Cliff Lee is pretty terrific. He’s currently 10-4 with a 3.05 ERA. He’s on pace for a sixth straight season of 200 innings pitched, and his worst ERA in that span is a 3.22 mark. Since 2008, he has the second best ERA+ or anyone to throw 500 innings, coming in a bit behind Clayton Kershaw. Lee is also 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 11 postseason starts.
Lee’s contract is less terrific. The Phillies backloaded it so that they could get away with paying him just $11 million in 2011. As a result, he’ll make $25 million in both 2014 and ’15. Worse is his option for 2016. It can vest at $27.5 million, which isn’t so terribly bad. But it has a $12.5 million buyout attached to it, which is going to be an awfully big hit for a team to take if Lee falls apart at some point within the next two years.
So, basically, any team that trades for Lee is going to be paying market value for his services. And if you’re going to pay market value for his services, there’s no way it makes any sense to give up one of the top 10 prospects in baseball for him.
Xander Bogaerts is considered the best prospect the Red Sox have produced since Hanley Ramirez. In truth, he’s a better prospect than Ramirez was, since there were always questions about Ramirez’s work ethic and ego as he climbed the ladder. Bogaerts might not be quite as talented as Ramirez, but he’s close. He’s hit .311/.407/.502 in 56 games in Double-A and .279/.380/.483 in 41 games in Triple-A this year at the tender age of 20. He’s also turned himself into a pretty good shortstop through hard work. It used to be assumed that he’d outgrow the position and move to third base. That’s still a possibility, and the Red Sox have recently given him starts at third in Triple-A in order to determine whether he can help them this year. But he has shown enough at shortstop to suggest that he could last there for at least his first few major league seasons.
The Red Sox won themselves a World Series by trading Ramirez to the Marlins for Josh Beckett, but they haven’t been back there since 2007 and maybe they would have been if they had kept Hanley and Anibal Sanchez around. Of course, they’d still do it all over again and they’d be right to. If trading Bogaerts for Cliff Lee assured them of a World Series victory this year, they’d do that, too.
But it doesn’t. Lee, for all of his postseason success, has never pitched for a World Series winner. That doesn’t reflect on him, just on the crapshoot that is the postseason. Lee is great, but he doesn’t swing the odds enough. If a lesser package could bring him in, the Red Sox might bite. It probably won’t, so they’ll simply make do. 6 2/3 seasons of Bogaerts for the right to pay Lee either $70 million through 2015 or $85 million through 2016 just doesn’t work.