The Phillies have come to a fork in the road, and the club has to decide whether to blow up the remaining pieces from the last few years of success or build around aging stars.
On Thursday, Lee told Ryan Lawrence of the Daily News that he just wants to win and he doesn't mind leaving Philly to do so:
"I definitely want to win—there’s no doubt about that," Lee said when asked if he wanted to remain in Philly.
And what if the team is still going nowhere fast a month from now?
"I want to win," Lee repeated. 'I don’t know how else to say it besides that. I want to win."
Lee has been rumored to be on the trade block all season. The Phillies aren't contending for a playoff spot at 32-35, and he would be a valuable asset to a contending team.
Cliff Lee prefers Philly, but he just wants to win somewhere. http://t.co/53lSmgSy6o— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) June 14, 2013
In an article from ESPN's Jayson Stark, Amaro responded to Lee's comments on Friday, but he didn't seem nearly as open to a trade as Lee is.
They're all rumors, and we don't comment on rumors. But I don't see what the benefit would be to our organization to trade [Lee]. They're players we've got who can help us win, and we're better off with them than without them.
People would like us to improve our club, but at what cost? You have to have replacement pieces if you're going to trade someone like that.
If we have [guys like Lee] at the top of our rotation, we're a better club. ... It starts and ends with pitching, as far as I'm concerned. So the more quality pitching you have, the better chance you have to build around that to win.
He doesn't have a "trade-me" clause. So while I understand that he wants to play for a winner, I think we can provide that for him in Philadelphia.
Amaro and Lee are clearly not on the same page right now, and the Phillies GM is making a big mistake by not trading the 34-year-old ace.
Lee has been on fire this year, going 8-2 with a 2.55 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP, despite getting just 3.57 runs of support per start this year. There is a market for Lee, but Amaro appears to be ignoring it.
Mike Axisa of CBS Sports reported that the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals have expressed interest in Lee, and at least one of those clubs has to be willing to make an interesting offer.
However, as Axisa also said, Lee's hefty contract will be weighing on the minds of those GMs interested in him and will limit the market:
The Phillies owe Lee roughly $17 million the rest of this year, and he's under contract for another $62.5 million through 2015 if his option for 2016 doesn't vest. If it does—he needs to throw 200 innings in 2015 or 400 total innings from 2014-2015 to lock it in—he's owed $77.5 million from 2014-2016. That's a lot of money for an aging pitcher who is showing at least small signs of decline. Now is as good a time as any to move him and kick-start a rebuild.
Despite the financial costs to bring in Lee, the benefit to a contender could outweigh the price.
With an ace like Lee, a team like the Red Sox or Cardinals would become the front-runner for the World Series. That could be worth an extra $40 million or so, depending on how much the Phillies kick in.
What's the benefit to the Phillies? They could bring in a few top prospects for their bona fide ace.
If Lee goes to the Orioles, top pitching prospects Dylan Bundy or Kevin Gausman might be part of the trade.
If the Red Sox pick up Lee, young pitchers such as Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes might be up for grabs.
If Lee is traded to the Cardinals, Lance Lynn might wind up in Philly, or Michael Wacha and Tyler Lyons could join the pitching staff.
Any team interested in Lee would have to put together a substantial package that would bolster Philadelphia's farm system and prepare the team for the future. Amaro's only choice is to rebuild the Phillies by exchanging Lee for young prospects.
What's the alternative? Building a team that is already 7.5 games out of a playoff spot around a 34-year-old pitcher who is declining? That's insane. While Lee might have two good years left, fresh young talent could help the Phillies for the next decade.
The Phillies have an aging roster that needs to be blown up, and the team should be trying to rebuild around young guns like outfielders Domonic Brown and Ben Revere and ace Cole Hamels, who is five years younger than Lee.
Lee could be the biggest prize on the trade market, and he would warrant two, three or even four talented prospects in return. If Amaro passes up the chance to rebuild the Phillies with youth, he would be making a big mistake.