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Trading Cliff Lee Makes Little Sense — Unless the Phils Are Blown Away

Jul 30, 2012, 2:18 PM EDT

Rumors abound the Phillies are talking Cliff Lee trade, but we've been down that road. Is it really such a good idea?

The Phillies reportedly are in “full sell mode,” which means any and every option is literally on the table — though nothing has come of it just yet. Sure, it’s probably safe to say Cole Hamels isn’t going anywhere, but nobody is ever truly untouchable when the right deal is on the table.

Obviously there are no more rumored discussions over Hamels at this time, and in his case the right deal probably doesn’t exist, but there is plenty of talk that Cliff Lee could become the fallout from the six-year, $144 million contract that was signed last week. Lee makes a pretty penny himself, with $75 million guaranteed over the next three seasons, plus a vesting option with a club buyout in 2016. It’s admittedly a lot of money to tie up into two pitchers, perhaps prohibitively so.

Lee’s contract in the wake of the Hamels signing, coupled with apparently legitimate interest from at least the Texas Rangers is turning up the heat with tomorrow’s trade deadline fast approaching. Unless a team is prepared to absolutely blow the Phillies away however, this is one move Ruben Amaro may want to hold off on making.

As far as money is concerned, trading Lee only brings so much relief. With Roy Halladay seeming unlikely to reach his vested option for 2014, he will be a free agent one year from now. With Lee out of the picture, the only members of the current rotation who are currently scheduled to be around beyond are Hamels and Vance Worley — and how does a front office go about replacing three pitchers? Even with some help from the farm system, they’ll almost certainly have to throw money at the hole.

There is an additional line of thinking the organization might be stuck paying part of Lee’s salary in any trade, which further offsets what is freed up in a trade. Until the team pays part of Lee’s salary and whatever replacements, who’s to say what is gained from all of that wheeling and dealing.

But the kicker for me is how personal a decision returning to Philadelphia was for Cliff Lee, and the message that sends to free agents around the league. Lee was none too happy when he was shipped out of town the first time in a move to replenish the farm system, and that was with free agency right around the corner. He used that to come back, and committed to the franchise that only a year prior refused Lee their loyalty.

The first time, I can understand, and actually agreed with the decision to ship Lee. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me now, after the front office signed him to a long-term contract that screams, “We want you here.” What has changed in that period? Lee hasn’t had the greatest of seasons, but we know what he’s capable of, and if it’s merely the Hamels contract causing a revenue conflict — and there is no indication from ownership that it is — well that’s just poor planning.

Not to mention moving Lee after everything that went down looks bad to any player who thinks the Phillies could be a destination of choice. That’s business I suppose, and if the figures are right, most guys will put their name on the dotted line — but these things are factors.

Then again, while I fall whole-heartedly on the side of retaining Cliff Lee, it goes right back to the top. Nobody is ever truly untouchable, and if the Rangers or another team are willing to knock Ruben’s socks off, he has to at least listen. Still, it’s hard not to get the feeling if they do this, they’ll be down this road again in another year or two, trying to acquire another stud pitcher for prospects.

Who knows, maybe even Cliff Lee again.

>> More: Impediments to a Cliff Lee trade [Phillies Zone]