Valuing a Cliff Lee trade

Last night emerged rumors that the Mariners were in talks with the Twins to send Cliff Lee to the Twin Cities for prospects Aaron Hicks and Wilson Ramos. While the reports saying this was a done deal proved to be false, it is clear the Twins are serious in their attempts to acquire the ace left-hander. So lets breakdown any possible Cliff Lee deal to the teams rumored to be in the sweepstakes.

Using research done by Victor Wang, Erik Manning created the below chart to show the estimate future net value provided by prospects:

Top 10 hitting prospects $36.5M
Top 11-25 hitters $25.1
Top 26-50 hitters $23.4
Top 51-75 hitters $14.2
Top 76-100 hitters $12.5
Top 10 pitching prospects $15.2
Top 11-25 pitchers $15.9
Top 26-50 pitchers $15.9
Top 51-75 pitchers $12.1
Top 76-100 pitchers $9.8
Grade B pitchers (as graded by Sickels) $7.3
Grade B hitters $5.5
Grade C pitchers 22 or younger $2.1
Grade C pitchers 23 or older $1.5
Grade C hitters 22 or younger $0.7
Grade C hitters 23 or older $0.5

That chart will be the basis for determining the fair value each team would need to give up to trade for Cliff Lee. First though, let’s figure out the value of Cliff Lee, assuming whatever team he is traded to becomes that division or league’s favorite to reach the World Series.

Cliff Lee trade value

Cliff was projected to earn $9mil this season according to Cot’s Contracts. With the season halfway through, whichever team he is traded to will only pick up half of that. So he’s owed about $4.5mil more this season. In 103 innings thus far, Cliff has a 2.22 FIP and 4.0 WAR. FG rest of season projections have him with a 3.08 FIP over 105 innings. Without doing exact calculations, if Lee pitches in line with his projections, he should post a 3.0 WAR. Using a rough estimate to determine the value per win (according to FG, he has been worth $16mil thus. Divide that by his 4.0 WAR and you get $4mil per WAR) Cliff Lee should be worth $12mil the rest of the regular season (3.0 WAR x $4mil per WAR). But we’re not done there. Whatever team lands Lee will also be landing two first round picks in the 2011 draft, as Lee is a type A free agent. According to Victor Wang’s research, a first round pick is worth about $5mil. So as it stands now, Cliff Lee is worth about $22mil. However, all marginal win value is not created equal. Lee will be going to a team that is in a heated divisional race, so those three wins he is projected to give a team down the stretch are even more important, meaning that each individual win he adds is worth more than $4mil to that club. Then factor in the high leverage postseason innings he would throw and the revenue he would generate through postseason tickets and merchandise, and his value would go up more. So let’s say that each WAR Lee adds to his new team is worth $5mil. Let’s also say he adds an additional WAR in the postseason to go along with the 3.0 he is projected to have in the regular season. Lee would now be worth $20mil (4 WAR x $5mil per WAR) plus the $10mil from the two draft picks, giving Lee a net worth of $30mil. However, the team that acquires him would have to pay the $4.5mil left on his salary, so that lowers his net value to $25.5mil. A hefty price, but certainly one a team can afford if they have plans to win the World Series in 2010.

Now that we know Lee’s current value, let’s see how some generic packages would stack up:

  • Stud hitting prospect would be more than enough for Lee
  • A top twenty five hitting prospect would be just about enough for Lee
  • A top 50 hitting prospect + a tiny piece such as a B or C level prospect would be fair value
  • Two top fifty pitching prospects would be more than enough for Lee
  • A top fifty pitching prospect and a top fifty hitting prospect would also be enough value to get Lee

Minnesota Twins

Right now it appears as if the Twins are the favorites to land Lee. If this happens I might stop watching baseball this season, because even if the Yanks finish the year ten wins better than Minny, they are not beating Lee/Liriano in a five game series. The two prospects Minny is rumored to be giving up are Aaron Hicks, an outfielder in A, and Wilson Ramos, a catcher in AAA. Aaron Hicks is a toolsy player with loads of potential but is still a couple seasons away and Ramos is a ML ready catcher who already has some PA in the majors this season. Before the season, Hicks was rated as the Twins best prospect, the nineteenth best prospect in baseball by BA and the twenty-sixth best prospect by BP. Some mid-season rankings have him falling down the rankings, below fellow Twins prospect Kyle Gibson. To be safe, lets consider Hicks a top 26-50 hitter. That means he is worth $23.4mil. Before the season, Wilson Ramos was considered the Twins second best prospect, the fifty-eighth best prospect in baseball according to BA, and sixty-fifth best according to BP. However, he’s had a poor showing in 2010, so let’s consider him a top 75-100 hitting prospect. He would be worth $12.5mil.

Clearly, the Mariners would be getting good value in return for Cliff Lee. Lee is worth about $26mil and they would be getting about $36mil of value in return. So, yeah, um, I’m really hoping this deal falls through because otherwise I will be a very angry person. As for the Twins- they may be giving up a lot for a rental, but Lee gives them a lethal rotation that could give Minnesota it’s first World Series trophy since 1991.

