Cliff Lee shrugs off trade talk, focuses on winning

Cliff Lee shrugs off trade talk, focuses on winning
February 27, 2014, 4:15 pm
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Cliff Lee hasn't given trade talk much thought, though that could change if the Phillies start the season slow. (USA Today Images)

DUNEDIN, Fla. –- Among all the players in the Phillies’ clubhouse, Cliff Lee might have the best chance of making the postseason in 2014.

If it doesn’t happen with the Phillies, there’s a pretty good chance it could happen elsewhere.

Lee has been the subject of trade rumors each of the last two seasons, but Phillies management, hoping for one more run at a championship, has hung on to him.

If the 2014 Phillies aren’t positioned to make that run in July, this might end up being the season that management pulls the trigger on Lee.

That’s the conventional wisdom around baseball. Lee’s salary, though still huge, will be more manageable in July and his value, provided he’s healthy and effective, will be strong because a contending team can have him for two Octobers -– and maybe three if option for 2016 kicks in.

Lee, 35, is past the point of paying much attention to trade rumors.

“I don’t really care,” he said after his spring debut against the Blue Jays on Thursday. “There’s no sense really thinking about it. Honestly, it usually means a good thing. It means you’ve had success and other teams really want you. So that’s a positive.”

The rumors popped up again this winter and Lee brushed them off like light snow on a windshield.

“That’s nothing new for me,” he said. “It seems like every year that’s going on. I don’t have a full no-trade clause, so there’s nothing I can do about that. I don’t have control over it, so there’s no sense worrying about it.

“I signed back with the Phillies because I wanted to come here and win, and that’s what I intend on doing.”

Lee signed a five-year, $120 million contract with the Phils before the 2011 season. He is due to make $25 million this season and next and the Phillies hold a $27.5 million option for 2016. The team can buy out the option for $12.5 million. So, in reality, Lee is guaranteed $62.5 million over the next two years. His 2016 option can automatically kick in if he pitches 200 innings in 2015 or combines for 400 in 2014 and 2015.

Clearly, any team that takes on Lee will have to have deep pockets. But he might be worth it. Over the last three seasons with the Phillies, he has a 2.80 ERA while averaging 222 innings per season. He has 667 strikeouts and 102 walks over that span.

Lee’s future with the Phillies could very well be connected to how the team plays the first couple of months.

Good start -– no trade buzz.

Bad start –- lots of trade buzz.

“I think that’s looking at it in a negative way,” said Lee when asked how a bad start could affect his future with the club. “I think we’re positive. We’re expecting to win and plan on doing everything we can to ensure that, so that’s how I’m looking at it.

“What happens in the next couple of months, we’ll just have to wait and see. As of now I’m expecting to prepare for a full season, go into Texas and win the first game, then win the next one.”

Lee is likely to start the opener in Texas on March 31.

The left-hander has made only one postseason start since signing with the Phillies before the 2011 season. After his last start in 2013, he talked about his burning desire to get back to the postseason. He talked about how he wasn’t getting any younger and how it needed to happen now.

Is this team talented enough to help Lee get where he wants to go?

“There’s no other way to look at it than yes,” he said. “You’ve got to be confident and expect to win. I feel like as a group we’re thinking that way. There’s no other option. So that’s how we’ve got to see it. It has to be. Because that’s what we’re dealing with.”

Lee was asked what he’s most encouraged about with this team.

“Obviously we’ve got everybody on the field that needs to be there,” he said. “We’ve got our key guys healthy. The addition of Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett, (Brad) Lincoln in the bullpen. We’ve got a deeper starting rotation.

“With Marlon we’ve got another thumper in the middle of the lineup. So that, along with our key guys being healthy, is going to be crucial.

“I think we all know Chase (Utley) is going to be Chase. If (Ryan) Howard can just get back to doing what he does, that will help out a ton. Jimmy (Rollins) same thing. If they can just regain the things they’ve done a couple of years ago and just get back to being more solid, consistent players -– that goes for all of us.

“We just need to be more consistent and fundamentally sound and execute. (Manager Ryne) Sandberg and the coaching staff have been preaching that from Day 1 and it’s definitely good to hear. It’s definitely the key to winning for every team, especially a team that has the talent. If we just do the basic execution and play fundamental baseball we can beat anyone.”