On Tuesday morning, the day after Cliff Lee's "audition" against the San Francisco Giants was over, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick tweeted out the nine teams to which Lee could not block a trade.
It's an interesting list of teams, consisting either of teams that are non-contenders, teams with historically low payrolls, or teams from the National League East.
That leaves the Braves and the Nationals, two NL East rivals, each of whom could use a starter like Lee to improve their rotation. The need for both these teams isn't as great as it is for others, and neither would be a likely landing spot, even if they were from outside the division. However, it wouldn't be crazy for either team to inquire about Lee.
Still, the inclusion of all four NL East teams on Lee's "Yes-Trade List" got me wondering. Would the Phillies consider trading Lee, or a player of his stature, to a team within their own division?
Traditionally, general managers have tried to avoid this. Sure, teams within the division will make minor moves with each other, but rarely is a marquee name traded. And the Phillies, for one, do not have a long history of making even minor deals with teams inside the NL East.
For this exercise, I went to Baseball Reference and looked at all Phils trades dating back to March of 1998. That was when Ed Wade replaced Lee Thomas as general manager of the team. Since March of 1998, the Phillies have made eight trades within the division.
|Date||Team||Phils Acquire||Phils trade|
|12/20/2002||Braves||Kevin Millwood||Johnny Estrada|
|7/12/2000||Braves||Bruce Chen & Jimmy Osting||Andy Ashby|
|7/27/2001||Mets||Dennis Cook & Turk Wendell||Bruce Chen|
|7/23/2001||Mets||Todd Pratt||Gary Bennett|
|5/14/2005||Nats||Endy Chavez||Marlon Byrd|
That's the list, folks. Eight trades in 16 years. Obviously, the acquisition of Kevin Millwood was a huge trade between the Phils and Braves (a trade which carried with it some special circumstances), and the Phillies did a flurry of deadline deals with the Mets for Dennis Cook, Turk Wendell and Todd Pratt, back in 2001.
However, the biggest name the Phils traded AWAY since 1998 to a division rival is... Andy Ashby. Yes, that's right, THE ANDY ASHBY.
Of course, if you go back a bit further, you find the 1989 Juan Samuel-for-Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell deal, the 1984 deal that sent Ryne Sandberg to the Cubs, and the 1991 trade with Chicago that brought Mitch Williams into the fold. In 1997 the Phils sent a fading Darren Daulton to the Florida Marlins for the immortal Bill McMillon. The Phils and Mets also hooked up on minor deals that saw Rico Brogna come to Philly and, in the way back machine, Tug McGraw in 1974.
Oh yeah, and in 1972, the Phillies acquired a guy named Steve Carlton for Rick Wise from St. Louis, a division rival at the time. Now you can see why some teams don't like trading within the division.
But even with that extended history, the only players the Phils traded AWAY in the last 16 years were Samuel and Daulton, neither of whom were really impact players anymore.
I'm not saying trades within the division never happen. Of course they do. But it is rare that a deal for a marquee player, one who is under contract for multiple seasons, is dealt within the division. And the reason is obvious.
Once you've traded that player, you don't want that player to beat you repeatedly over the following years.
Granted, since 1998, the Phillies have mostly been buyers and not sellers, so we're kind of in uncharted territory here. But in the few times they've decided to sell off pieces, they have avoided doing so within the division.
In 2000, the Phillies traded Curt Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2003, they dealt Scott Rolen to the Cardinals. In 2005, they sent Jim Thome to the White Sox (although an American League team was required in this case, as Thome could no longer play first base). In 2006, they spun Bobby Abreu to the Yankees and David Bell to the Brewers. And in 2012, they sent Hunter Pence to the Giants and Shane Victorino to the Dodgers.
Do big trades happen within the division around all of baseball? Sure, but usually they are not for players with many years left on a deal. The Mariners traded Cliff Lee to the Rangers in 2010, however, Lee was set to become a free agent after the season, meaning Seattle knew they wouldn't have to face him over and over again, unless Texas re-signed him. Happily, for Phils fans, that didn't happen.
And I will submit, there are limits to this particular study. I did not tabulate all trades made since 1998, investigate to see how often all 30 MLB teams traded within their division and then compared that number to the Phils' number, mainly because that would have taken about two weeks to compile and I have a life to live.
But even without that information, it still seems clear that, since 1998 at least, the Phillies have never traded a player of Cliff Lee's, Cole Hamels', or Chase Utley's stature, to a division rival.
That doesn't necessarily mean general manager Ruben Amaro wouldn't do it now. Times are different, the team is in a different place with a different payroll and higher expectations. He likely wouldn't dismiss the idea out of hand, and one would imagine he would be fine with moving a player like A.J. Burnett, Antonio Bastardo or Marlon Byrd to an NL East team.
But in order for him to trade a marquee player with years left on their deal to a division rival, he would have to get a better haul back then he would elsewhere, or else be so desperate to move a bloated salary (Ryan Howard, for example) off his books, that he would be looking for any taker, anywhere.
There is probably more than one reason why Cliff Lee included all four of the Phils' NL East rivals on his "Yes-Trade List," but a major one is likely that big trades between division rivals just doesn't happen very often, and they happen even less for a big-name player with years left on his deal.
Sorry Nats and Braves fans. Lee likely isn't coming to join your crew anytime soon.