So here it is the last week of January, and the Phillies still have in their employ veteran starting pitcher Jon Lieber. In about eight months, Lieber went from the team's ace to their #6 starter, passed by two former rotation mates and three imports as he turned in a disappointing 9-11, 4.93 campaign in 2006 marred by a terrible start (0-4, 7.04 in April) and a subsequent injury.
But in a Nicole Richie-thin pitching market, it's a surprise that the Phils haven't yet found a taker. Lieber will turn 37 as of April 2, and he's owed $7.5 million for 2007, his final season under contract. On the other hand, he went 5-3, 3.38 over the last two months of 2006, and the year before he won 17 games while throwing 218 innings. In a world where Jason Marquis (6.02 ERA in 2006) gets the same three year, $21 million deal Lieber signed with the Phils in December 2004, big Jon should have some value. After the jump, we present five prospective deals in which the Phillies send Lieber to a team that needs a starter, and can meet Pat Gillick's wish for a setup reliever and/or a left-handed hitting outfielder.
Lieber to the Chicago Cubs for OF Jacque Jones
The Cubs actually have a full rotation, but only in the sense that the Phillies did a year ago at this time--they're counting on Mark Prior to stay healthy, the aforementioned Marquis to bounce back from a nightmare 2006, and Rich Hill to thrive in his sophomore season. Lieber, who won 20 games for the Cubs in 2000, would provide a large measure of security for Lou Piniella, who likey the veteran pitchers. Jones, meanwhile, seems to be expendable in a Cubs outfield featuring Matt Murton, Alfonso Soriano and Cliff Floyd. As a super-sub who could fill in for Burrell, Rowand and Victorino to take 450 at-bats against righties--whom he hit to the tune of .303/.358/.528 last season--Jones could be a big contributor.
Lieber to the Washington Nationals for OF Ryan Church
Nobody needs starting pitching more than Jim Bowden's Nats, who are hoping to avoid 100 losses with a rotation comprised of perennial injury risk John Patterson and a lot of guys set to earn the big-league minimum. Church may or may not be an ignorant cretin, but he's a lefty power bat with a great walk rate going into his age-27 season. The deal makes a lot of sense for both teams, though the Phils probably would have to pick up some of Lieber's $7.5 million payroll.
Lieber to the Minnesota Twins for RP Juan Rincon
Right now, the Twins are preparing to defend their AL Central title with a rotation of Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, ex-Phillie Carlos Silva, and some amalgam of recently awful Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson and young arms Boof Bonser, Matt Garza, and Scott Baker. They need innings, and the young guys could use another stabilizing vet. As thin as Minnesota is in the rotation, though, they're that deep in the bullpen: right now, shutdown closer Joe Nathan has perhaps the AL's best setup core with Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek, and Juan Rincon. Again, the Phils would have to pick up some of Lieber's salary, but any of those three--and Rincon is the most likely candidate--would answer the team's setup question, and could slot in as the "backup closer" Pat Gillick still wants.
Lieber and a second player to the St. Louis Cardinals for OF Chris Duncan
At first blush, it seems unlikely that the defending world champs would trade a guy who nearly slugged .600 (.589) at age 25 for an aging starter with conditioning issues. But Duncan's 2006 campaign was way out of line with his pro career to that point (career .262/.341/.412 in seven minor league seasons), and his defense is reputedly awful. Meanwhile, Duncan's pitching coach father would seem to be the ideal guide to keeping Lieber on track, and his presence would allow the Cards to leave one of erstwhile relievers Adam Wainwright and Brad Thompson in the bullpen. The Phils probably would need to sweeten their side of this deal with a role player like Chris Roberson at least, but it could happen.
Lieber to the Yankees for RP Kyle Farnsworth
Everybody admires the Yankees' newfound willingness to go with unproven kids at the back of their rotation, but nobody really believes that Joe Torre will start the season with some combination of Kei Igawa, Jeff Karstens, and Philip Hughes in the back of his rotation. (No, I don't see Carl Pavano having a role here; he'll likely strain his glaven in the second week of March, and spend the next six months rehabbing.) Lieber has pitched well for Torre in the past, and with Scott Proctor and newly acquired Luis Vizcaino on hand, Farnsworth is expendable for the Yanks.