The Smoky Room: Trading For Cliff Lee

Welcome to the first in what hopefully will be a recurring theme here at The Cardinal Conclave, a roundtable discussion between our writers.  We’ve done roundtables often as a part of the United Cardinal Bloggers (and likely will again come October) but we wanted to have some good Cardinal discussion amongst us in The Conclave.  And what more fitting title than The Smoky Room when you are using a papal selection method as your website theme?  Where there’s smoke there’s fire, or in this case, perhaps just some hot air.

Our first question was posed by Mr. Gilliam, but it’s been discussed since then by various luminaries.  Never let it be said we let a hot topic go to waste.

The Fightin’ Phils have ‘no interest’ in trading their pitchers which screams $$ to me.  IF they do decide to become sellers, the Cliff Lee to the Cards talk will only become louder.  Instead of being on the defensive, I say push all in and come up with a good plan to present the FO.

And our discussion.  Mr. Grabowski has already let you see his answer to this dilemma, but the rest of us will chime in as well.

Josh: Here is my best two trade options (cause you can’t only have one)! What say the CC?

Phillies deal Cliff Lee and the entire contract to St. Louis for:
2B Kolten Wong
LHP Tyler Lyons
LHP Marc Rzepczynski

As much as I wanted to include Boggs as well, that can be used in Plan B. Since this lives in make-believe land, moving Wong seems steep but the better option given M. Carp and Freese.

LHP Lee and $$ (How much depends on the prospect)
RHP Mitchell Boggs
RHP Joe Kelly
RHP Tyrell Jenkins

Given the stash of arms that the Cardinals are hoarding, this potential deal opens up a roster spot for Oscar Taveras and clears up the bullpen situation as well. It may be time to sell high on Jenkins, who won’t turn 21 until 7/20, but has battled some issues (injuries and repeating levels).

Both deals basically will depend on one thing — St. Louis is not going to deal OT, Carlos Martinez, or Michael Wacha for anybody this summer. Outside of the big three, Wong may also prove untouchable depending on how the 2B/3B gets accessed.

Dustin:  First, looking at Lee’s contract, he’s owed $25mil/per for the next 2 seasons with an option in 2016 vesting if he breaks 200 IP in 2015 or 400 IP in 2014 and 15 combined. Oh, and the option is for $27.5.

‘IF’ the Cardinals looked into this seriously they would have to consider the possible traffic jam they would create in the rotation. Westbrook won’t be back but with Wacha and Martinez looking likely to be ready to step in and Jaime Garcia under contract for the next 2 seasons and expected to be back from shoulder surgery that doesn’t leave much(any) room. This of course includes Waino, Miller and Lynn locked into the rotation for the next few years together at least. So ‘IF’ the Cardinals were going to be serious for Lee I would think they’d have to consider Martinez or Wacha as the main prospect included based on the too many arms aspect and also look to Philly to pick up the check on some the coin due to Lee over the next couple years.

Personally I feel as though the Cardinals have worked hard from a player draft and development standpoint so they can avoid being in the Phillies situation trying to unload a massive deal for prospects they can’t develop on their own. The Cardinals already have too many talented position players and pitchers. Oh no. They will have to figure that out as well for next season but that could be another question.

Daniel:  I agree with Dustin that it seems highly unlikely that the Cardinals are going to pursue anything like this, though Goold didn’t completely rule it out in his chat today. Even though, as Josh likes to point out, I have a fondness for a former Arkansas Razorback, the arms coming up make this likely a non-starter.

Assuming they want to play ball, though, I wonder if they’d take on more money so as not to have to throw in Martinez or Wacha. Teams are going to get something like $25 million more per year in television money when the new contracts start kicking in next year. Couple that with the fact you’ll have a bullpen full of basically minimum wage guys (and a couple of them in the bullpen), plus some relatively cheap offensive talent and it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility if they took on $18 million per year of that deal.

In that case, maybe they could deal a John Gast (assuming he gets back healthy and pitching before the deadline, which might be a long shot)/Seth Maness/Greg Garcia type of deal for him. Something that taps into their prospect depth without skimming off the cream.

Mike M:  To quote Jurassic Park: “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD.”

Beyond just showing off or trading for Lee ‘because we can’ I agree with the general sentiment here. There’s no reason at all to make this trade. STL has the best team in the league with the rotation in place, in its many forms.

There’s no need to mess with this.

Josh:  Westbrook has certainly given his 2 cents on whether or not to make the Lee deal, and the team recently implemented a 6-man rotation at Memphis. But while I agree that both the price in dollars and/or prospects to Philadelphia should give pause, it should be noted that a lot will happen between now and the end of July. I am all for being cautious and looking at other short-term, veteran hurlers who just happen to have playoff experience.

Two names immediately come to mind and wouldn’t you know it, the cost certainly sounds more appealing. Both Toronto and Colorado feature imposing lineups and have few holes when at 100% The problem becomes the amount of teams standing in the way of a playoff berth even as the two Wild Card spots offer hope.

The Blue Jays stole the show last winter and are no strangers to making trades with the GM of the Cardinals. They currently sit 4.5 games out of the playoffs and have won eight in a row. Toronto should also get star SS Jose Reyes back around the All-Star break, so why would they even be sellers?

As the standings show heading into play on 6/20, the AL East features four teams above .500 and not a single one hails from Canada. True, they are only one game below that mark but making up that much ground with a little over half the season left doesn’t make for good odds. Would a swap of left handers (looking at you Scrabble) as well as a prospect be enough to bring local boy Mark Buehrle into the fold?

