Source:Cliff Lee is in play in trade talks today. Rangers obviously the most logical landing spot, with 3B Mike Olt as possible centerpiece.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 30, 2012
With the unnerving (and, it should be noted, unexpected) success of the first edition of Hypothetical Trade Theater, in which the author suggested that Jean Segura and someone resembling (or actually being) right-handed pitching prospect Ariel Pena would likely be part of an Angels’ trade package for then-Brewer Zack Greinke, the same author now presents a sequel — in this case, in response to suggestions that the Texas Rangers might have interest in Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee.
A notable difference between Lee and most other players whose names are invoked at the trade deadline, is that Lee isn’t in the last year of his present contract — isn’t anywhere close to it really, having signed five-year, $120 million deal with Philadelphia before the 2011 season. Lee still has a balance of $75 million remaining for 2013-2015, plus a $27.5 million club option for 2016 (or $12.5 million buyout).
Indications are that, despite a season in which Lee has recorded just a single win in 17 starts, that his contract could still be entirely reasonable — not only in that Lee might very well be worth ca. 5.0 WAR over each of the next three seasons (which is roughly what $75 million would be paying for on the open market), but that the value of a marginal win is worth a great deal to a team like the Rangers, who are looking for the security of a playoff berth earned by winning the division.
In terms of the sort of prospects which Lee might yield from the Rangers, we must first consider at least two factors — both (a) what needs, if any, the Phillies have and (b) what prospects within the Rangers’ organization are comparable to those we’ve seen traded in other, similar deals.
To better guess at what the Rangers might consider their areas of need, let’s consider which players might be reasonably expected to occupy something like a starting role entering 2013 and the last year under which each of those players, respectively, is likely to be under contract. (As with Milwaukee, Philadelphia has little in the way of impact talent on the farm — apart from a pair of starting pitchers and maybe catcher Sebastian Valle and outfielder Larry Greene. This is borne out by the organization’s below-average ranking in Marc Hulet’s preseason minor-league systems rankings.)
Here’s the team’s likely construction in 2013, with last likely contract year of team control:
Outside of Howard and Brown, the Phillies have little in the way of long-term control over position players, suggesting that the only sort of prospect they wouldn’t actively pursue is a first base-type. Given the presence of Valle and the possibility that Ruiz could receive an extension, it’s likely that the Phils would less aggressively pursue a catcher. Polanco has a mutual option of $5.5 million for 2013, although he might not be a starter anymore on a championship-level team.
Looking at the Rangers’ farm system, then, we will privilege second base, third base, and outfield (with emphasis on a center fielder, owing to the possible departure of Victorino to free agency this winter). We will also look for ratings that were similar to the ones of the prospects netted by other elite starters in recent seasons. It appears to be the case — again, as we discovered a couple weeks ago — it appears to be the case that a typical package will include a fairly large group of minor leaguers (all the deals considered in that piece, for example, consisted of four prospects exactly), with one or two of those in the high-B range and another pair in the low-B or C-range. The Angels package for Greinke was more or less in line with this precendent, although included just three, and not four, prospects.
All this considered, here’s a hypthetical prospect package from the Rangers system (Sickels’ notes on which you can read here).
Finally, if the Phillies were to acquire Martin and not Olt, it’s possible that they’d acquire third baseman Christian Villanueva as a fourth player in the deal.
This, of course, is a game that anyone can play at home using prospect ratings (link). The idea is that, with some kind of framework established for what a front-line starter can yield, we’re at least capable of playing the game a bit more realistically.
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.