Should Washington Nationals Target Cliff Lee?

By Nick Comando
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the Washington Nationals hit four solo home runs — all off Cliff Lee. Kind of a weird time to talk about why Washington should target Lee, right?

Wrong. Last night is an exact reason why Mike Rizzo should give Ruben Amaro, Jr. a call. Lee allowed four solo home runs, both being back-to-back shots, but here’s the key: he still went seven innings, and threw 76 pitches, 64 for strikes. Yes, that is correct, Lee threw 12 balls.

That’s the calling card on Lee: he throws strikes, goes deep into games, and dominates almost everyone in both leagues.

The Philadelphia Phillies are seemingly going nowhere this season, and we have watched them break down and fall from grace as a team over the past couple seasons more spectacularly than any team in recent memory.

Think about it: in 2010 and 2011, Philadelphia was slated to win the World Series and pace the entire league with their video game-style rotation. In 2012 and thus far in 2013, one could mistake them for the Los Angeles Angels: a mysterious, older team with a bloated payroll and a lineup that’s much better on paper than on the diamond.

Unsurprisingly, though, the Phillies are somewhat in denial as Amaro refuses to throw in the towel, or at least refuses to tip his hand when asked about dealing guys like Chase UtleyJonathan Papelbon and Lee. Amaro has said he considers Utley, in the last year of his contract, a “Phillie for life” and probably feels that if this team is 100 percent healthy simultaneously, they can make one more run.

That’s probably not going to happen, Mr. Amaro, so stop kidding yourself.

The Phillies have some serious pieces they could deal: 27 of the 30 major league teams have changed closers since the beginning of the season and he could make a killing on Papelbon, who has closed in Boston and Philadelphia, two rabid markets.

Plenty of teams could use a left-handed power hitting second baseman, and he could get decent value for Utley. Finally, if he agrees to eat money, he could get an absolute king’s ransom for Lee.

Washington may not have the pieces for a trade as the Phillies may want some major league-ready talent back for Lee. Danny Espinosa, coincidentally, is on a hot streak, batting .423 in his last eight games with a home run and a double last night.

With Anthony Rendon‘s emergence, I firmly believe Espinosa has no major league spot to return to unless it is on another team. If Espinosa continues to hit, he could be the centerpiece of a deal.

Now, Amaro has absolutely no motivation or reason to trade within his division, but on the other side of the coin, there’s probably nothing sweeter than beating Washington with their own homegrown players in a few years.

Plus, if Rizzo comes to him and offers to take on perhaps 65-80 percent of Lee’s remaining salary, I don’t see why he doesn’t make the move. Every team wants payroll flexibility, and if Rizzo provides that for Amaro, why not pull the trigger?

Davey Johnson has gone on the record as saying he does not believe the Nationals will make a trade for a starter at the deadline. Johnson obviously does not make the trades, and I’m willing to guarantee if Rizzo tells him that he got him a veteran lefty that does nothing but eat innings and throw strikes, Johnson will do back flips.

Do the Nationals need Lee? No. Would they be better with him? Without a doubt.

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