Could the Dodgers solve their starting pitching woes by acquiring Philadelphia… (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)
With the Dodgers still searching for a quality starting pitcher, and controlling owner Mark Walter saying the team is under no financial restrictions, Cliff Lee was put on trade waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday.
Convenience or coincidence?
It could be either.
The Dodgers ramped up their batting order with the recent acquisitions of Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino but came up empty in their quest for a starting pitcher. The question now becomes, would they take on as much as $110 million in salary to add a pitcher who will be 38 years old when his contract expires?
Dodgers executives can't talk about Lee because baseball rules prohibit them from discussing players on the waiver wire, but when the nonwaiver trade deadline passed on Tuesday, their leadership emphasized they might not be finished shopping. "We have the resources," team President Stan Kasten said.
Could that have been a hint of this to come?
Of course, just because the Cy Young Award-winning left-hander was put on waivers doesn't mean the Dodgers will have a chance to land him — for several reasons.
Most players will be on waivers at some point this month, but only a small percentage will switch teams.
The Phillies could be just testing the market, and are allowed to pull Lee back off the waiver list if he is claimed. Lee has been told that the Phillies have "no intention" of parting ways with him, according to a person familiar with the situation. "Of course," the person said, "that could change."
If Lee is claimed, the Phillies could trade him to that team. Or, they could simply let him go to that team, which would have to assume the remainder of his contract. That's the part that could give teams pause.
Lee has about $7 million left on the $21.5 million he will earn this year, and he's guaranteed $25 million in each of the next three seasons. Then, in 2016, when he's 38, he would make $27.5 million so long as he has met certain performance milestones.
The expectation around baseball is that no team will claim Lee in the two days he will stay on waivers. If that happens, the Phillies could then trade him to anyone.
The Phillies, who are out of playoff contention, signed left-hander Cole Hamels to a six-year, $144-million contract extension last month. But otherwise the team appears to be in salary-dumping mode. At Tuesday's nonwaiver trade deadline, they unloaded two big salaries in the outfield by trading Victorino to the Dodgers and Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants.
Whether the Phillies would be satisfied with receiving little or nothing in return for Lee — other than payroll relief — is unknown. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that in talks leading up to the nonwaiver trade deadline, the Phillies were unwilling to pay any of Lee's salary and also wanted a bounty of top prospects in return.
If that remains the case, the Dodgers might not be able to get him because they lack premium prospects in their farm system. Of course, that is assuming the Dodgers would be willing to assume an oversized, multiple-year commitment to an aging and declining pitcher.
Lee would be an upgrade from rookie Stephen Fife, who is filling in as the Dodgers' fifth starter. However, Lee hasn't been the same pitcher he was last season when he had a 17-8 record and 2.40 earned-run average.
Lee is 2-6 this season, and although his record can be traced to little run support, his ERA is up to 3.73.
And there is yet another possible hurdle in his contract: a clause that allows him to block moves to 21 teams.
It is not known whether the Dodgers are among them.