I think if we all seriously consider things, the idea that Cliff Lee was going to come back from a two-month plus stint on the disabled list, overcome two straight really uninspiring rehab performances, and come make a few starts to fully recoup his trade value, was a pipe dream. Even calling it a pipe dream might be giving it too much credit, really.
In reality, if Lee was ever going to be moved during the 2014 season, it was going to be in August.
According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, Lee may get moved in August, but it won’t be because he gets claimed on waivers.
Rival evaluators saying July 31 trade deadline doesn’t apply to Cliff Lee, because he’ll clear waivers; guaranteed $48m for next 1 1/3 yrs.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 23, 2014
With Lee clearing waivers, it reopens his entire market. Essentially, as long as he makes it through waivers, it becomes the July trade-market all over again. Teams can move prospects, take on money in deals, and do everything they could prior to the non-waiver trade-deadline.
If Lee can show that he is healthy and effective again, which he didn’t exactly do in his first start back, I have his August sweepstakes narrowed down to three serious suitors.
*Note* These three suitors are in no particular order.
- Toronto Blue Jays-The Jays are right in the thick of the American League playoff race (both in the A.L. East and wild-card), and they’ve certainly shown a willingness to add in big names in an attempt to compete (Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Melky Cabrera), so reports that the Jays were doing their background work on Lee didn’t come as a surprise. Lee, at least a healthy version, would seem to be the missing piece for a Jays team that is offensively loaded, but lacks a starter with a big-game pedigree. Getting Lee healthy, and finding a way to work the trade salary wise might be the real issues.
- New York Yankees-The Yankees’ interest in Lee would largely hinge on what news they get on Masahiro Tanaka‘s status for the remainder of 2014. Unless Tanaka stops feeling pain in his elbow, which as of yesterday he was not, then he will end up needing season-ending Tommy-John surgery. If he can return this season, the Yankees still need another elite arm to try to make a playoff push. My guess is that Tanaka ends up being out for the season, and at that point, adding an expensive 35 year-old with elbow issues doesn’t make a ton of sense.
- Seattle Mariners-This would obviously be a return to the team that the Phillies infamously traded Lee to after his incredible 2009 playoff run, and got, literally, no return for. While everyone likes to speculate about the possibility of a Felix Hernandez-David Price one-two, it doesn’t seem likely that Price actually gets moved before the deadline, which makes Lee a nice fallback option. Like the Jays, the Mariners are looking to end a long playoff drought, and if they miss out on a big name like Price in July, it’s very possible they push for a reunion with Lee should they stay in the playoff race through early July.
In the case of all three of these teams, Lee would have to waive his no-trade clause. Everyone seems to have gotten the sense he would do that to join a contender, certainly the Yankees, but it may not be a slam dunk he does to go back to Seattle.
The Dodgers and Cardinals will also be tossed around, but they seem like unlikely actually fits. First off, if the Cardinals wouldn’t pay franchise icon Albert Pujols on his terms when he was still the best player in baseball. That taken into account, it’s hard to believe they would take on the $37.5 million that Lee is guaranteed the next two seasons, and part with an Oscar Tavares. The Dodgers have the money, but their rotation is loaded as it is. Sure, they’d love to add someone like Price-who wouldn’t-but they don’t need him, and really don’t have much of a reason to be interested in Lee.