Trade Lee? These teams regret returns for aces

Trade Lee? These teams regret returns for aces
June 15, 2013, 12:45 pm
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Messages are flying in all directions lately. Ruben Amaro Jr. told on Monday that “there’s no blowing up” the Phillies, which appeared to be an indication that ace Cliff Lee would be staying put.

Then on Thursday, after Lee put together another masterful outing for his eighth win of the season, Lee avoided saying he wanted to stay with the Phillies, instead repeating that his mind is on winning. He didn’t add “wherever that may be,” but it seemed almost implied.

Lee has enormous trade value, as we analyzed earlier in the week. No player on the Phillies is capable of bringing back a foundation of young talent like Lee. It would be a wasted opportunity for the Phils to hang onto Lee in hopes of contending if they’re still seven or eight games out of the playoffs by mid-July. Sure, they could close that gap over the final two months as they almost did in 2012, but what does that do, exactly? Let’s say the Phillies do the unthinkable and surge for the second wild-card spot … their playoff run could very likely last one game. And then what? You’d go into the ensuing offseason with two high-priced aces but holes all over the place and few impact youngsters on their way up.

A trade of Lee is only advisable if the Phillies get a can’t-miss prospect in return. A Jurickson Profar, an Oscar Taveras, a Xander Bogaerts. They can’t simply deal him for a package of guys who might pan out; they need a difference-maker that could be the core of the offense along with Domonic Brown for the next seven years.

Unfortunately, the recent track record of teams trading aces is ugly, especially when it’s for a grouping of players.

Have a look:

July 29, 2009 – Indians trade Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco to Phillies for Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson and Jason Knapp

This turned out terribly for Cleveland. They dealt Lee and a valuable fourth outfielder for a back-end starter who hasn’t stayed healthy (Carrasco), a utility infielder (Donald), a third-string catcher (Marson), and a closer prospect who blew his arm out and has given up on baseball (Knapp).

Dec. 16, 2009 – Phillies trade Cliff Lee to Mariners for Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez

Aumont is a failed starter who hasn’t thrown enough strikes to be an effective reliever. He’s a former first-round pick and is still young, but as the centerpiece of a deal for an ace, he’s fallen well short of expectations.

Gillies has had a series of injuries, off-the-field problems and just hasn’t progressed the way the Phillies thought he would. He’s gone backwards this season, from Triple A to Double A after hitting .148 at Lehigh Valley.

Ramirez is merely an organizational arm.

July 9, 2010 – Mariners trade Cliff Lee to Rangers for Justin Smoak, Josh Lueke, Blake Beavan and Matt Lawson

Seattle was so intrigued by Smoak that it traded Lee to a division rival instead of the Yankees, who they had previously almost reached an agreement with.

Smoak has hit .229 in Seattle with average power. Lueke was dealt to Tampa Bay for catcher John Jaso, a solid hitter who is now in Oakland. Beavan has a 4.55 ERA in 49 games with the Mariners. Lawson was dealt to Cleveland for pitcher Aaron Laffey.

Another poor return for Lee.

Dec. 15, 2009 – Blue Jays trade Roy Halladay to Phillies for Kyle Drabek, Travis D’Arnaud and Michael Taylor

Looked like a very good return at the time, but Drabek has had terrible control in the majors (107 walks, 110 strikeouts) and is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

D’Arnaud is still a top prospect, league-wide, but since 2010 has missed ample time with bulging discs in his back, a torn PCL in his knee and a foot fracture. Toronto sent him to the Mets for R.A. Dickey, so that’s a plus.

Taylor was quickly shipped to Oakland and has done nothing since his remarkable 2009 on the Phillies’ farm (.320 BA, 20 HR, 28 doubles, 84 RBIs). He’s hit .135 in 81 plate appearances in the majors. He looks like a 4-A player. The Phillies sold sky-high.

July 29, 2010 – Astros trade Roy Oswalt to Phillies for J.A. Happ, Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar

Happ had a 4.83 ERA for the Astros in 18 games before being traded to Toronto for minor-leaguers last season. Gose was quickly flipped to Toronto for Brett Wallace, who has been a major disappointment in the majors and can’t play any position but first.

Villar has progressed to Triple A in Houston’s system, but isn’t a top-tier prospect. He’s hit .258 with a .712 OPS in 2,191 minor-league plate appearances.

Feb. 2, 2008 – Twins trade Johan Santana to Mets for Carlos Gomez, Phillip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra

This looked like a bad return at the time and hasn’t worked out even a little for the Twins. Humber made 13 appearances for the Twins before being let go. Mulvey made two appearances for Minnesota before being dealt for Jon Rauch. Guerra is an organizational arm.

Gomez is the only one who turned into an impact player, but it wasn’t even for the Twins. He broke out last year in Milwaukee, several years after being traded for J.J. Hardy.

July 7, 2008 – Indians trade CC Sabathia to Brewers for Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson

It first appeared the Indians got a monstrous return for three months of Sabathia. But LaPorta – a highly-touted power prospect – never panned out and is stuck in Triple A. Jackson and Bryson haven’t made an impact. Brantley has turned into an underrated, valuable corner outfielder. But if he’s all you have left from dealing an ace in his prime, you didn’t get enough.

July 26, 2000 – Phillies trade Curt Schilling to Diamondbacks for Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, Travis Lee and Vicente Padilla

Schilling was 32 at the time of the trade. In his next two full seasons in Arizona, he went 45-13 with a 3.10 ERA, won a World Series and twice finished second in Cy Young voting.

The Phillies got a fifth starter in Daal, a fringe arm in Figueroa, an all-field, no-hit first baseman in Lee and a mid-rotation starter in Padilla. Yet another example of a multi-player package not panning out.

Tomorrow, we’ll analyze the few trades that did benefit the team dealing away its ace.

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