COMMENTARY | For a brief time Tuesday, the prospect of a Cliff Lee-for-Justin Upton trade floated around Philadelphia. Sports talk radio and news outlets ran wild trying to debunk the rumor or discuss its validity. I first got wind of the possibility from ESPN's Pedro Gomez via twitter:
"Phillies and Diamondbacks are discussing Justin Upton for Cliff Lee. Money coming to AZ would also be involved."
As outrageous as the idea may sound at first, the story gained enough steam to warrant a comment from Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr.
"That would be incorrect and false." said Amaro when asked about the trade. "I don't know where that would come from, but as you all well know, there's a lot of falsehoods out there. And that's absolutely one of them."
When you think about it, a Lee-for-Upton trade doesn't make much sense for either side.
The Phillies have well documented questions leading up to the 2013 season. The starting rotation - outside of Roy Halladay's shoulder - is the least of their worries. While trading Lee would give them some salary relief and flexibility, it would just be trading one issue for another.
Upton would bring a much needed right-handed bat to the Phillies lineup, but he doesn't play center field or have the speed to hit at the top of the lineup. He'd be a welcome addition, but solve precisely zero of the Phillies' needs.
The deal would make less sense on Arizona's end. Sure, they would get Lee. Despite a 6-9 record in 2012, he ate up 211 innings and struck out 207 batters. However, Upton is the Diamondbacks' most valuable asset, and getting a 34-year-old pitcher owed $75 million over the next three years in return is a bad trade no matter how Lee pitches.
The bigger issue here for Philadelphia is trading Lee would cause severe damage to the Phillies' potential for signing big-name free agents in the future.
In 2010, Lee left slightly more lucrative offers on the table to return to the Phillies after they traded him to the Seattle Mariners the previous off season. It is Amaro's greatest accomplishment since taking over as GM after the 2008 season and marked Philly as an up-and-coming landing spot for future free agents.
Trading Lee now would erase almost all of that.
It's an issue of reputation and loyalty, not money. The Phillies have an impending network deal coming in 2015 that could match or exceed the $6-$7 billion deal the Los Angeles Dodgers made recently. So money will not be a problem for the Phillies in the foreseeable future. But if free agents think they could be traded on a whim, all the money in the world won't matter.
As we saw with the Marlins-Blue Jays trade, loyalty means something to players when making a free agent decision. Mark Buehrle was vocal in expressing his displeasure with Miami for trading him just one season after signing him to a 4-year $58 million contract.
In sports, there is a balance between loyalty and business. Loyalty to a player or coach can be detrimental to a team if it interferes with business, but being too focused on the business end and not enough on player relationships is harmful as well. There needs to be balance.
This is one of those occasions where loyalty to a player who took less money to join the team is more important than business. Trading Cliff Lee - even if it would help the Phillies get better in 2013 - is not worth the future risk of labeling the team as "disloyal."
Scott Lentz is an award-winning writer and filmmaker and contributor to Yahoo! Sports, Football Nation andThe Gaming Advisory. He grew up in the Philadelphia area and currently resides in the nearby suburb of West Chester. For more sports commentary, follow Scott on twitter: @scottlentz27All stats and figures courtesy of baseball-reference.com
- Sports & Recreation
- Cliff Lee
- Justin Upton