Indulging: Cliff Lee For Justin Upton?

It was something a lot of us could sense, but not necessarily put our fingers on. The Phillies had been very quiet this offseason, linked in name to some outfield options only to see them be inked by other clubs. Then, just before 5 p.m. eastern Wednesday, Pedro Gomez unleashed this:

Now isn’t THAT something?

Now, Gomez is not typically known for his baseball news-breaking and the report was, as expected, shot down not long after by other reporters and (rather vehemently) by Amaro himself. So, knowing that this deal is nowhere near imminent and perhaps nothing more than a breath beyond “rumor,” let’s press on and ponder the hypothetical.

Removing personal attachments and viewing these players simply as baseball assets, the fit would seem to make sense for both sides. In Justin Upton, the Diamondbacks would be parting with a homegrown, cornerstone player who turned 25 in August, a right fielder that the Phillies had hoped Domonic Brown would one day be. In Cliff Lee, the Phillies would be parting with a 34-year-old ace who has posted excellent numbers each of the last five years, a formidable counterpart to Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and, potentially, Trevor Bauer.

Each part of the deal carries risks complementary to their rewards. Could the Phillies deal from a supposed position of strength, with Roy Halladay’s health in question and immediate “prospect” replacements far from sure things? Could Arizona assume most of the difference between Lee’s and Upton’s salaries and expect him to keep pitching at a high level into and through his mid-30s?

Both Lee and Upton are signed through 2015.

Lee Upton
2013 $25M $9.75M
2014 $25M $14.25M
2015 $25M $14.5M

Lee also has a 2016 club option for $27.5M and a $12.5M buyout. Upton has no such provision.

The salary difference is striking, and would almost certainly have to be addressed in some capacity. But, assuming the entirety – or even the vast majority – of the difference is not accounted for, this could free the Phillies up to use the newly freed money to address another pressing need in CF or 3B. Or, to a lesser extent, a depth starter.

The Phillies’s new top of the lineup could look something like this:

SS Jimmy Rollins
RF Justin Upton
2B Chase Utley
1B Ryan Howard
C Carlos Ruiz

With other positions remaining to be addressed. The rotation, then, would be left as:

Cole Hamels
Roy Halladay
Vance Worley
Kyle Kendrick
Tyler Cloyd

It’s significantly worse without Lee. Yet the lineup has a great shot at being significantly better, with a payroll ultimately lower than it was before (prior to finishing moves). Is it worth it? The rumor may be dead for now, but it’s still one worth keeping an eye on.

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29 comments

  1. Phylan

    December 04, 2012 05:38 PM

    I doubt that. He probably heard something. Doesn’t mean it was significant, but it could have been a preliminary brainstorm that leaked out and made the rounds.

  2. Phillie697

    December 04, 2012 05:56 PM

    25-year-old Justin Upton at 3 yr/$40M >>>> 34-year-old Cliff Lee at 3 yr/$87.5M or 4 yr/$102.5M. It’s not even particularly close, to the point that it would still be a good deal for the Phillies even if we absorb some money.

  3. Frank Reynolds

    December 04, 2012 06:05 PM

    I don’t know what Doc is anymore so I say no to this. I think he can make a come back but right now I still don’t know how dependable he is. I also not sure if there is any truth to this.

  4. mac

    December 04, 2012 06:53 PM

    if this were to happen, then do you try to move on a guy like Fowler?

    If we get Upton and sac Lee, at that point I dont think I’d want us locking into a thirty something CF for 4-5 years, potentially wasting Upton’s youth if said thirty-something CF (Hamilton or Bourn) crashes and burns and weighing the phillies down from making moves.

    If you move Lee for Upton, move some pieces for Fowler. Now all of sudden the aging phillies have themselves a youth movement in the outfield and at least somewhat proven MLB capable youths at that, with Brown/Fowler/Upton and mixing in Ruf to see if he can be anything worthwhile.

  5. chris

    December 04, 2012 07:00 PM

    Do it… than get Fowler. We could replace Lee with the several SP left on the market. Possibly also sign a nice 3B.

  6. John

    December 04, 2012 08:26 PM

    No on Upton, No on Fowler, No on trading Lee without complete salary relief.

