Cliff Lee trade rumors: Phillies could trade ace if team struggles

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

If the Phillies are good, the rumors will go away. If they struggle ...

Contrary to popular belief, Cliff Lee has not been traded 243 times. Just four times. But that's still a lot for one of the best pitchers in the game.

The Phillies don't appear to be ready to admit defeat and enter into an all-out rebuild, but the Lee rumors have popped up in each of Philly's last two seasons, both of which were pretty disappointing considering the fact that they have had one of the highest payrolls in the game over the last several years. Even so, Cliff Lee isn't worried about rumors. According to CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury, the 35-year-old isn't paying much attention to trade gossip.

However, Lee will make $50 million over the next two seasons and the team holds a $27.5 million option for 2016 that will vest if the left hander throws 200 innings in 2015 or 400 before 2016.

That's a huge investment for a team struggling to reach .500, and Lee still has ace-level value.

Over the last three years, he's managed a 2.80 ERA and a minuscule 1.05 WHIP in 666⅓ innings. If the Phillies end up shopping him, he could bring back a huge haul of young, controllable talent -- and their farm system could use a boost. Last October, Baseball America ranked their farm 17th in the majors, and they only had two players appear on Baseball Prospectus' Top 101 list in January.

Several of their marquee players are in their thirties, and despite having some solid prospects -- like Cody Asche, Jesse Biddle and Maikel Franco -- the team seems destined to begin an overhaul at some point in the near future. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley can only play for so long, and Cliff Lee has the most value remaining of their aging stars.

Of course, a winning season could cause the rumors that he has gotten used to disappear rather quickly.

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