Was the Cliff Lee trade really a win-win?

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.

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14 years ago

The fact that the Blue Jays turned down the same four players plus J.A. Happ to give up one player instead of two says it all. Ricciardi wasn’t negotiating, he was demanding. That’s his right, but now he will look weaker, not stronger.

14 years ago

This deal was sickening for Indians fans. I know Shapiro can go out and say that there was no way the Indians were going to be competitive in 2010, but that contradicted all of his moves for the last two months. Why draft Alex White if you’re not trying to get somebody to rush to the Majors? Why trade for Chris Perez if your centerpiece of this trade won’t make it to the majors before Perez gets dealt as an impending free agent?

The Pirates had a wonderful day, managing to get a more promising package of one than the Indians mustered for a Cy Young winner and a productive outfielder who is cost controlled and doesn’t hit arbitration until 2011.

Trading Lee for this group of players would have been pathetic, but it wouldn’t have been as depressing as knowing that Ryan Garko Jr. (Chris Gimenez, who doesn’t even have Garko’s bat) is now a full-time left fielder because the Indians won’t dare call up LaPorta, lest he come any closer to arbitration-eligibility.

Mike Eller
14 years ago

The only way that this trade will be successful for the Indians is if Knapp becomes a number one starter by 2012.

Putting statistics aside, this trade is what the current Cleveland Indians front office is all about. Trade great players, don’t get full value in return and then rationalize the night away!

Jason Donald seems like he’ll be a great replacement for Jamey Carroll. Unless this guy is really, really hurt, his recent minor league track record (.297/.332) suggests this guy will be garbage in the majors. Lou Marson is supposively a “replacement for Victor Martinez.” If replacement means losing a few wins per year, then yes, they absolutely got a replacement.

Rob Neyer was quoted as saying “Carlos Carrasco is an excellent prospect; he might be the Indians’ best starter as soon as next summer.” I cannot say I agree with this. Hector Rondon is a better pitcher and Carrasco. After that, we really have no pitching. So Carrasco might be the second best pitcher in the Indians organization, but he does not have much competition.

Dolan needs to sell the team because he’s killing a team that was one game from going to the World Series two years ago.

14 years ago

“Before you say that Halladay is better than Lee, compare their runs saved above replacement since the start of 2009: 117 for Halladay and 108 for Lee (source: FanGraphs).”

You didn’t really write that, did you?

Dan Novick
14 years ago

If you’re asking if I mean, “Lee is as good as Halladay,” then no, I don’t mean that. I can see how my statement might be interpreted as such, but I was just trying to show that Lee is almost as good as Halladay. Over the last two years, you can’t really dispute that.

Is that what you’re questioning?

Pat Flynn
14 years ago

This trade will be based on whether or not the Phils can win another World Series by the end of the 2010 season. They do, Amaro is a genius. They don’t and he’ll always have to answer the “what if you traded for Halladay” questions. Right now this is an absolute steal for the Phils. 4 second tier prospects, and the Phils get to keep their 3 best prospects Drabeck, Brown, and Taylor loaded in the chamber for the future. Phils are the team the beat after picking up Lee

14 years ago

This deal looks worse for the Indians the longer I look at it.  They didn’t get Happ or Drabeck as you said, and according to the Plain Dealer, they could have had Brown or Taylor instead of Marson – and they already have a catching prospect in Carlos Santana who is very highly rated.  Why they didn’t take one of those outfielders I do not know… maybe to give themselves better odds of successfully replacing Martinez if they trade him next, but essentially it looks like they took a lesser prospect by choice.

Knapp is supposed to be the centerpiece, but is years away and already has an injury… Carrasco has struggled this year and, according to baseball america, he folds under pressure… and Donald who is batting in the .230s is an average prospect from what I’ve read. 

The Indians went for quantity over quality here… good luck with that.

14 years ago

I hope you do realize which division Halladay plays in. Maybe you should put Lee in the AL East and then compare stats.

Brandon Heikoop
14 years ago

I’m not sure that I like the idea that Happ, who still looks to be better suited long term as a reliever (or at best, a very back of the rotation starter) can be considered the Phillies #2 pitching prospect. Carrasco is the superior pitcher who is far more advanced then Happ. Put him in front of the Indians defense, and I think we are going to see a kid flourish in the bigs better then he performed in the minors (ala Romero).

