Ah, the month of August, a time of anxiety for both organizations, who are gauging their final transactions to shore up their teams for a postseason run, and also the players, whom can be the targets of a roller coaster ride known as waivers.
The big fish that can be had as of today is Phillies ace Cliff Lee, who was one of many players to be placed into the waiver pool as other franchises ponder a claim, which would grant them a 48-hour window to negotiate a trade, or simply to block a division rival from improving.
Could the Dodgers use Lee?
Can they afford him?
Yes they can.
So with two yes’s, does that automatically mean that the Dodgers should look into claiming Lee to bolster their rotation?
Let’s find out.
Lee, 33, is 2-6 with a 3.73 ERA, numbers which are actually quite underrated given a look at his career:
The table above demonstrates that he isn’t too far off on his production, actually striking out more batters in these last two seasons, than in the previous four. His walk rate is nothing worse than the usual, with his 2010 campaign actually sticking out as quite the aberration.
Do keep this in mind though, the home run rate will come down majorly while pitching in Dodger Stadium, where Lee has been a master of the Dodgers’ bats. Don’t salivate too much at this stat:
Overall against the Dodgers, Lee is 2-1 with a 0.95 in five career starts. What better candidate than Clifton than to modify the quote: If you can’t beat them, join them, instead changing it to grab them, making reference to the intimidating and over-powering lefty.
His contract is what holds any sort of transaction back, exemplifying the Phillies’ undoing as they scramble to re-build their team.
Here is a breakdown of what Lee is owed:
- 2012: $21.5 million
- 2013-2015: $25 million
- 2016: *$27.5 million
Lee has a vesting option for $27.5 million, with a $12.5 million buyout. His option becomes guaranteed if he pitches 200.0 IP in 2015, or 400.0 combined IP in 2014-15.
Do the Dodgers really want to be responsible for such a contract that will take Lee to age 36, and perhaps even 37. Fans (and perhaps other organizations) are still unknown to the true number that represents the ultimate payroll of the Dodgers. If the pockets are truly as deep as has been described by Mark Walter, it’s without a doubt that Lee should be acquired.
However, should this transaction interrupt the eventual building plan for a championship-caliber team, then please pass. Will the Dodgers struggle to re-sign Clayton Kershaw or Hanley Ramirez in the future? Can they plug-in holes where they might present themselves?
Those are two of the most obvious questions that this waiver deal brings about.
Fangraphs rates Lee’s value this season at $12 million, $18 million less than the average of an estimated value of $30 million over the last four seasons, which would justify any acquisition the Dodgers could make.
How about a look at the value of Lee’s pitches since 2007:
My how that cutter has fallen, but boy how it could vastly improve itself at Dodger Stadium as Lee mows down the opposition with ease. His changeup is the best it has been in his career, and must I say yet again, will be even better under the lights of Chavez Ravine. His fastball has completed eluded him, but as we are about to see in our next table, it’s not his velocity, which is the highest of his career, averaging at 91.6 MPH.
The loss of the ability to use the slider with ease can be attributed to the loss of Lee’s production. His pitches have become more hittable, and the worry becomes that at as his contract progresses, his pitch effectivity will decrease.
Lee’s injury history shows nothing overly serious, only missing time with strains over the years, sitting out 52 games in 2003, and only a combined 65 since then. Thus, health isn’t too big of a concern for the Dodgers here.
What Lee does though is he brings it.
At the very worst, the Dodgers wind up with a pitcher that carries an ERA of 4.00 at the end of his contract, but they can sit him to counteract with his option. With the money that ownership has brought forth, this should be viewed as the free agent signing of the summer, yes summer, not winter, because it’s happening right now.
I’ll leave you with the most important statistic yet: the postseason success of Cliff Lee. In three years and seven series, Lee is 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA. But bear in mind that he has regressed a little towards the tail end of his resume. Take a look:
- First eight starts: 7-0, 1.26 ERA
- Last three: 0-3, 7.33 ERA
Take your pick. The Dodgers could enter the playoffs with a rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Chris Capuano. But they don’t have to. With a waiver claim of Lee, he slots in behind Kershaw, and in front of Billingsley, effectively making life tough for opposing teams in a shortened series.
After all, Dodger fans could begin complaining should the team not win a World Series again, and it’s a familiar argument, one of how the Dodgers did not seek an upgrade for the rotation.
Why leave Stephen Fife in the rotation? Perhaps we are about to find out. The Dodgers had enough discussion with the Phillies over Shane Victorino, and very well could have left behind the framework of a deal for Lee after they claim him on waivers.
For now though, make a claim for Cliff Lee, you won’t regret it.