Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Was the Cliff Lee trade really a win-win?Posted by Dan Novick
A few big deals went down today, including Freddy Sanchez to the Giants for Tim Alderson, Ian Snell and Jack Wilson to the Mariners, and Cliff Lee to the World Champion Phillies. To be honest, I'm baffled by the Alderson/Sanchez trade, because I'm not completely sold that Sanchez is better than Alderson right now. Maybe that's just my undying love for Alderson, and Mr. Pedicini will eventually rein me in. But I'm not here to talk about that--instead, I'll concentrate on the Cliff Lee trade.
This deal has been labeled a good deal for both sides by several people around the web, and I can't really disagree too much. But it's far from perfect. The struggling Indians received four prospects--Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald and Lou Marson--in exchange for one of the best pitchers in baseball the last two years. After looking into it a little bit, the prospects are a little better than I expected. I knew what Carrasco and Donald were all about, but Knapp and Marson were new to me. In my opinion, doing some fancy calculations to figure the winner won't do much good here, because of the sheer quantity of prospects dealt. There's massive uncertainty with just one triple-A prospect (not to mention a pitching prospect), so evaluating four guys across various levels of the minor leagues can't really do much good.
So while the deal has been considered a win for both sides, I don't think the story ends there. While it looks like the Indians got some useful prospects, they could have and should have done a lot better. What needs to be looked at is the prospects the Indians didn't get. Word was that in order to get Halladay, the Phillies had to give up a package centered around Kyle Drabeck and J.A. Happ, probably the Phillies' two best young pitchers. The Indians acquired neither of these two players, and that's why I don't think they really made a great deal here. Before you say that Halladay is better than Lee, compare their runs saved above replacement since the start of 2008: 117 for Halladay and 108 for Lee (source: FanGraphs). That's pretty darn close, and not big enough to make up the difference between what the Indians got and what they could have got, assuming the rumors are at least close to true.
It makes the Phillies better now, and it makes the Indians better long-term, while shedding Lee's salary. How much better they are long-term is what I take issue with here.
It's not just that, either. Ben Francisco isn't a big-name guy, but he's a very useful player. His success in a part-time role last season has continued this season in a full-time role. That nine run difference between Lee and Halladay over the last two seasons is more than made up for by Ben Francisco. If the Blue Jays get a package comparable to what they were asking from the Phillies, then this Cliff Lee deal has to be re-evaluated. While they got some value back in the deal, it's up for debate as to whether they got everything they could out of Cliff Lee in this trade.
Dan Novick is a lifelong Yankees fan, and still gets the chills every time Enter Sandman plays from the Yankee Stadium speakers. He welcomes comments and questions via e-mail.