New York Yankees

Although it makes more sense for the Yankees to go after Lee in the off-season because 1)They wouldn’t have to give up prospects and 2)There is no space for him in the rotation unless Javier Vazquez is traded, you can’t count them out of any deal, especially with rumors that they are starting to get serious about trade talks. The most obvious player Seattle would want is top Yankee prospect, Jesus Montero, a consensus top five prospect in baseball. Top ten hitting prospects provide $36.5mil in value, so giving up Montero is a little excessive from the Yankees point of view, unless they receive additional pieces, such as bench or bullpen relief.

Of all the contenders for Lee, the Yankees need Lee the least, driving down his marginal win value for the Yankees. As a result, the Yankees should not even think of offering Montero for Lee. Sure, they are the current World Series favorites and landing Lee would make them the champs on paper, but it’s not worth giving up Montero when you can win the World Series without Lee AND still sign him come winter. Acquiring Lee means trading Vazquez, or demoting Vazquez or Phil Hughes to the bullpen, which isn’t happening. Moreover, the marginal win value of Lee over Hughes or Vazquez is very small.

A better offer would include another Yankees catching prospect, Austin Romine. He was rated the eighty-sixth best prospect in baseball by BA before the season, and has only gone up after his very solid first half at the AA level. In fact, Frank Piliere of Fanhouse has Romine as the fifteenth best prospect in baseball in his updated rankings. While I think that drastic move up the board is extreme, I believe it’s safe to label Romine as a top 51-75 hitting prospect, making him worth $14.2mil. Another prospect that could be dealt is Andrew Brackman. After a terrible 2009 campaign that left many labeling him a bust, Brackman has returned with vengeance in 2010, and has moved up the ladder to AA. He always had top prospect potential and may finally be realizing it. He should be, at least, a top 76-100 best pitching prospect. That would mean his value is $9.8mil. This package comes out to about $24mil. Obviously, it doesn’t top Minny’s offer, but New York could always add another B level prospect in Zach McCallister or David Phelps to make themselves an interesting trade partner for Seattle.

Tampa Bay Rays

According to Peter Gammons (so take it or leave it considering the source) there are talks of a BJ Upton to Seattle for Cliff Lee trade. These rumors sound far-fetched but are worth addressing. Upton is only making $3mil this season, and would be under team control through 2012, with expected raises in salary from arbitration. According to Rally’s WAR, Upton will finish with a 3.9 WAR in 2010, and his FG WAR is currently 1.2. So let’s say Upton will be worth 2 WAR going forward in 2010. That’s about $8mil and then minus the $1.5mil Seattle has to pay him and he’d be worth $6.5mil. Now, this is going to be poor analysis, but without any calculations, lets assume BJ Upton will be worth, on average, 3 WAR per season in 2011 and 2012. With win values expected to go up because of inflation, lets say Upton is worth a total of $26mil in 2011 and 2012 combined. I may be getting this wrong from studies I’ve read, but in his next arbitration case, lets say Upton sees a salary increase of 60% and then 80% in 2012. That means his 2011 salary will be $4.8mil and his 2012 salary will be $8.6mil. Take that away from his projected $26 WAR value for those two seasons and his net value would be about $13mil. $13mil + $6.5mil = $19.5mil.

But this is a tricky scenario for Seattle. On the surface it looks like getting only Upton in return is not worth it. However, he is just 25 years old. When he was 22 and 23, he put up seasons of 4+ WAR so the potential is there. 2009 was not a strong season, but he still put up an average 2.1 WAR and looks like he will at least match that in 2010. He’s swinging more, especially on pitches outside the zone, and is making less contact. But if he can correct that, he will easily surpass the $26mil in value needed to make a Cliff Lee trade fair. It might just be worth the risk for Seattle.

As for Tampa, I would say its a no-brainer. They play in the hardest division in baseball, so the win or two Lee will give them over Upton over the rest of the reason could be the difference between October baseball or no October baseball. They will also get two draft picks and Desmond Jennings looks ready to step in Upton’s spot and not miss a beat.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers boast one of the deepest farm systems in baseball and have top prospects in Justin Smoak, Martin Perez, and Tanner Scheppers. Smoak through 262 PA has been a major disappointment, highlighted by his 81 wRC+. But he was a top ten hitting prospect prior to the season and smoked the ball in AAA. He would probably be worth the $36.5mil in the deal. So it’s unlikely Texas would give him up to acquire Lee, especially with Rich Harden and Derek Holland expected back in the rotation by the end of the month. Martin Perez is a top ten pitching prospect which is worth $15.2mil and Tanner Scheppers is a top 11-25 pitching prospect, which is worth $15.9 mil. Again, I doubt Texas gives up TWO highly talented arms for a Lee rental. Another potential package could center around Perez or Scheppers, along with ML ready or caliber players in Julio Borbon, Max Ramirez, or Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

In the end though, I doubt Seattle trades in the division to Texas. Texas has pieces to give up, but I doubt they want to give them up. Considering how good their prospects are, I believe they would rather be patient knowing they will be World Series contenders for the foreseeable future, rather than go all in for this season.

