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.

The Latest on the Phillies’ Offseason

The Phillies were close to acquiring reliever Wilton Lopez from the Houston Astros last week, but it fell through. CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury on the deal that never was:

Talks had progressed to the stage where Lopez traveled to Philadelphia for a physical exam on Wednesday. The deal fell apart some time after that. Phillies officials do not comment on trades until they are completed and this one was never completed.

Lopez had elbow problems at midseason in 2012. The Phillies have been very diligent in checking out a player’s health ever since they acquired pitcher Freddy Garcia from the Chicago White Sox in Dec. 2006.

You have to applaud the Phillies for doing their homework on Lopez. The right-hander would have been a great addition to the back of the bullpen, but it wouldn’t have mattered if his elbow portends to be a problem going forward.

Elsewhere, the San Francisco Giants and center fielder Angel Pagan agreed to a four-year, $40 million deal earlier today. Another CF drops off the market for the Phillies, who are looking at Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, and Shane Victorino from the free agent pool.

The Phillies are investigating trading with the Colorado Rockies for Dexter Fowler, however, reports Ken Rosenthal:

twitter.com/Ken_Rosenthal/status/275736701207470080

Fowler has some serious home/road splits. Last season, he posted a .422 wOBA at Coors Field, but just .319 away from home. Over his career, those marks are .384 and .312, respectively. I worry that Fowler’s splits are legitimate because Coors Field has a very spacious outfield. The following two charts show the location of Fowler’s hits both home and away. There is a noticeable difference. (click to enlarge)

Note the few hits in the gaps at home. Outfielders could be shifting further away from center field due to Coors Field’s spacious outfield. Additionally, there are more hits down the right field line, particularly of the extra base variety. In Colorado, it is 350 feet down the right field line compared to 330 at Citizens Bank Park, which makes legging out doubles and triples a lot easier.

The spread was actually more pronounced in 2011:

You can see the difference quite clearly by comparing his BABIP on fly balls at home and on the road as well:

FB BABIP Home Away
2009 .319 .313
2010 .234 .094
2011 .220 .140
2012 .264 .102

As Fowler typically hits around 60 fly balls in each split, the difference between the two amounts to nearly ten hits, or slightly less than ten percent of his typical season total.

The Rockies are searching for pitching help, so one would have to think a deal would include Vance Worley or Tyler Cloyd, a reliever, and perhaps a prospect as well.

At ESPN Sweet Spot, I outlined five things the Phillies should do to ensure a successful 2013. I mentioned preferring the now-taken Angel Pagan to Shane Victorino because the former Phillies center fielder has had drastic right-left splits lately:

twitter.com/CrashburnAlley/status/273947116987101184

With the options drying up though, there are no perfect candidates. With Michael Bourn, the Phillies will likely overpay in terms of guaranteed years, total salary, or both. With Josh Hamilton, the Phillies will be rolling the dice with not only the contract but with Hamilton’s production as well. Fowler and Victorino both have some questionable splits.

Jim Salisbury reported that the Phillies are interested in Texas Rangers jack-of-all-trades Michael Young. The 36-year-old is owed $16 million in the last year of his contract. He spent most of last season as a 1B/DH but did play third base regularly as recently as 2010. However, he has his own drastic platoon splits, posting an aggregate .369 wOBA against lefties since the start of 2010 compared to .317 against right-handers. The Phillies already have a right-handed bat in Kevin Frandsen, and Young is coming off of a season in which he was baseball’s second-least valuable player.

Player WAR/pos Year Age Tm
Jeff Francoeur -2.7 2012 28 KCR
Michael Young -2.4 2012 35 TEX
Greg Dobbs -2.1 2012 33 MIA
Joe Mather -2.0 2012 29 CHC
Ryan Raburn -2.0 2012 31 DET
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/3/2012.

There’s nothing wrong with checking in, though. The Phillies wouldn’t be doing their job if they were only focusing on the relative cream of the crop. That being said, Young would provide almost zero benefit to the Phillies.