin trade talks involving Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Jimmy Rollins or Jonathan Papelbon. If the Phillies begin trading stars, Castrovince says, it's unlikely manager Charlie Manuel will return next season. "I don't envy any GM, especially on a big-market team, because you have to compete and you have to attract those big names or not let them leave," says Cole Hamels. "When you're not winning, you're always going to chase it until you win again and can breathe a little bit."
- Lee, in particular, could be on the move if the Phillies falter, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes. Martino quotes an executive from another team who says, "If they're not in it, you think [Ruben Amaro Jr.] won't move Lee again?" Martino notes that Lee's contract (the Phillies owe him a minimum of $62.5MM after 2013) could make a trade tricky, however.
- The Orioles could designate utilityman Yamaico Navarro for assignment when Freddy Garcia is added to the roster Saturday, CSNBaltimore.com's Rich Dubroff speculates (on Twitter). Other possibilities for opening a roster spot involve sending Taylor Teagarden or Brian Roberts to the 60-day DL. Navarro is hitting .276/.359/.434 for Triple-A Norfolk.