Reflecting on the Cliff Lee Trade

At mid-season, Philadelphia was making a well-publicized push for Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, a free agent after the 2010 season. With then Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi wanting the moon and then some, the Phillies organization looked elsewhere for pitching depth. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is looking like a very smart man.

Cleveland sent veteran southpaw Cliff Lee to the Phillies for four prospects: right-handed pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp, infielder Jason Donald, as well as catcher Lou Marson. Lee made 22 starts in Cleveland and was good for four wins above replacement (WAR). For Philly, he made 12 regular season starts and was good for a 2.4 WAR. In the playoffs to this point, Lee’s excellent pitching allowed Philadelphia the opportunity to win both of his starts (a 0.70 WPA).

So, how did the prospects end the season in the Cleveland organization? For Philly’s Triple-A squad, Carrasco – the highest-rated prospect in the trade – had a 2.92 FIP in 114.2 innings. In Cleveland’s system, he posted a 4.01 FIP in 42.1 innings, while allowing 31 hits and posting a walk rate of 2.98 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 8.79. He made five starts in Cleveland and posted a 7.08 FIP. He had equal walk/strikeout rates at 4.43. Carrasco’s fastball value was well below-average at -5.95 wFB/C despite averaging 92.3 mph.

Marson hit .250/.346/.386 with a .136 ISO in 44 big-league at-bats for Cleveland. He also hit .243/.319/.340 in 103 Triple-A at-bats for the organization. Donald hit .257/.350/.400 but appeared in just 10 games after the trade due to an injury. Knapp also struggled through injuries in his new organization. (He was dealing with shoulder woes before the trade, too) Cleveland, though, could not turn down the opportunity to acquire his blazing fastball and gaudy strikeout numbers in low-A ball (11.03 K/9). Once in the Cleveland organization, Knapp made four starts and pitched just 11.2 innings.

That’s not a whole lot for the 2008 Cy Young award winner. Also keep in mind that Cleveland also tossed in outfielder Ben Francisco, who has some value as a bench player. To be honest, Donald and Marson are likely part-time players at best. Clevaland has better options, especially at catcher. Knapp is a long way away and the injury to his shoulder is worrisome. Carrasco is a pitcher who has never been able to live up to his impressive potential. Lee, on the other hand, has already exceeded expectation.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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13 years ago


cliff lee has been dominant. and ben francisco had a .800+ OPS for the phillies coming off the bench/spot starts. plus cliff has another year left on his contract and ben is under team control for another 5 or so.