Philadelphia Phillies

The team that traded big Cliff Lee in the off-season may be trading for him again a year later. Outside Doc Halladay, the Phillies staff has been underwhelming and the Phillies playoff chances are growing thinner by the day. The Phillies top prospect is stud Domonic Brown. The dood killed AA pitching and is killing AAA pitching at the moment. The Phillies have a crowded outfield, but he may force their hand to call him up sooner rather than later. Brown also creates an interesting scenario for Philly. Many believe Werth will leave via free agency after the season, opening up a spot for Brown. But by 2011, the Phillies window for winning the World Series will still be shrinking as key players like Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Ryan grow older and more injury prone. Will they cash in Brown for a chance to make their third consecutive World Series, or a keep a link to their future? I think they keep Brown. However, should they go all out for Lee, Brown will be fair value and then some for Lee.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals do not have a strong farm system or any ML players Seattle would want, which makes them a reach to land Lee. The only chance they have is to give up top prospect Shelby Miller. Miller is still quite a way from reaching the majors, but many lists have him as a top fifty prospect in all of baseball. By himself, he isn’t quite worth enough to match Lee’s value and the Cardinals don’t have too many worthwhile pieces to add. I don’t see the Mariners finding any deal with St. Louis worthwhile, which might just be fine with St. Louis.

New York Mets

The Mets have long been rumored to be in on the Lee sweepstakes, but with no specific rumors being mentioned. The Mets could give up Ike Davis, a current ML rookie with a 1.2 WAR in 289 PA. Will they want to give up a talented rookie hitter for a rental, that may or may not get them into the postseason? Probably not, especially since the value Davis will give them during his cost-controlled seasons will probably outnumber the value Lee will provide. On the farm the Mets have Jerry Mejia, who pitched out of the bullpen for the Mets this season and is in AA right now, back as a starting pitcher where he belongs. Mejia is a special talent and if we say he is a top 11-25 pitcher, he is worth $15.9mil. With Mejia, they could also throw in Wilmer Flores, a young shortstop already considered a top 100 prospect. Mejia and Flores could be enough value to acquire Lee, but compared to the packages of some other teams, this may not be enough.

Even though I believe Mejia will be a special pitcher, this is a deal New York should make. However, I don’t think Seattle will go for it because of other offers that  might be on the table.

Cincinnati Reds

Another long shot to acquire Lee, reports say the Reds want in on the sweepstakes, and would make a package centering around Yonder Alonso. Alonso was ranked the forty-fifth best prospect in the game by BA, but he hasn’t showed any real pop so far in the minors. He is a top 51-75 hitting prospect, so he is worth about $14.2mil. Along with Alonso, the Reds could also deal outfielder Clay Heisey, who has already been rumored in a trade for Carlos Marmol. Heisey has been hitting the ball well so far, but going forward should be average offensively and a little above average defensively. He should be worth about $6mil in a deal, so with him and Alonso the Reds still don’t have enough to get Lee. Throw in Travis Wood or Mike Maloney and then Seattle might be interested. Or a possible package could be Yonder Alonso and the Reds #1 prospect, Todd Frazier, but Cincinnati might be hesitant to trade their top two prospects.

Los Angeles Dodgers

LA don’t appear to be serious players for Lee, but they are a team that keeps popping up in rumors. A package of shortstop Dee Gordon- $14.2mil- and Chris Withrow- $15.9mil- could be enough to seal the deal for Seattle. Seattle might want more, but I think LA could be a serious dark horse candidate. I know they have financial issues, but $4.5mil isn’t much, and they have pieces to give up.


These figures aren’t exact and neither are the packages that have been rumored by sources, or speculated by me, but it gives a good estimate of what type of prospects are necessary to give up if your team wants to acquire Cliff Lee. Keep these estimates in mind when evaluating a future trade, or trade speculation in your own thoughts.

I seriously believe the Twins are the favorites because their offer is the one firm offer that has been confirmed, and it appears to the best offer available, with the Mariners receiving about $36mil in value, compared to around $25mil for Minnesota. The deal would be a no-brainer for both teams. The Mariners would get two top prospects, and the Twins would boost their World Series chances.

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2 Comments on “Valuing a Cliff Lee trade”

  1. Cliff Lee had another spectacular performance against the Yankees last night with 13 strikeouts. He is now 7-0 in his post-season career and an ERA just over 1. He is going to fetch a hefty price in the off-season and probably end up with the Yankees.

  2. Mary Reed Says:

    I thought you would be interested in our odds on the Cliff Lee and the Phillies. We have a prop on how many KO”s the Phillies staff will have this season.
    here’s the link:

    Feel free to email me back if you have any questions or would like an explanation of the odds.

    Thanks in Advance
    Mary Reed

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