Following a medical exam completed Wednesday evening, the World Champion Phillies sealed a major trade with the Indians, getting 2008 Cy Young winner Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco for four prospects. Philadelphia fans, who have called incessantly for the acquisition of Roy Halladay since early July, should not be at all disappointed for several reasons (with one qualifier that will be addressed). Those reasons:
First, Lee has proven what he can do with a team that plays reasonably behind him. His 22-3 record last season, with a 2.54 ERA, has the aroma of Sandy Koufax about it – twenty or more wins and five or fewer losses, the rarified air of an .800+ winning percentage and more than enough decisions to be significant. Koufax actually only did that once (although he also posted three other years with .750+ percentages and at least 19 wins). Thus far this year Lee is only 7-9, but with an excellent 3.14 ERA – the Native Americans are struggling mightily as a whole. In his first eight loses, they managed to get him a grand total of thirteen runs.
Second, the Phillies have by this trade managed to avoid the wrath of their fans by keeping prized pitching prospect Kyle Drabek, son of the former Pirates hurler, and Michael Taylor, who may well be the second coming of Vlad the Impaler…except that, while he throws “only” as well as the Angels’ Guerrero, he’s bigger, faster, and hits with more power. The Fightin’s were also loath to part with single-A outfielder Dominic Brown. Should Lee’s arm fall off in August, Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald and Lou Marson will be missed more, but they are surely worth that risk. It’s a shame for the Phils to lose Marson, who actually could play in the Bigs now for somebody, but in the deal they also got outfielder Francisco, who would seem an “upgrade” over promising rookie John Mayberry, Jr., as a pinch-hitter/fourth outfielder.
Finally, Lee seems to bring a vital need to the mound of Citizens Bank Telephone Booth. He is now a ground ball pitcher, or as ESPN’s James Quintong has put it, Lee “became an extreme ground-ball pitcher last year  during his breakout campaign.” That was not the case, though, in 2006 or ’07, and allowing fly balls in South Philly is not a good idea.
If Lee keeps the ball on the ground as he did last year, and by several accounts this year as well, what does it all mean? Well, the debate on Philly’s Comcast SportsNet late Wednesday was whether or not this trade has made the Phillies this year’s best team in baseball. The consensus was that this is currently a narrow call among the Red Sox, Angels and the Hometown 9, but as Dick Jerardi put it, sidestepping a “vote” as such: “The Phillies are loaded.”
Indeed they are…and they’re playing as though that’s true, as well. Entering play Wednesday, they had won 19 of their last 22.
“Ace in the hole: Phillies finalize trade for Cliff Lee.” Phillies.com e-mail to the author. 29 July 2009.
“Cliff Lee” & “Sandy Koufax.” Baseball-Reference.com. 29 July 2009.
Crasnick, Jerry. “Starters who can’t win for losing.” ESPN.com. 8 July 2009. 29 July 2009.
Quintong, James. “Sixty Feet, Six Inches: Greinke’s and Duke’s differing fortunes.” ESPN.com. 28 April 2009. 29 July 2009.
Zolecki, Todd. “Phillies land Lee from Tribe.” Philly.com. 29 July 2009.
Normandin, Marc, Eric Seidman and Kevin Goldstein, “Player Profile: Cliff Lee.” BaseballProspectus.com. 11 September 2008. 29 July 2009.
Daily News Live. Comcast SportsNet, Philadelphia. 29 July 2009.