How 2009 Trade For Cliff Lee Forever Altered Philadelphia Phillies
With the glory years clearly in the rear view mirror, I will take the next couple of weeks to review the major transactions that led up to the best period in Philadelphia Phillies history and how it impacts the team today and going forward. The previous three installments can be found here, here and here.
Today’s focus: July 17, 2008. The Phillies trade Lou Marson, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp to the Cleveland Indians Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco.
Background: The defending champion Phillies were solidly the favorites to win the NL East again, but they were desperate to add a starting pitcher to their floundering staff. Cole Hamels, who famously ‘couldn’t wait for the 2009 season to end’ following his playoff theatrics the season before, was only 7-5 with a 4.42 ERA, Brett Myers was forced to have hip surgery and team wins leader Jamie Moyer sported a 5.32 ERA.
The Phillies were known to covet Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay at the time, but were balking at the painful price of giving up top prospects Kyle Drabek, Dominic Brown, Michael Taylor and rookie breakout pitcher J.A. Happ. New GM Ruben Amaro Jr. shocked everybody by netting defending Cy Young winner Lee and Francisco to boot without giving up any of the aforementioned prospects.
Evaluation for Indians: Carrasco was the Phillies’ top prospect three years running at the time of the trade. He eventually made his debut for the Indians before promptly having Tommy John surgery. He was designated for assignment last season but went unclaimed. He will be vying for a rotation spot this spring in Cleveland.
Donald and Marson were both hyped in 2009 due almost entirely to their placement on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team. Donald bounced around a bit without making any memorable moments and is in the Kansas City Royals’s minor league system. His Wikipedia picture is him in an Iron Pigs hat. Marson started over 70 games in each of 2010, 2011 and 2012 but never hit above .230. He became a free agent after 2013 and has since returned to the Phillies on a minor league contract. He is in Clearwater right now.
Knapp was the key to the deal, and Cleveland demanded the 18-year-old fireballer in return or there would not have been a deal in the first place. He was on the disabled list when he was traded, and never recovered from his injury problems. Knapp was released in 2012 and was signed by the Texas Rangers earlier this month. He is still only 23-years old.
Evaluation for Phillies: Cliff Lee was a hit in Philly. He started 5-0 with a sub-1.00 ERA and went on to win two World Series games for the team that October. More importantly, he fell in love with the city and the city fell back in love with him, which is important for future events in this series.
Francisco, the throw-in player, ended up being a very solid bench player and outfield reserve for the Phils through the remainder of 2009 and 2010. He began the 2011 season as the starting right fielder replacing the departed Jayson Werth, but struggled and was demoted back to the bench. He was traded and bounced around the majors before being released last season by the New York Yankees. He’s currently a 32-year-old free agent.
Who Won?: This was an absolute disaster for the Indians and an unbelievable success for the Phillies.
What If They Didn’t Trade For Lee?: They were determined to strike big for a pitcher, so they likely would have traded for Halladay. It’s impossible to say how the rest of the 2009 season would have gone with Halladay instead of Lee (they may have very well repeated), but we do know that Lee never would have fallen in love with Philadelphia and likely never would have re-signed in 2011.
They would be without Dominic Brown today, and wouldn’t have had Happ as ammo for the Roy Oswalt trade in 2010. Carrasco likely would have floundered as a member of the Phillies, Knapp’s problems would have happened in-house, and they would have been stuck with two other middling prospects with over-hyped potential. The current roster would be dramatically different without Lee as well.
What’s Next? Lee/Halladay Swap
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