On Monday night, the Philadelphia Phillies heralded the return of Cliff Lee to the starting rotation as he and the Phillies faced the San Francisco Giants. This was Lee’s first start since returning from the disabled list due to elbow issues and it had Citizens Bank Park filled to overflowing with scouts from other teams. Lee, if healthy, would be a very sought after player with the trade deadline less than two weeks away, and everyone wanted to see if he still had the stuff that has made him one of the elite pitchers in MLB.
The short answer is Lee didn’t.
In what was clearly a case of being rusty after two months away, Lee only lasted 5 2/3 innings, giving up six runs off 12 hits in what became a 7-4 loss. In what might be the biggest sign that he isn’t quite back to being himself, Lee only threw 13 first-pitch strikes to the 28 batters he faced, which is very unlike him. Of course, the offense not being able to muster even one extra-base hit didn’t help matters, but the loss falls on Lee’s shoulders, deservedly so or not.
What this means for the Phillies is that, with only one start left before the trade deadline, chances are that the team will either have to take far less than what they want to trade Lee or opt to hold on to him for the remainder of the season.
If Ruben Amaro Jr. was smart, he would hold on to Lee and not do a deal right now.
If Amaro Jr. tries to work out any kind of trade for Lee now, any team with brains is going to low-ball him, knowing that the buyer is going to have the upper hand. All Amaro Jr. has are Lee’s achievements of seasons past and the promise that he can return to his former dominance to try to increase his asking price. Why not just hold onto Lee, let him pitch the rest of the season and show everyone that he can be the Cliff Lee everyone remembers.
Because Lee will return to being one of the most dominant pitches in the NL, sooner rather than later. He has shown that he can bounce back before and this will be no exception. Why not wait until then to try to work out a deal to move Lee and his salary to another team? The Phillies desperately need prospects and this would be a perfect way to get some, rather than do a deal now and get next to nothing.
Amaro Jr. has to be really smart in how he deals what few assets the Phillies have in order to restock the depleted farm system and complete his “retooling” of the team. Trading Lee now would be a huge mistake and one he would regret. Believe me, no one wants to see a repeat of the last time the Phillies traded away Cliff Lee.