Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cleveland Trades Cliff Lee to Philadelphia - Just Wait 'Til 2011?

Well, that knocks down one of the two possible big trades for Cleveland, as Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco head off to the Phillies in return for Triple-A pitcher Carlos Carrasco, Single-A pitcher Jason Knapp, SS Jason Donald and C Lou Marson.

My first reaction is mixed. This is a lost season, and Lee had made it clear that, after the club option on 2010, he intended to test free agency. Maybe the Indians could have signed him, but sinking a lot of money into a pitcher who's already 32 seems counterproductive for a team trying to keep to a relatively tight budget. Lee's been pitching very well, and with Philly needing the extra arm, I think the timing was right. They could have tried to make a push with Lee next year, but Lee may drop off, or the issue of being in a contract-year might have scared off some teams, so no time like the present.

The inclusion of Francisco surprises me. I hadn't really read much talk of him getting traded anywhere. A functional outfielder (LF or RF) with only one error on the year but with only .250 BA and .758 OPS (OPS+ of 97 this year) who's 27, Francisco was a starter (and the main reason we traded Franklin Gutierrez, who had never hit before this year, to Seattle).

The season for the Tribe was already a loss, but with the trade, they now have the chance to take on monumental levels of suck. Francisco was a starter in the outfield; now, we have an outfield of Choo, an injured Grady Sizemore, and Trevor Crowe. There's talk that the Indians are going to bring up Matt LaPorta to play outfield some, too, but that's just not where he's going to play ultimately (he'll be 1B), so it isn't exactly going to solve anything. And as for pitching.......yikes. As Paul has pointed out at the DiaTribe, the Indians' stats with Lee and without are terrifying this year:

Starters 2009 – Cliff Lee Division22 starts, 152 IP, 3.14 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.34 K/9, 1.95 BB/9, 3.25 K/BB
Starters 2009 – Non-Cliff Lee Division78 starts, 422 1/3 IP, 6.07 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 5.32 K/9, 3.62 K/BB, 1.46 K/BB

That makes things even grimmer for next year, as Cleveland is facing a starting lineup of Jake Westbrook (if he can stay healthy), Fausto Carmona (if he can ever get his control back), Aaron Laffey (if he can rebound from injuries this year), David Huff (if he can prove that he's as golden as Clay Bucholz), and Jeremy Sowers (if he can ever reach big-league ability consistently). Again.....Yikes.

Which is why I'm mixed on this trade. Cleveland had to make moves based on how things will play out beyond this year, and this trade could have immediate impact. Maybe Carrasco arrives next year and blows everybody away (though there's no reason right now to believe or to disbelieve that that is what will happen), Carmona gets his control back, Laffey stays healthy, and Westbrook looks like he did in 2004 or 2006. But that's a lot of "maybes," and it feels kind of like they're saying, "well, we're going to make a run in 2010, but don't hold your breath, and maybe it will be 2011....". Again, Shapiro made the trade he had to make, and lord knows, he's done some incredible trades in the past (like getting Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon, or Shin-Soo Choo for Ben Broussard, or Hafner for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese). It seems Marson is a good candidate to take Martinez's place as the Indians shift him to first/DH (unless they trade him too, which they may - Hafner's locked in for more years at DH, and LaPorta seems to be the first baseman of the future for the Tribe), and Donald was no doubt picked to perhaps one day replace Peralta, who, while functional, hasn't lived up to the hype.

So I like the prospects, I guess - we didn't clean Philly out, but they made it clear they weren't going to give up certain players when they were talking with Toronto about Halladay - that's why Cleveland was able to do the deal for Lee. And again, Shapiro knows much more than I do - that's why he's paid as the GM, and I'm a broke, unemployed graduate student. Still, this trade may end up leaving me saying "just wait till next year!" next year, too.