Cliff Lee’s future on the Philadelphia Phillies hinges on the performance of the team in 2013. If the Phillies have a poor record when the trade deadline comes around Cliff Lee still has the name recognition to pull a decent haul of prospects from a team looking to improve their pitching long term, and instantly upgrade their playoff chances short term.
Odds are that there are no teams that want to take on Cliff’s huge remaining salary ($75 million + a $12.5 million buyout in 2016), but then again there are some often-competitive teams with historically high payrolls that may struggle this season, and in desperation search for pitching. The teams I have in mind are the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and to a lesser extent the Texas Rangers or St. Louis Cardinals.
The Yankees and Red Sox have proven over the years that, like former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, they are willing to pay for it. The Rangers are players in a increasingly more competitive AL West, and have to compete against the Los Angeles Angels adventurous payroll (the same Angels who are indirectly competing with the Los Angeles Dodgers recent resurgence, it’s an avalanche of spending). That all means Texas may feel pressure to augment their up and coming blue chip prospects with a high end pitcher. I threw in the St. Louis Cardinals because they also have a lot of talent on the brink of the Major Leagues, and may be one big pitcher away from assembling a dominant team, however they are unlikely to throw their hat in the ring unless something happens to Adam Wainwright.
The Philadelphia Phillies won’t shop Cliff around if they are just a game or two under .500 though. To get rid of an ace like Lee they’re going to need a real dud of first half. With any luck they should avoid a start like that, but as Phillies fans saw last year, when the injury bug spreads it goes around quick, and devastates even the best teams.