Saturday, July 27, 2013

The case for the Cardinals acquiring Cliff Lee

Back in mid-June, I took a look at the possibility of the Cardinals acquiring Cliff Lee.  Rumors were swirling that acquiring Lee was a possibility for the Cards, mainly because Lee did not include the Cardinals on his no-trade list.

At that time, I concluded that acquiring Lee would not make sense, mainly because of the costs in terms of prospects and dollars.  Besides, all indications at that time were that the Phillies would not trade Lee anyway.

However, a lot can change over a month and a half.

The Cardinals starting pitching, especially Lance Lynn, has struggled.  The 5th starter spot is still unsettled and Shelby Miller may be on an innings limit.  Add to that the unlikelihood that Chris Carpenter will be able to return and that the Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is now willing to listen on Lee and maybe the Cards should at least consider it.

Since I've already covered why the Cardinals should not acquire Lee, let's take a look at the reasons why acquiring Lee would make sense.

The Cardinals have payroll flexibility

With the contracts of Chris Carpenter ($10.5 million), Jake Westbrook ($7.5 million) and Carlos Beltran ($13 million) coming off the books next year, the Cardinals have some payroll flexibility.

Adam Wainwright extension (basically giving him a $7.5 million raise next year) and arbitration raises for players such as David Freese, Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso will eat away some of those savings.  But considering that Bill DeWitt plans on giving the team's payroll a boost, there should be ample room for Lee's $25 million salary.

The Cardinals have minor league depth

As the team with the best minor league system, the Cardinals are one team with the minor league depth to pull off a trade for Lee without seriously depleting their farm system.

The Cardinals could spare a prospect like Kolten Wong, who is blocked at the major league level, and perhaps one of their top pitching prospects, like Carlos Martinez, who appears to be behind Michael Wacha on the Cards depth chart.

Those two, along with a couple lower level prospects should be enough to acquire Lee and would not significantly impact the Cardinals minor league depth.

Prospects are, after all, just prospects  

The thing about prospects is that they don't always pan out, no matter how highly regarded they are.  Teams always tend to overvalue their own prospects and overhype them to the extent that fans think they are the second coming of Babe Ruth or Cy Young, but they rarely live up to their hype.

Take for instance all of the prospects and players who were traded for Cliff Lee between 2009 and 2010, when he was traded 3 times.  The list consists of the following players:  Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Jason Knapp, Philippe Aumont, J.C. Romero, Tyson Gillies, Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson.

All of those players have combined to produce a wins above replacement (WAR) of 6.1 or an average of just 0.6 per player.  Take away veteran reliever Romero and his 3.5 WAR from that group and you're left with a combined WAR of just 3.6 or an average of 0.4 per prospect.

So, despite a lot of highly touted prospects changing hands, none of them have gone on to stardom and I'm sure that the teams that traded them have not regretted their decisions.

That's not to say that if the Cardinals traded Wong and Martinez, they wouldn't go on to productive careers with the Phillies.  Cardinals fans are still upset about the Dan Haren for Mark Mulder trade.  But the odds are still in the Cards favor.

Overall, I'm still probably on the side of passing on Cliff Lee and going with what we've got.  But a one-two punch of Wainwright and Lee heading into the playoffs certainly is tempting.


  1. the cardinals definitely need some help. sure they do ok with most teams but we've seen first hand what opponents good pitching staff does to them. right now they cant handle the elite teams like texas (swept) Atlanta(swept) boston, Oakland ect

    1. The Cardinals are fine. Sure it would be great to get Cliff Lee especially just for what is proposed in this article. However I'm not to worried about being swept on the road in the middle of the season! Good teams are suppose to win at home.I will take the Cardinals lineup over any other team by far. I see World Series title number 12 this year!

  2. I would Trade Wong for Lee and a top 100 level prospect. Martinez is too much. Aftrer all we get the privilege of paying Lees Salary