Revisiting the Cliff Lee Deal: Part One

4 11 2010


Cliff Lee was a major key to the Phillies playoff success in 2009

Posted by MagicSox

Over the next couple of days, both Wilchiro and I will be working on a two-part Cliff Lee feature article.  I’ll be recapping the trade that brought him to Philadelphia from the Cleveland Indians, and Wilchiro will cover the deal where they shipped him to Seattle and Teix will analyze the trade to Texas that landed him in his second World Series.

We all remember the anticipation surrounding the sweepstakes.  For Indians fans who stopped by to catch a game during the early weeks of summer, you knew that every time you saw Cliff could be the last.  This was an Indians team far, far out of contention, relying on young players and having a pitching staff as awful as an AMC Pacer (that is, besides Lee of course, him being more of a Chevy Camaro).  The path of any team with such a poor record and a superstar on their hands is to trade him for multiple young prospects that will help the team.  The Indians had done the same the previous year, sending staff ace C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for a number of young guns, including current Indians regulars Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley.  The path was simple, but Mark Shapiro knew that with Lee he had a goldmine; a player coming off of going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA, the kind of starter a playoff contender needs to push it over the top.

I personally remember seeing Lee’s last home game for the Indians, July 16th, 2009.  A meaningless game against the Mariners, another team not going anywhere in October anytime soon.  Lee pitched a complete game, allowing one run and striking out six without giving up a walk, a fine outing.  His opponent on the mound was Garrett Olson, and the Indians made short work of him.  It ended up being a 4-1 Indians victory.  I felt happy for Lee and his excellent performance, but a nagging voice in my head said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to see him do this when it actually counts?”

Thirteen days later, Cliff Lee was traded to the Phillies in a 6-player deal.  Let me break it down right here:

Going to the Phillies:

SP Cliff Lee: Although Lee only gave them half a season of pretty good pitching (7-4, 3.39), he had a 7.4 K/BB ratio that would make most starters jealous, not to mention a sub-1 WHIP for the first time in his career.  However, his most valuable contributions to the team came in the playoffs.  Over the course of the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series, Lee had a 4-0 record with a 1.56 ERA, outdueling Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies in the opening game of the NLDS, pitching a complete game, 3-hit, 10-strikeout shutout in Game 3 of the NLCS against the Dodgers, and leading the Phillies to their only two wins of the 2009 World Series against the New York Yankees in Games 1 and 5.

It’s safe to say that Lee’s outstanding performance in the postseason was one of the main factors in why the Phillies made it as far as they did.  I’m going to give him four and a half stars out of five, the only thing keeping him from a perfect score being the fact that he only contributed for 2 months of regular season ball.

OF Ben Francisco: Francisco was coming off of a solid 2008 rookie campaign as the starting leftfielder for Cleveland, hitting .266 with 54 RBIs and a 1.4 WAR value (comparable right now to, say, Kurt Suzuki), along with a mediocre 2.7 UZR/150.  Not a starter on most other MLB teams, and a throw-in in deals like these.  Upon his arrival in Philly, he was moved to the bench (not being a better starter than Raul Ibanez), and proceeded to slug .526 as a pinch-hitter.  In contrast to Lee, Francisco did nothing during the playoffs, going 0 for 11 while only reaching base once.

In 2010, Francisco’s been hitting a pedestrian .252 with little to no power as Philadelphia’s fourth outfielder.  He provides spot-on defense in left with a 27.2 UZR/150, while he’s been horrid in right, with that statistic measuring -44.4 on that side of the field.  The bottom line is, Philadelphia acquired a slightly below-average hitting backup outfielder who can adequately fill in in leftfield, but is a liability anywhere else you put him.  I’m going to give him 1 and a half stars out of five, because this spot on the roster could be filled by someone with more speed, defensive skill, and pop in the bat.

Phillies’ average: 3 stars out of five

Going to the Indians:

SP Carlos Carrasco: Carrasco was a highly touted prospect for Philadelphia, dominating the lower ranks of the minors with his fastball, which topped out at 96.  Although some scouts questioned his command, the sheer ferocity of his fastball and the added bonus of two plus off-speed pitches (a changeup and a curveball) made him a very attractive commodity.  After a 2008 season in which he averaged over eight and a half strikeouts a game for AA Reading and had a successful taste of AAA Lehigh Valley, he was poised to take the International League by storm in 2009.  Despite an ugly ERA of 5.18, his high strikeout rating and velocity kept his value high.  After the trade, he reported to the Indians’ AAA Columbus affiliate, going 5-1 with a 3.19 ERA and holding opponents to a .196 batting average.  This made the Indians think that he was ready, and he proceeded to get absolutely hammered in the majors: 0-4, 8.87 ERA, as many walks as strikeouts, and giving up 6 home runs in 5 games.

The Indians still had faith in him

Jason Donald is best known throughout baseball for being called safe on Armando Galaragga's near perfect game that was blown by umpire Jim Joyce

despite that major rough patch, and have kept him in AAA all year for more much-needed seasoning.  He’s currently at 10-5 with a 3.71 ERA, respectable numbers.  His days of unreal K/BB ratios are gone, his strikeout numbers have tanked, and his BAA is higher than it used to be, but there is still potential there.  Baseball America ranked him as the #8 prospect in Cleveland’s system, and the #4 pitcher in the organization.  Carrasco has been one of the most puzzling pieces of this trade: I’m giving him 2.5 out of 3 stars, because the jury’s still out.  He could still be able to contribute to Cleveland whether as a starter or reliever, and just as easily he could flame out and leave baseball.  Only time will tell.

C Lou Marson: Marson was fresh off of two high-RBI seasons in 2007 and 2008 for Class A+ Lakewood and AA Reading.  Baseball America had him ranked #3 in the Phillies’ system, praising him as “the Phillies’ most polished minor league hitter, with the system’s best plate discipline and a professional approach.”  Pretty good for someone who hadn’t even turned 23 yet, eh?  He was hitting .294 for AAA Lehigh Valley at the time of the trade, with a 4 for 17 cup of coffee with Philly.  Like Carrasco, he reported to Columbus, and his batting numbers immediately dropped.  He only hit .243, with his OBP and and SLG in the low .300s. He has yet to shine in the majors since coming over in that trade from the Phillies.

SS Jason Donald: Remember the guy that was called safe on Armando Galaragga’s near perfect game on June 2nd, 2010? That was this guy. He was a top 10 prospect in the Phillies orgininzation in the 2009 season, and since then, he hasn’t done much. In 88 games with the Indians MLB club this year, he managed just a triple slash line of .253/.312/.378 with 4 homeruns and 24 RBI’s. He is most likely a career utility guy at best.

P Jason Knapp: This was the last piece of the deal. At the time, Knapp was having a bad year in the Phillies A-Ball team, with just a 2-7 record and a 4.18 ERA. He is now regarded as a highly touted prospect, as he was ranked #64 throughout baseball by Baseball America entering the 2010 season. Although he has a long road before he hits the majors, this guy is showing promise.

In part two, Wilchiro will be reviewing the trade that sent pitcher Cliff Lee to the Mariners in a blockbuster deal. I hope you enjoyed my post.