Texas Rangers rumors: Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher, is supposedly available via trade, and Jon Heyman says that the Phillies are willing to absorb some of the money due to Lee if they can get the right prospects back in a trade.
Could that open the door to a possible Cliff Lee return to Texas?
Let's consider where things stand. The Rangers' front office expects the 2015 team to be a playoff contender. In order to be a playoff contender, the Rangers need to significantly upgrade a starting rotation that will be without Matt Harrison and Martin Perez. Jon Daniels has said they anticipate going outside the organization to add a starting pitcher or two, and that they've had discussions of late about a trade for a "controllable" player. And the Rangers, of course, traded Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson to get Cliff Lee in 2010, then tried very hard to sign Lee as a free agent.
Lee is owed about $8 million for the rest of 2014, $25 million for 2015, and there is a vesting club option for 2016 at $27.5 million that includes a $12.5 million buyout. That's a lot of money, but it is also a short-term deal...if you could sign Cliff Lee to a one year deal at $25M for 2015, with a $27.5M vesting option for 2016 and a $12.5M buyout, would you? I think that's something you'd have to strongly consider, particularly in the Rangers' situation.
A healthy Lee is a legitimate ace, and rolling out a Yu Darvish/Cliff Lee/Derek Holland trio gives you a top three that's about as good as you'll find in the American League. The question, of course, is health, as Lee has missed time with an elbow issue this year, and has just a 3.78 ERA this year (albeit with a 3.06 FIP). And you have to be extremely confident in Lee's health to pull a trigger on a deal for him...especially if you are Jon Daniels, given what has happened with the Prince Fielder situation.
Heyman says the Lee market end up not developing until August, as he believes that no one would put in a claim on Lee and risk being stuck with his contract. And the longer the Cliff Lee situation stretches out, the more likely it is that the Rangers would jump in, be it in August, or this winter.
I have a really hard time gauging what the cost would be, in terms of prospects, for the Rangers to land Lee. If the Phillies were to absorb, say, $25 million, would Texas part with Profar to land Lee? Would they be willing to center a package around near major league ready pitching -- say, Jake Thompson, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Keone Kela for Lee? Something like that I could see as viable for Texas. But if you're talking about, say, Joey Gallo, Jorge Alfaro and Luke Jackson for Lee plus a few million? No, not really.
So its all speculation at this point, and the money involved makes it hard to get a read. But I do believe that the Rangers are going to be aggressive in trying to land top-flight starting pitching they can plug into the rotation for 2015, and I think they're going to have to be willing to part with quality prospects in order to do that -- I just don't see them paying $23-25M per year for six years for a Jon Lester in the free agent market. Trading for a veteran on a short-term, but relatively expensive, deal seems more feasible.
And if they go that route, Cliff Lee might be the guy that makes the most sense.