Phillies get Lee, give up few high-end assets

For the Phillies, this looks like a steal. In Cliff Lee, they acquire one of the best pitchers in the American League over the past 18 months while retaining their top two prospects and trading four guys who all have serious question marks.

Cliff Lee


Lee has been the best left-hander in the AL and top-three in the league since the start of the 2008 season, although before that he went off the rails and had to be optioned to the minors in July of 2007. Lee's entire game turned around in 2008, as he picked up some velocity, improved his command and began to work more effectively in the lower half of the zone; he's now a four-pitch guy with command and control who works deep into games. (He has shown a large platoon split this year, with right-handed batters gaining more than 250 points of OPS, but it's out of line with his previous seasons and appears to be a fluke.) His contract includes a $9 million option for 2010 that the Phillies will certainly pick up; even if they decided they couldn't afford to keep him, he's extremely tradeable and they'd probably get value close to what they just gave up to acquire him.

Ben Francisco is a good right-handed bat off the bench who can fill in all over the outfield, but isn't going to produce enough to play every day in an outfield corner. He's a good depth add for the Phillies' bench, which is weak overall and has no viable right-handed bats to sub for a left-handed hitter late in a game.

If there's a problem with the Philly side, it's that they don't need Lee. They came into Wednesday eight games up in the loss column in the National League East standings, with Baseball Prospectus calling them an 83 percent chance to win the division. Lee makes them a better playoff team, but the playoffs are such a crapshoot that any upgrade only makes a team slightly more likely to win any particular series. It's hard to argue with the value proposition, however -- if you can get an underpaid, top-three pitcher in the tougher league without giving up any of your top three prospects, you kind of have to make the trade.

Cleveland's return is going to end up leaning very heavily on 18-year-old right-hander Jason Knapp, who is currently on the shelf with shoulder fatigue. Knapp is a low-three quarters slinger with a shoulder-heavy arm action, landing on a stiff front leg and struggling to close his front shoulder. He's been sitting in the mid-90s this spring, but his curveball and changeup remain below average; it's possible he won't ever have an average curve from that arm slot. The arm strength and the results for a 19-year-old in full-season A-ball are both very impressive, so even with the other concerns he has potential, but he's a high-risk/high-reward guy. Cleveland rarely has guys like this in their system because they tend to draft conservatively, and their best homegrown prospect right now, 20-year-old shortstop Lonnie Chisenhall, was a pick where they broke out of their typical draft philosophy.