If adding a proven player without years left on the deal sounds more likely, look West instead of North. The Rockies made a curious decision to sign Roy Oswalt back in early May, and it could pay off a number of ways. Colorado has an uphill climb to lock up a playoff spot, especially as the NL Central holds three of the five best records in all of baseball. The club recently made the call to promote Oswalt, and his audition surely will attract plenty of attention. It isn’t everyday that a pitcher with a career WAR of +50 may be on the trade market, and Oswalt is no stranger to battle in the NL Central.

Does this directly answer whether or not I have changed my stance on Lee? Of course not but ’tis the season for wishes! And in case you were wondering, Lee has a career WAR of 39.9 with Buehrle taking top honors at 52.8 among the three potential targets. Happy playoff dreaming Birds on the Bat fans 😉

Daniel:  Expanding the question, are you Mr. Gilliam? All right, your game, your rules.

I think Buehrle would have been a target of Mo’s if it weren’t for two things. One, Toronto is starting to get back into the race (though the next couple of weeks when they take on the Orioles, Rays, Red Sox and Tigers in a row might affect their surge) and two, the Marlins gave Buehrle a ridiculous contract, even more so than Cliff Lee. At least with Lee you have an expectation of upper level quality. Buehrle’s a good pitcher, but $18 and $19 million for the next two years for him rankles me more than the $25 for Lee, for some reason.

And yet, looking at it, it shouldn’t really. Buehrle is almost a year younger than Lee (I seriously thought he was older than 34) and while he’s not hit the level that Lee has in his career, he’s a solid pitcher that pitches a lot of innings. He’d improve his numbers getting out of the AL East and into a situation he’s always wanted to be at. I’d still rather Lee, given that he’s performing better now and has always limited the baserunners to a greater extent, but if you could get Buehrle with the Jays eating some money (and not sacrificing any upper-level prospects) it’d be intriguing. Big ifs, though.

As for Oswalt, I’ve always been a fan of his. He’d obviously come significantly cheaper than anyone else we’ve discussed. That said, he still hasn’t made his first start in the bigs this year (he will tonight) and Colorado is still in the NL West hunt (though we’ll see how much Troy Tulowitzski’s injury affects that). I can’t believe that he’s going to be available unless Colorado tanks in the next few weeks and, if they do, he’s probably going to be part of the reason why.

Looking at the struggling teams, you could argue (as Josh has before) that Yovani Gallardo would be someone to look into. Gallardo is owed just over $11 million next year and $13 million in 2015. That said, trading inside the division is always dicey and with Gallardo’s youth (he’s only 27), odds are Milwaukee would want some significant prospects, which would likely give Mo pause. There’s also Bud Norris, of course, who could never pitch as well for the Cards as he has against them, but being that he’s cheap and under team control (even though apparently unhappy in Houston), you probably wouldn’t want to go up against Jeff Luhnow in that situation.

Steve: For the sabermetric disinclined feel free to turn away for a few minutes 🙂  I’m just going to hit the Cliff Lee deal for now.. maybe I’ll hit some of the other proposals in a post later…

There’s two ways we can look at a potential deal 1) in a vacuum 2) as part of the broader picture of how things may play out

1 is a little simpler so let’s start there.  Cliff Lee is projected at ~6 WAR for the year (more or less both before the year and with the updated projections) so we can prorate that number and create a table like below

Year WAR Salary Surplus
2013 2.5 10.5 2
2014 5.5 25 2.5
2015 5 25 0
2016 4.5 25 -2.5

which if we assume the Cards pick up all of the remaining salary that they only get ~$2M of surplus value out of the deal.  That would require something like a C-C+ prospect + whatever penalty you apply to an “immediacy factor” so say upgrade that to a B-B+ prospect (so Jenkins would seem to fit here).  Clearly if the Phils were to pick up money then that would necessitate higher/more prospects.

An alternate look would be to evaluate with and without scenarios to see how they impact the overall structure of the team.. probably a little harder (read more assumptions needed) but more telling I’d say

First a “with” WAR table

Year SP WAR Salary Salary Slack Additional WAR from slack Total War
2013 2.5 10.5 0 0 2.5
2014 5.5 25 0 0 5.5
2015 5 25 0 0 5
2016 4.5 25 0 0 4.5
4 year WAR 17.5

To explain a little, the SP WAR is for the “empty rotation slot”, in this case Lee, in the next scenario Wacha or Martinez.  I’m basing salary slack on saying we can take Lee’s salary on (it’ll make more sense after the next table)
And now the “without” for comparison

Year SP WAR Salary Salary Slack Additional WAR from slack Total War
2013 0.5 0.25 10.25 0.5 1
2014 1.5 0.5 24.5 4.9 6.4
2015 2 0.5 24.5 4.9 6.9
2016 2.5 3 22 4.4 6.9
4 year WAR 21.2

So here we assume that we gain buying power with the Salary Slack and use it to purchase (or keep) additional WAR.  Note in year 1 we don’t get full purchase power simply because of availability, so I assumed we used some of the slack on a bullpen arm or something like that (you could re budget the savings, although I did not in this particular chart).

What does the comparison tell us?  Not much that we didn’t already know really.  We’d be trading an increase in future wins for some additional wins today.  So the question boils down to, “Is 1.5-2 wins this year + having another elite pitcher in the playoffs worth 3-4+ future wins?”  My answer is no, but I think it’s closer than I had thought before I started this exercise.

Another note, there’s lots of embedded assumptions in here that could sway these things substantially one way or the other.. we can debate if you want 🙂 that’s what these roundtables are about right?

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