Sleight of Hand: Phils Acquire Cliff Lee

Sabermetrician Eric Seidman of, well, just about everywhere, made a prescient comment to me in a short e-mail conversation we were having about the Roy Halladay trade rumors and the Phillies’ prospects.

 As [an] occasional magician, the only way to trick people is to misdirect.

Eric really is an occasional magician, in case you thought he was being facetious.

Keeping tabs on the Phillies this year as the July 31 trading deadline approached has been a real treat, believe it or not. Much as he did in the off-season and in spring training, GM Ruben Amaro has impressed with his cunning strategy in improving the team. We fans all have opinions on what should be done and a lot of it includes taking the quick-and-painless route — just get it done. Drabek and whatever else for Halladay, just do it.

Not Ruben.

Instead of simply taking Halladay when he first had the chance — and getting a couple extra starts out of him — Amaro waited, patiently, for a better opportunity. He knew that J.P. Ricciardi had no leverage, so he shouldn’t have to give up Kyle Drabek and Dominic Brown or Michael Taylor. He was right — and it was Indians’ GM Mark Shapiro who wasn’t getting the Phillies’ real top prospects.

From Todd Zolecki’s Twitter:

Source: Phillies have reached agreement with Indians, pending medical reviews. Lee and Francisco for Knapp, Carrasco, Donald and Marson.

In case you’re wondering about first names, they are Cliff, Ben, Jason, Carlos, Jason, and Lou respectively.

Jason Knapp is a great under-the-radar pitching prospect. I was telling Seidman that I think Knapp is a better prospect than Drabek. But he’s also more of an unknown, with only one and a half years of professional experience under his belt. Still, he has a K/9 rate over 11. Other than Knapp the Phillies didn’t give up much.

In Marson the Phillies gave up their second-best catching prospect, with the best being Travis D’Arnaud. Carrasco might not even make the Phillies’ top-three list for prospect pitchers, even if you exclude J.A. Happ. Jason Donald simply was not going to contribute at the Major League level for the Phillies. Overall, the Phillies gave up very little, relatively speaking. They keep the pitching prospect they covet in Drabek, they keep the starting pitcher who kept the Phillies afloat when the rest of the rotation was faltering in Happ, and they keep their two impressive outfield prospects in Brown and Taylor.

The Phillies get the reigning AL Cy Young award winner in Lee and the right-handed bench bat they’ve needed for two years in Franscisco.

This is, far and away, an exceptional win for the Phillies. Easily the best trade they’ve made in a long, long time.

What are the Phillies getting in Cliff Lee? He strikes out around 6-7 batters per nine innings, walks very few (under two per nine innings), and is very efficient, averaging around 15 pitches per inning. They now have two ace left-handers atop the rotation with Lee and Cole Hamels, and can mix and match with the hot hands during the playoffs.

If you thought before that the Phillies might struggle in the playoffs against teams with great starting pitching (like the Giants), think again!