Fantasy Trade Spin: Cliff Lee gets life, liberty, and the pursuit of a championship

Scott Pianowski

You have to give it up for the Phillies, who veered off Halladay Road (J.P. Ricciardi isn't the easiest man to rationally negotiate with) and quickly assembled a Cliff Lee deal with Cleveland Wednesday afternoon. Ben Francisco(notes) also heads to Philly, while the Indians get four respected prospects: pitchers Jason Knapp and Carlos Carrasco, catcher Lou Marson and shortstop Jason Donald.

While the Phillies looked like the runaway NL East winner even before this trade (Baseball Prospectus offers the simulation here), they needed a major move to get situated for the playoffs. Winning in October is generally about top-shelf starting pitching and a deep bullpen; the Phillies had that going last year, but this season it's been more about plastering on the runs and hoping the pitching is good enough to hold on. Lee's a Top 3 starter in any rotation, and his addition gives the Phils a much better shot at repeating come fall. It's notable that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was able to pull this deal off without trading prized pitching prospect Kyle Drabek.

If you want to continue with the real-life analysis, feel free to jump over to the Gordon Edes breakdown and Kevin Kaduk's take. For those ready for Fantasy Spinage, we've got you covered. Let's get to it.

It's not a monstrous step forward for Lee, but it's a fantasy gain. The Cleveland offense has been MIA for most of his starts this year (oddly, they score plenty for their other starters) but runs shouldn't be a problem in his new city – the Phillies have the best lineup, by far, in the NL. Lee has to deal with a smaller park, sure, but the NL environment is far less threatening as a whole, and he'll have a solid defense behind him (especially up the middle with Utley, Rollins and Victorino). When the next starting pitcher price guide comes out later this week, look for Lee to be in the $22-23 range.

Francisco's the biggest fantasy loser in this swap – the Indians used him as a regular but he's got no chance of breaking through the Ibanez-Victorino-Werth outfield. He'll be a solid reserve outfielder for the Phillies and NL-only players have to consider a small bid here, but mixed leaguers can scratch Francisco for the rest of the year, he simply won't play enough. (I don't want to get anyone's hopes up with Matt LaPorta(notes), but with Francisco leaving he does have one less player blocking his path to the bigs. It's your move, Mark Shapiro.)

The Indians have to feel great about how they've stocked their farm system with this move, but that doesn't mean any of these kids will have an immediate impact in our make-believe fantasy world. Carrasco has a strikeout per inning at Triple-A this year but he's also toting a 5.18 ERA and 1.360 WHIP – those aren't savior numbers. Knapp has an exciting upside (he's considered the jewel of this four-man group) and 111 whiffs in 85.1 innings at Single-A, but he's just 18 and three levels away from Cleveland.

Marson gets high marks for his eye at the plate and batting stroke (not to mention his makeup defensive skills) but he's got just one homer at Triple-A this year and isn't headed for a Wieters Buzz Scholarship. His presence in Cleveland (along with blue-chipper Carlos Santana) fuels speculation that Victor Martinez(notes) could be headed out of town before Friday's deadline. Donald has struggled in his move to Triple-A this year (.236/.297/.332, one homer) and he's headed to a team that already has a logjam in the infield, so it probably doesn't make sense for the Indians to immediately promote him. He's also been dealing with a knee problem this season.