    It is becoming more and more clear that whatever Amaro does this off season, he will either have to sacrifice a player we all love, prospects we may not be able to do with out, or a shit ton of money that will require us to sell out the CBP through out the World Series. His position is increasingly more difficult with the FA options dwindling and any trades we make will most likely be highly criticized by all.

  7. chris

    December 04, 2012 08:44 PM

    ok… here it is. We need 3B, CF, AND RP. C. Headley, Adams or Grilli (or both), and Hamilton.

  8. Rob

    December 04, 2012 08:58 PM

    Red Sox may be looking to trade Ellsbury for pitching. Any thoughts?

  9. LTG

    December 04, 2012 09:09 PM

    What hk said was my first reaction. Greinke isn’t coming here because he’s going to LA, and he would be as expensive as Lee and 3/4 as good, maybe, now that his fastball velocity has started to decline.

  10. LTG

    December 04, 2012 09:41 PM

    Whelp, I’m glad the Phillies didn’t pay Victorino what the Red Sox paid. How did Pagan end up with a lower AAV for just one more year?

  11. pedro3131

    December 04, 2012 10:10 PM

    Unless CBP has suddenly levitated to 5280 feet above sea level trading for Fowler would be a very bad idea. Who exactly is on the free agent list that could replace Lee? I don’t recall seeing any perennial Cy young candidates (Greinke excluded) let alone lefties

  12. LTG

    December 04, 2012 10:20 PM

    Why aren’t the Phillies in on Swisher? Too many years?

  13. pedro3131

    December 04, 2012 10:54 PM

    Probably due to the fact he was asking for 7/126 back in august

  14. Tim M.

    December 04, 2012 11:44 PM

    Glad the Phils are not getting caught up this year in the overspending for outfielders. Pagan, $40MM/4 years?!? Even worse, Victorino, $39MM for 3 years?!? This is craziness.

    Justin is the only Upton brother I’d be happy to see in a Phillies uniform next year.

  15. Dru

    December 05, 2012 03:31 AM

    Arizona would never do this without us throwing in some younger players and paying part of Lee’s salary. On the flip side, Amaro has made it abundantly clear that he is not giving up Lee for anything less than a kings ransom, i.e. Wil Myers and Mike Moustakas. Essentially we are not trading him. And no way on earth do we want Mike Olt trust me he will be a big disappointment… How can a 24 going on 25 year old who has never played AAA and is slated to start in the minors again who only hit .280 in AA and struck out 150 times (his numbers translate to a .230/17/56 185K line in the majors, thats Josh Fields territory. I think hes available by the way. Or we could sign Brandon Woods, im pretty sure hes available and still only two or three years older than Olt). Off topic I know but I am just so scared we give up value for him, and if they balked at Lee for Olt than we would really have to surrender a lot and literally getting a below average player in return who i would bet $100 he never hits .270 or hits 25 HR in a season, and ends up hitting under .250 for his career.

  16. Scott G

    December 05, 2012 06:49 AM

    Of course Manuel wouldn’t split up Utley and Howard with the RHB of Upton. :)

  17. hk

    December 05, 2012 07:55 AM

    pedro,

    Just because there’s not another perennial Cy Young candidate available doesn’t mean they shouldn’t pursue a deal of this sort (depending upon what other players are involved and how much the Phils have to pay towards the difference in salary). If they make this deal and then sign an SP like Anibal Sanchez instead of not making it and signing a corner OF like Nick Swisher, the question becomes, which SP/OF combination is better over the next few years, Lee and Swisher or Sanchez and Upton? When I consider that Sanchez and Upton are 6 and 7 years younger than Lee and Swisher, respectively, I believe there’s a case to be made for Sanchez and Upton.

  18. Phillie697

    December 05, 2012 12:41 PM

    *Sigh* Have we had such good pitching for so long that people forget you can improve the team by either preventing more runs or scoring more? Do you people remember we won a WS with a pitching staff that was worse than what we have currently, even minus Lee? Yes, Lee will be missed, but what, you think Justin Upton can be had for free?

