Lee is an attractive fallback option
During the telecast of the Indians-Blue Jays game on the Indians’ TV network Tuesday night, the viewer poll asked this question: Which pitcher would be traded – Cliff Lee(notes), Roy Halladay(notes), both, or neither?
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The Philadelphia Phillies are taking no chances. On a day that began with Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi setting a July 28 deadline for a Halladay deal, then saying a trade was “probably unlikely,” the Phillies had scouts in Toronto to watch Lee, just as they’d watched Halladay on Sunday.
Philadelphia’s prime target remains Halladay, but if Toronto’s asking price is too high (“I think J.P. threw his name out there,” said one National League executive, “and if somebody does something stupid, he’ll trade him”), the Phillies and other teams could well turn their attention to Lee, who presumably would come cheaper. Lee’s four-year, $15 million deal ends this season, although the contract contains a club option for $9 million in 2010, a relative bargain.
Ricciardi’s comments should not be taken too seriously at this stage – in 2004, on the day before the Boston Red Sox traded Nomar Garciaparra(notes), manager Terry Francona said there was a 99 percent chance the shortstop wasn’t going anywhere. But if Ricciardi can’t make a franchise-changing deal now, he can always wait until this winter.
The Red Sox, for one, believe the Jays would demand more talent from them than from a team outside of their division, so they don’t expect a match. The Phillies, as has been well documented, have the prospects to swing such a deal, and it doesn’t hurt that Halladay’s offseason home is about five minutes away from the Phillies’ spring training facility in Clearwater, Fla.
But if they can’t make a match with Toronto, it was clear by the presence of their scouts that they would consider Lee an alternative worth exploring. And if Tuesday was Lee’s last start in an Indians uniform, it was a beauty. He went the distance in a 2-1 win, one in which the decision turned in his favor when the Indians scored twice in the top of the ninth. The Dodgers also have interest in Lee, and the Cardinals, Angels and Brewers could be suitors.
So far, Indians GM Mark Shapiro has given other teams scant encouragement to believe he would move Lee, who won 22 games and the AL Cy Young Award in 2008.
“He’s not off our radar,” said a scout for one NL contender that has interest in Lee, “but Cleveland doesn’t seem that anxious to move him.”
Dealing Lee would mean trading Cy Young Award winners in back-to-back seasons, a tough sell in a market that has never been the same since the Indians began losing pieces of their juggernaut at the turn of the century (Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Robbie Alomar, et al).
From a baseball standpoint, trading Lee a year after trading CC Sabathia to the Brewers makes sense, especially if the return rivals that of the deal Shapiro made for Bartolo Colon in 2002, when he got Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, Lee Stevens and a pitcher named Cliff Lee in return.
But giving up Lee would be akin to conceding that the Indians won’t be in contention next season either, and that makes it a much tougher call than last summer’s Sabathia deal, when it appeared Cleveland would still have enough pitching to survive life without CC.
Pedro prognosis: The Phillies’ 10-game winning streak has taken the pressure off Pedro Martinez(notes) to make an immediate impact. Martinez threw a simulated game Tuesday at the Phillies’ complex in Clearwater, Fla., that was watched by GM Ruben Amaro Jr., and will either throw another Sunday or pitch in a minor league game.
“People have got to realize he’s never going to be what he once was,” a Phillies scout said. “And we don’t expect him to be that guy. His fastball was 86 to 91, mostly 88 to 89, but there’s plenty there, with the change, curveball and cutter he’s throwing more. If we have him August and September, we’re hoping he can give us five or six wins.”
National insecurity: While the highly respected Mike Rizzo proceeds in Washington as if he will remain the Nationals’ GM on a permanent basis, the reality is that he still wears the interim label. Manager Jim Riggleman is also an interim hire and the contracts are expiring at the end of the season for many of the other key operatives in baseball operations. That only fuels speculation that Nationals ownership is considering hiring a new GM empowered to clean house and bring in his own staff. The Nationals already function on a short-staffed basis in scouting, where they only have 3½ pro scouts (including part-timers and not including advance men). The Yankees, by contrast, have a major league-leading 15, with the Rays right behind at 14.
Disco Kenny: If you happened to see the footage observing the 30th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night, the ill-fated promotion in Chicago’s Comiskey Park that resulted in a riot on the field and the forfeit of a game by the White Sox, yes, that was Ken Kravec on the mound in the midst of the madness.
Kravec, now a special assistant to Cubs GM Jim Hendry, was supposed to pitch the second game of a twi-night doubleheader on July 12, 1979, but that game was erased when a promotion to blow up disco records turned into a fiasco, with fires breaking out on the field and fans running amok.
“I was warming up in the bullpen, which was right next to the stands in the old Comiskey Park,” Kravec said. “It was just wall-to-wall people. You couldn’t see the exits, you couldn’t see the aisles. If the park held 50,000 people, there must have been 65,000 people there, and there were another 15,000 people outside the park.
“The upper deck hangs over the bullpen, and they were throwing shoes, Frisbees, disco records. I said to Schu – Ron Schueler was the pitching coach – ‘Hey, it’s getting a little dangerous out there. Can I stop?’
“He said, ‘No, let’s walk out to the main mound.’ I threw about five pitches, and that’s when they [unruly fans] charged onto the field. I hung onto my glove, grabbed my hat, and got out of there.
“Crazy night. The next day, the field was just beat to [expletive]. We were lucky we didn’t have to forfeit a few more games.”
Fungo hitting: Sending up the white flag at midseason just doesn’t play well in New York, but if Mets GM Omar Minaya decides to become a seller, the Dodgers top the list of teams that would love a crack at Pedro Feliciano(notes). The left-handed reliever, who is on a one-year deal and remains a year away from free agency, has held left-handed hitters to a .186 average, with 19 strikeouts and just two walks. He has yet to allow an earned run in 28 appearances in CitiField (19 2/3 innings) … The Brewers had a scout watching Brad Penny(notes) in Toronto over the weekend, but with Tim Wakefield(notes) going on the DL with a lower back strain and Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes) rehabbing in Fort Myers, Fla., the Red Sox appear even less likely to move the right-hander. … The Tribune Company sent out a memo to Cubs employees to quash rumors that their pension and benefits would be jeopardized by any bankruptcy action connected with the sale of the club. Anything the Cubs do at the deadline is expected to be limited, because their ownership situation is unsettled … The scouts are in force in Pittsburgh this week, where the Pirates, in the opinion of one NL executive, are prepared to move just about anybody, including starters Zach Duke(notes) and Paul Maholm(notes), closer Matt Capps(notes), and infielders Adam LaRoche(notes), Jack Wilson(notes) and Freddy Sanchez(notes) in an effort to replenish their farm system. Wilson and Sanchez recently turned down contract extensions. Left-handed reliever John Grabow(notes) is also an eye-catching sales item in Pittsburgh. Another popular destination for scouts last weekend was Cincinnati, where starters Bronson Arroyo(notes) and Aaron Harang(notes) are said to be available, along with veteran reliever David Weathers(notes), and there are indications that the Reds would listen to offers for closer Francisco Cordero(notes). Moving Cordero, however, is problematic. He has full no-trade protection and two more years on his contract at $12 million per, plus a $12 million option in 2012. Relievers, like they are at every trading deadline, will be in demand, with Baltimore’s George Sherrill(notes), Toronto’s Scott Downs(notes) and Jason Frasor(notes), Arizona’s Chad Qualls(notes) among those also in play – The Red Sox had a scout in Washington this week watching Nick Johnson(notes).