LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — When you are a team that wins 73 games with a $160 million payroll and aging roster, all means for improvement must be considered. So when reports of trade rumors involving Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels surface, as they did Tuesday morning, they must come with a caveat.
There are no untouchables within the Phillies organization. The team will listen to offers for all players; how realistic they are is another discussion. Their current situation dictates that policy.
The Phillies have no motivation to immediately trade Lee or Hamels. They both remain among the game's top pitchers. They both anchor a rotation that is weak behind them, and is a stated priority for Ruben Amaro Jr. They both have aged well, avoiding major injury.
Both Lee and Hamels have limited no-trade clauses.
As they have indicated in the past, the Phillies are reluctant to pay a player to perform for someone else. There are exceptions, but Lee and Hamels would not be among them. For example, if a team expressed strong interest in Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies may assume some of his remaining $26 million because they want rid of him. The Phillies must be enticed to trade Lee or Hamels.
The last instance of the Phillies eating a significant amount of salary in a trade was 2005 when Jim Thome was dealt to Chicago.
Hamels is owed five years and $118.5 million with an option. Lee is signed for two years and $62.5 million with a vesting option. If another team decides those players, under those terms, are worth surrendering significant talent for, then the Phillies will listen.
Is it realistic to think a team would do that? The current price for pitching on the free-agent market is prohibitive. The current demand for pitching across baseball is high.
Say a team is weighing a $90 million offer to Ervin Santana, a pitcher with a worse track record and similar age to Hamels. That team could decide the difference between Ervin Santana and Cole Hamels is significant enough to include top talent while assuming his entire salary.
That is just one hypothetical scenario, and one reason why the Phillies will consider everything. Under the circumstances, they must.