    This deal sounds like it isn’t happening, but if Arizona was willing to talk, I’d seriously offer up a deal just short of the kitchen sink. I would offer up Lee and $10M, making the trade akin to signing Upton to 3 yr/$50M, and getting rid of Lee’s salary from the books. Anyone wanna tell me Upton isn’t worth that after his brother just got 5/$75M?

  19. JMac14

    December 05, 2012 03:38 PM

    I am more than willing to make this trade, there are just a few things I need to know first. First I would have to know if Halladay is healthy or not. If he’s not, I probably would not make the deal, because then all you have basically is Hamels. But at the same time, you would be getting a marquee corner outfielder. Also, Hamilton might be more willing to come here then.

    I’m really not a big fan of Bourn, so I believe that it’s bascially Hamilton or nothing. Bourn’s numbers really tapered off towards the end of last year, so I don’t know if he’s durable enough.

  20. Phillie697

    December 05, 2012 03:52 PM

    I’ll play LTG and hk’s game… Finish this sentence.

    “If the Phillies sign Josh Hamilton, I will…”

  21. John

    December 05, 2012 04:19 PM

    become a Mets fan.

  22. Gaël

    December 05, 2012 07:28 PM

    “I’m really not a big fan of Bourn, so I believe that it’s bascially Hamilton or nothing. Bourn’s numbers really tapered off towards the end of last year, so I don’t know if he’s durable enough.”

    Wait, you’re afraid Bourn might not be durable enough, but are fine with Hamilton?

  23. pedro3131

    December 05, 2012 08:16 PM

    hk, I guess I’m just not as sold on Upton as everyone else. He looked lost at the plate most of this year. Instead of taking that next step into super stardom, he overcompensated in his swing and wound up striking out more, and turning home runs into deep fly balls. He looked like a guy who was always trying to hit that game changing base hit, but rarely connecting with it. He looked a lot more like a player in decline then a rising 25 year old star.

    Now maybe that was just a nagging injury, and his pop will return and he’ll turn into the superstar he has the tools to be, but I just don’t see it.

  24. Phillie697

    December 05, 2012 11:57 PM

    Yeah, because eyeball tests always works best.

    2011 Justin Upton: 18.7% K rate, 8.8% BB rate, 44.8% FB rate, 36.9% GB rate.

    2012 Justin Upton: 19.3% K rate, 10.0% BB rate, 35.6% FB rate, 43.8% GB rate.

    Hmm… his K rate rose within the margin of error, walk rate went up, and hit LESS FBs, not more. Sure as hell looks like a guy whose power got sapped by an injury to me, since his batted-ball profile actually show someone who’s hitting the ball better (LD%, 18.2 in 2011, but 20.6 in 2012) but just not as far. Anymore eyeball tests you want me to debunk?

  25. pedro3131

    December 06, 2012 05:16 AM

    There isn’t a margin of error here unless you’re implying you injected some sort of anti strike out serum into him and are trying to find a confidence level for your serum. It’s not a study, it’s numbers, he struck out more… He rebounded a little bit at the end of the year (24% in March/April to 13 by September), but he struck out more.

    Also I said that his fb’s were going from home runs to out’s, which if you look at HR/fb rate, it declined to a career low in what was supposed to be a MVP caliber year.

  26. Phillie697

    December 06, 2012 12:18 PM

    0.6% rise in K rate is not indicative of anything, since it’s well within the realm of season-to-season fluctuation, which is the point of my “margin of error” comment. And wow, 24% to 13% is “a little bit”? You make a big deal out of 0.6% but thinks 24% to 13% is “a little bit”? Biased much?

    Plus, who said he has to be Matt Kemp for this to work out? Give me a 25 year old OF with an .800 OPS (which would be what it would be had his FB% been closer to his career average, even with the career-worst HR/FB ratio you pointed out) and with already a MVP-caliber season under his belt making only $13M a year, and I’ll trade you a 34-year-old elite pitcher who might in term of value be worth more than Upton last year but also got PAID like he was going to produce that value, and I’ll take the OF any day of the week.

  27. Phillie697

    December 06, 2012 12:20 PM

    In other words, for what we’re paying Cliff Lee, we can have TWO Justin Uptons in terms of salary. I’ll take two Uptons over one Lee please. Money matters.

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