Inbox: Lee deals, now and then
MLB.com's Castrovince answers Tribe fans' questions
Christmas week is upon us, and my house is suitably spruced up for the occasion.While I don't have an actual Christmas tree, I clipped a booklight to a two-foot fern, and it's Rockefeller Center-worthy. Outside, I've strung up some lights, and the resulting 35-bulb display would surely illuminate my neighborhood and inspire awe, if I could only remember to plug it in once in a while. But the real kicker is the "Yule Log" station on my cable box, which provides a 24-hour showing of a fireplace in high-definition brilliance, broadcast over a soundtrack of holiday hits. My only advice is to not mistake this for an actual fire, as attempts to make smores will badly damage your plasma screen. Here's wishing everybody a happy holiday season. May your feats of strength be many and your aired grievances be few. The Inbox will continue in the New Year. But first, let's take one last look at some '09 submissions. When the Indians traded Cliff Lee to the Phillies in July, we were told Kyle Drabek was "untouchable." But the Blue Jays were able to pry him loose from the Phillies in the Roy Halladay trade. I thought the Indians' returns in the Lee trade were terrible in July, and I feel even worse about them now. Did our front office get duped?
-- Adam D., Westlake, Ohio I suppose that's one way to look at it, Adam, but your analysis lacks context. For starters, the Phillies, like most teams, view Halladay as a superior pitcher to Lee. While that's not meant to take anything away from what Lee accomplished in '08 or in the postseason this year, Halladay has had more sustained success at this level, to go with better raw stuff. Furthermore, when the Phillies acquired Lee, they were acquiring one year and two months of contractual control of him. In their talks with the Jays, the Phillies stipulated that they must be able to work out a contract extension with Halladay (who, like Lee, was eligible for free agency after 2010) before pulling the trigger on any deal, and they were able to sign him to a three-year, $60 million extension through 2013. The Jays also contributed $6 million toward Halladay's $15.75 million contract for 2010, making his salary for next season comparable to Lee's $9 million option. In short, four years of Halladay is worth more than one year and two months of Lee. That's why a top-tier prospect like Drabek was involved in the deal. When evaluating the Lee trade years from now, Tribe fans are encouraged to compare what the Phillies gave up for him in July 2009 and what the Mariners gave up to get Lee in that four-team trade last week. That's the more apt comparison. It is, however, way too early to make it now, because, to most of us, these are just names on paper at present. We do know that the Indians, in acquiring Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp, received three players at the Triple-A level (hence, close to the big leagues). Knapp is far away from the Majors, particularly after having shoulder surgery this fall. The Phillies received right-handers Phillippe Aumont and Juan Ramirez and outfielder Tyson Gillies. Of those three, Aumont is the only one to have reached Double-A so far.
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I could go deeper into this and assign numerical rankings to each of the prospects listed above, and we could use those rankings as a means of evaluating who got the best deal. But when it comes to evaluating such prospect hauls, there's no substitute for time. Had the Indians, for instance, traded Adam Miller three years ago, fans would have blown a gasket. In the present tense, injury troubles have prevented Miller from making a single appearance in the big leagues, and the Indians wouldn't get much in return for him.When dealing with unproven commodities, you just never know. What possible value to the Tribe can Miller have? I am constantly frustrated that this once-great prospect, who has proven to be nothing but a liability, is getting paid but hasn't come through.
-- Wes W., Oviedo, Fla.
Miller did everything in his power to try to work his way back from a bizarre finger predicament, including an attempt to completely reinvent his delivery last spring, when the finger wouldn't bend. I'm sure the past two years have been emotionally difficult ones for Miller, who certainly had the raw talent to ascend to the Majors by now. The Indians finally determined Miller is no longer worthy of a 40-man roster spot. But signing Miller to a (financially negligible) Minor League contract and allowing him to continue trying to rehab his way back to the mound was the right thing to do. I doubt it's worth getting upset about. With Rafael Perez carving up hitters in the Dominican Winter League (one earned run and 14 hits allowed in 27 innings) as a starter right now, is it possible he could be used as a starter for the 2010 season?
-- James M., Lakewood, Ohio Even if the Indians were entertaining that notion, they feel they wouldn't be able to give Perez a full starter's workload (say, 200 innings) without endangering his health. After all, he pitched just 69 2/3 innings between the Majors and Minors this year. The Indians wanted Perez to start in winter ball because they felt that would be the best way to get him guaranteed innings to work on his mechanics. They envisioned him getting two or three innings per start, but, in reality, Perez has pitched 27 innings over six appearances, including five starts. While the Indians won't start Perez in 2010, they certainly hope the confidence he's gaining in the Dominican right now will carry into a setup role in their bullpen. The last answer in your previous Inbox troubles me, i.e. that the Indians could have kept Lee and Victor Martinez for 2010 but would have lost both to free agency and "had glaring holes in their farm system." I thought the rebuild in 2002-03 was meant to fill those holes, and combined with sound scouting and development, position the Tribe for much future success. I always expected the team to lose high-cost free agents (like CC Sabathia and Lee), but I also thought talent in the Minors would offer capable replacements, albeit developing ones.
-- Larry S., Detroit I'd say your frustration is understandable, Larry. The trades of Lee and Martinez were, in my eyes, justifiable, given the state of the organization. But it's the way the Indians got to that point that is the bigger concern. Fans here love to complain about ownership not spending money, but the fact of the matter is that the Dolans did make significant, long-term investments into players deemed "core" by the front office. Mistakes were made in some of those declarations, and mistakes were also made in the Draft, where the Indians failed to reel in high-impact players. While the initial rebuild you reference did lead the Indians to the doorstep of the playoffs in 2005 and the doorstep of the World Series in 2007, fans certainly expected a longer run of contention to come out of it. In a session with reporters this summer, however, team president Paul Dolan said the realities of baseball's financial structure must lead teams in this market size to temper their expectations. "Every four or five years, if we can have a shot at the World Series and compete for the playoffs like we did in '05, that's as good as it gets, and that reflects well on our personnel," Dolan said. "That said, we believe we've had the talent the last two years, and we haven't gotten it done, and we need to understand why. And we'll make the changes we need to make." Those changes came when Eric Wedge and his coaching staff were dismissed. The Indians also made some changes in their Latin American operations and their Pacific Rim scouting. It's also worth noting that Brad Grant took over the task of overseeing the amateur Draft after the 2007 season. As is the case with evaluating prospects, it's too early to judge the effects of that move. Is there any chance the Indians will get back either player they lost in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft?
-- Dennis M., Sierra Vista, Ariz. No. Players taken in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 don't have to stick on a certain roster all season and therefore don't have to be offered back to their former club. But that's a moot point in this case, as both players the Indians lost in the Minors portion this year -- Double-A left-handers Anillins Martinez and Matt Meyer -- probably would have been released by the club in Spring Training. There is, however, a good chance the Indians will get left-hander Chuck Lofgren back. The Brewers are going to try to turn him into a situational lefty reliever, but they'll have a lot of competition in their bullpen. And finally... As a long-time Indians fan, this offseason has been devoid of moves and news in regards to players. Because it looks to continue until Spring Training, can you describe to us the can Mark Shapiro is kicking around? What color is it? Does it still have its paper label? What were its contents prior to being emptied?
-- Sam, Canada I'd love to, Sam. But as a way of giving back during the holiday season, I believe the can has been donated to the Cleveland Foodbank.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.