Thursday, June 13, 2013

Could the Cardinals pursue Cliff Lee at the trade deadline?

Last week the news leaked that the Cardinals were one of 9 teams that can acquire Cliff Lee without his permission.  Lee apparently left the Cards off the list because he was intrigued with the idea of playing for them, due to their winning culture and proximity to his Arkansas home, and because he probably figured the Cards wouldn't want to trade for him.

But, not so fast, says Derrick Goold:

"It is never wasteful to trade for a boost to the bullpen. A sure-thing reliever is a valuable commodity at the trade deadline. The Cardinals, however, may find the answer for the bullpen by seeking a starter. The Cardinals will look at the available starting pitcher market with the idea that if there is an upgrade to what they have -- an innings horse, for example, with great results -- then they should look into acquiring that player.
"Cliff Lee is going to be the starter that generates a lot of attention/hype/rumors and that's partially because the Cardinals are not on his no-trade list. That's not a surprise. Lee has expressed an interest in St. Louis before, and his agent has approached the Cardinals in the past about his free-agent clients.

"Lee may be the moonshot for a move, but it won't be because the Cardinals are opposed to considering starting pitching as a target at the trade deadline."
So, there could be mutual interest there, but does it make sense from the Cardinals standpoint?

Well, Lee would be an obvious upgrade to the Cardinals rotation.  He has plenty of playoff experience and could give the Cards an imposing one-two-three punch of Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee and Shelby Miller for the playoffs.

Another advantage to adding Lee is that it would allow the Cardinals to move Michael Wacha to the pen, as a means to keep his innings down.  As Wacha showed last year in the minors, he can excel in relief role and help alleviate the Cardinals bullpen issues.

However, we also have to consider the possibility of Chris Carpenter returning, however remote.  If Carpenter has made enough progress by early July, such that he is pitching in rehab games without any setbacks, the chances of the Cardinals trading for someone like Cliff Lee are greatly diminished.

Another factor to consider is the cost.  For one thing, the Cards would likely have to give up a handful of prospects to pry Lee away from the Phillies.

For example, between July 2009 and July 2010, Lee was traded 3 times garnering a variety of returns.

When the Cleveland Indians traded Lee to the Phillies back in July 2009, they received Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp, the Phillies # 3, 4, 5 and 10 ranked prospects, according to Baseball America, by far the biggest return for the lefty.

When the Phillies traded Lee to the Mariners in December 2009, they only received one top 10 prospect, Philippe Aumont, who was ranked as the Mariners 3rd best prospect by Baseball America, along with pitcher J.C. Romero and outfielder Tyson Gillies.

Finally, when the Mariners traded Lee to Texas in July 2010, they got Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson in return.  Smoak was rated as the Mariners #2 prospect by Baseball America, Beavan was a former first round pick and Lueke and Lawson were average prospects, at best.

Thus, looking at his trade history, one could assume that the Cardinals would have to give up at least one of their top prospects for Lee, as well as some mid-tier prospects.  My guess is that it would likely require the Cards to part with someone like Carlos Martinez, along with someone like Maikel Cleto and another lesser prospect.

But that's not the only cost that would be associated with Lee.  One also has to factor in his salary.  Lee would be owed the prorated portion of his $25 million salary for the rest of 2013, plus an additional $25 million in both 2014 and 2015. So, we're talking about adding roughly $60 million of salary to the books over the next few years.

With the contracts of Jake Westbrook, Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal coming off the books, the Cardinals could probably afford to pay the remainder of Lee's contract.  But is it really necessary?

If the Cardinals are looking to shore up their bullpen by acquiring a starter, there are probably a lot cheaper alternatives available out there.

Bottom line is, despite the appeal of adding a guy like Cliff Lee for the stretch run and playoffs, the Cardinals are unlikely to make such a move, as it would probably be too costly.

1 comment:

  1. I think it would be insane to trade young talent for Lee. In the post season it is ideal to have three studs, and Lee would fill this role. I do think this can be filled internally. Lynn, and Martinez.