Just because Cliff Lee is a Phillie today does not mean he will still be in Philadelphia when the season is over.
Then they got swept out of Atlanta, and the narrative became "Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence got traded for a bunch of guys you never heard of." So even though Lee did not go at the trade deadline, he should probably keep a panic bag packed just in case.
The "trade deadline" has passed, but teams are still able to make deals. The complication for the Phillies in trading Lee now (and for any trading partner) would be that Lee must clear waivers. Explanations of the waiver trade process are abundant—a good one was provided recently by FoxSports.com.
Analyzing where Lee might go after the trade deadline means presuming that he would clear waivers. That is not a wild hypothesis, since Lee is still owed a ton of money and the Phillies have shown scant enthusiasm about eating much of it.
This exercise also means suspending disbelief as to whether Lee would block a proposed deal with his no-trade clause. Information about this is incomplete—Lee's contract says he can block trades to 21 teams, but we do not know which 21 they are.
It may not matter, though, since Lee's no-trade clause is his to waive. Presented with a chance to win now rather than risk a rebuild (or at least a retool) with the Phillies, Lee may well choose to go.
The following teams would figure to have no interest in Lee, for financial or competitive reasons (in a lot of cases, both, actually):
- National League East: Miami Marlins, New York Mets
- National League Central: Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers
- National League West: Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres
- American League East: Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays
- American League Central: Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins
- American League West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (nowhere to put him!), Oakland A's, Seattle Mariners
So where might he go?
Lee is highly unlikely to end up in the National League East via trade.
The Washington Nationals, it can be argued, do not really need him, as strong as their pitching has been.
The Atlanta Braves could use Lee, especially after Brandon Beachy was lost for the year. But the Phillies probably would not trade Lee to a division rival unless the rival overpaid significantly.
Of the three, the Reds have the greatest need for pitching, but after committing to Joey Votto for a decade, the middle-market Reds may not be able to afford him.
The Pirates have the same problem, though they would certainly prefer starting Lee over, say, James McDonald in a must-win game.
The Cardinals are the least likely of the three to make this move, particularly if they fall much further back in the wild-card chase (four games out as of August 1).
But it probably will not happen. Both the Dodgers (Shane Victorino) and Giants (Hunter Pence) just dealt with the Phillies and presumably could have added value to either deal to acquire Lee, but they did not do so.
The New York Yankees were in the bidding for Lee when he signed the mega-deal with the Phillies. The Yankees no doubt still remember how Lee stifled them in both the 2009 and 2010 postseasons. And the Yankees have dealt with a series of starting pitching setbacks this season.
The Yankees have the money and, as always, the need to win right now. If a waiver trade deal is to happen, the Yankees are at or near the top of the list.
Lee is probably not going to this division, for different monetary reasons: The White Sox probably cannot afford Lee because they traditionally do not spend that kind of money, whereas the Tigers have it but have already spent it on the likes of Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.
That leaves one more team to consider.
The Texas Rangers are going to have all they can handle from the Angels in the race for the division crown, and certainly the Rangers could see the Angels again in the postseason. Could the Rangers open their heart (and their wallet) to Lee again? Do not rule it out.
The Yankees and the Rangers are probably the favorites to acquire Lee if he is moved before August 31. But if you have to bet on anything, bet on Lee being a Phillie in 2013.
At least until July 31.