MLB Trade Deadline: Are the Phillies being stubborn with Cliff Lee?

Drew Hallowell

The Phillies are asking for a lot for the veteran left-hander. Are they asking for too much?

I like poking fun at Ruben Amaro. You like poking fun at him. Everyone likes poking a little fun at Ruben Amaro.

Person #1: Knock knock.

Person #2: Who's there?

Person #1: Interrupting Ryan Howard contract.

Person #2 Interrupting Ryan Howard cont…

/Person #1 punches Person #2 in the face

See? It's all in good fun. Except for the jokes that are completely mean-spirited. But if there weren't a GM like Amaro, we would have to invent him. He's gold.

And one of the deadline rumblings is that he's asking for a ton in exchange for Cliff Lee. From Jon Heyman:

"He's telling people it'll take you three or four best prospects, plus you'd have to take all the money," one competing executive said of Phillies GM Ruben Amaro.

Another executive put it thusly, "You'd have to give up your first born, second and third born, too."

Man, they sure are scouting prospects younger and younger these days, lol. Is this thing on, or … look, the point is that Amaro wants a lot for Cliff Lee. And on Twitter and around the Internet, people are making fun of Amaro. As is their right.

I have no idea what that last one means, but it sure seems like it would be funny if you get it. Amaro isn't just selling to sell. He wants to strip the other teams of their very best prospects in exchange for Lee, and he wants the other team to eat all the money. Man, the nerve of that guy.

Except, let's all take a step back and inhale some Cliff Lee fumes, everyone. To wit:

1. Cliff Lee is one of the very best pitchers in the world

2. Cliff Lee is owed between $62.5 and 77.5 million over the next two or three years, depending on a vesting option for 2016.

If Cliff Lee were a free agent right now, what would he sign for? Two years, $50 million? No way. Three years, $75 million? Maybe. But I'd wager the 34-year-old would sign for something more like four years, $80 million. I'm not sure if there's a great comp out there. Kevin Brown signed for seven years and $105 million, which was unbelievable in 1999. But that's a different time, and a different context.

Point is, Lee is still excellent, and he's not overpaid. At least not compared to what he'd get on the open market. Teams should be interested because paying him $77.5 million over the next three years will probably beat paying the same amount for Matt Garza, or half as much for Ervin Santana. Or, heck, it might even beat paying three times as much for Clayton Kershaw, as long as we're down the rabbit hole of hypothetical scenarios. Lee is as likely to give as much value as any of those guys.

If you have a player like that, you don't trade him for salary relief and B-prospects. You ask for first-born children. The alternative is Ervin Sant ... oops, no, the Royals are winning a little. The alternative is Jake Peavy, who is fine, but he isn't Cliff Lee, in terms of both talent and health. The runner-up to the Peavy sweepstakes might be Bud Norris.

If he's on the market, Lee is the best available. And that's true for this offseason, too. No one looking for help at the top of their rotation is going to find an option better than Cliff Lee.

If you want proof of this, look at the collection of derelicts that other teams have traded for Lee in the past. Of the twelve players involved in the last three Cliff Lee trades, the most successful so far is Justin Smoak. The second-most successful is Mark Lowe, who was traded with Lee, not for him. I guess Blake Beavan fits in there somewhere? He usually does.

Amaro is reliably amusing. Playing hard-to-get with Cliff Lee isn't a reason why. If the Phillies are reloading instead of rebuilding -- which will be the case until security removes Amaro from the building -- there isn't a reason they should do it any differently.

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