In regards to the Plain Dealer report, you must take it with a grain of salt. But also, consider that Marson may be more valuable to the Indians over the long term. Brown and Taylor are both highly regarded prospects, but where do they fit in for the Indians outfield? Will they bump Grady? Are they better prospects then LaPorta? Are they a major upgrade over Brantley? Further, consider the glut of outfield depth the Indians have in their system, compared to the depth of the catching position – outside of Santana.

I think this was a tremendous trade for the Indians but worry that Shapiro reacted to losing a possible trade partner with Halladay on the table and some lesser talent. I can’t imagine that he couldn’t have received an equal package from the Dodgers or Angels.

14 years ago

As GM Carson said, this is a tremendous trade for the Phillies. Finding a perfect Right Handed 4th Outfielder in Francisco, who can field, throw, hit for power, steal, and pinchrun, is the under looked part of this trade.

Usually players like that, are regulars or have high costs involved, Francisco can the WERTH or DOBBS LIGHT, over the next 2 years, and we can see if he blossums.

It cannot be overlooked this is the Indian’s Scouting Department to LOSE, they are familiar with the Phillies System going back to last year and the C.C. Sabathia Trade when the Phillies
refused to include some of these say prospects.

Time will tell, these 4 prospects who were injured or blocked (Donald and Marston), learning new things, or very young (Knapp) are not just
warm bodies. I hope they all achieve their potential with the Tribe.

Dan Novick
14 years ago

Ron: I did mean 2009… it’s fixed now, thanks.

MX: FanGraphs WAR data is calculated based on the run environment a pitcher plays in. So it doesn’t matter what division you’re in here, a run is a run.

14 years ago

This was a steal for Philly….wonderfully mastered.
It was done in such a fashion that it could if Amaro pushes it would allow him to still go after Doc within the 48 hr window left.

14 years ago

I don’t care what ESPN and the other arm chair GM’s think. J.A. Happ is overrated as a pitcher. The guy is almost 27(!), doesn’t have the best stuff, and has been overvalued in terms of being considered a centerpiece in a trade for an ace pitcher.

14 years ago

“Carrasco is the superior pitcher who is far more advanced then Happ. “
Carrasco is struggling at AAA and Happ is succeeding in the majors.  CCv2 MAY have the superior upside, but you can not claim that he is more advanced.

“J.A. Happ is overrated as a pitcher. The guy is almost 27(!), “
Happ looks to be a #3/4 starter to my eyes.  He did strike out a batter per inning in the minors consistently.  Right now he’s pitching like an ace but we know that he’ll come down to earth.  But he’s still going to be a solid starter.  He is a late-bloomer—not that there is anything wrong with that. smile  Cliff Lee’s first full season was age 25.
I think half of Happ’s “value” to Toronto was that he was a major league player; they could sell the trade easier to the fan base.  Give Shapiro some credit for looking long-term although making the centerpiece a pitcher who might not bloom (if he ever does) for 3-5 years is a risky proposition.

14 years ago

The fact that Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, Dominic Brown, and JA Happ are all still in the Phils organization at they got the reigning AL Cy Young and a much needed RH bat is unbelievable.  Great job Rube!

14 years ago

Mitch Williams was on 610 WIP this morning and was talking about how intelligent Amaro is, blah, blah, blah. But what was interesting is he thinks the Phillies are absolutely still in play for Halladay and that they could maybe even get him cheaper now. I’ll be stunned if that happens. Unless Amaro can go to David Montegomery and convince him to take a one time shot at a dynasty by ponying up the money it just won’t happen. It would be incredible if they did though. It would come down to Phillies ownership being willing to pay the 4 million or so left that’s owed to Halladay for the rest of this season and one year’s worth of his contract next year at 15 million. Plus they’d still need to work out a deal with Toronto and everyone knows how difficult they’re making this for teams. But it’s crazy to think about.

14 years ago

“Before you say that Halladay is better than Lee, compare their runs saved above replacement since the start of 2009: 117 for Halladay and 108 for Lee (source: FanGraphs).”

Don’t you mean 2008 not 2009?

Dan Novick
14 years ago

And this, via Joe Posnanski:

“But here’s what really strikes me: Lee has really been just about as good as Halladay since the beginning of the 2008 season … and the Phillies got him for A LOT less.

Lee: 29-12, 2.78 ERA, 375 IP, 277 Ks, 67 walks, 22 homers, 160 ERA+
Halladay: 31-15, 2.74 ERA, 394 IP, 335 Ks, 59 walks, 29 homers, 156 ERA+.”