House Of The Bluebird

Quick Thoughts on Cliff Lee and August Waivers

That pitcher in the above photo is Cliff Lee. You may have heard of him…he is a starting pitcher for the Phillies and oh yeah since 2008 he is second only to Roy Halladay in cumulative Wins Above Replacement.

Thursday morning, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! tweeted out that the Philadeplhia Phillies have placed the very same Cliff Lee on waivers.

In Blue Jays Twitterdom this small move has created quite the reaction and I’d like to explain a couple of reasons why not to be so excited or adamant about the Blue Jays acquiring Cliff Lee or any player that is placed on waivers in the month of August for that matter.

First off in the month of August the type of waivers that all players are placed on are revocable trade waivers. What does this mean exactly? Well if Team A puts a player on revocable trade waivers and Team B claims that player, Team A then has 3 options.

Option No. 1, Team A can allow Team B to claim the player, in which case it would be no different than any other waiver claim at any other point in the season. Option No. 2, Team A can essentially take the player off of waivers as if nothing had ever had happened. Option No. 3, Team A can take the player off of waivers and then try to trade that player, but the catch is that they can only trade that player to the team who claimed him. If multiple claims were made on the same player then the team with the worst record in the same league (AL/NL) as the team who placed the player on waivers is the only team that the player can be traded to. For more info you can check out Jayson Stark’s article on the August waiver rules here.

So this presents a few potential obstacles in the Blue Jays path to acquiring Cliff Lee.

For one thing Cliff Lee is currently 33 years old and is owed a boat load of money going forward. For the rest of the 2012 MLB season Lee is owed ~$8 million. Between 2013 and 2015 Cliff Lee will make $25 million per year and his contract includes a $27.5 million vesting option for 2016. That all comes to a potential total of $110.5 million and that is for Cliff Lee’s ages 34-37 seasons.

Let’s take a closer look at that…

Year Cliff Lee’s Salary WAR Needed
2013 $25 million 5
2014 $25 million 4.8
2015 $25 million 4.5
Total $75 million 14.3
2016 $27.5 million 4.8
Total $102.5 million 19.1

That 19.1 WAR that Cliff Lee would need to justify the money he would be given is through his age 34-37 seasons. In the history of baseball only 7 pitchers have ever achieved above a 19.1 WAR through their age 34-37 seasons.

If you take Cliff Lee’s WAR and prorate it over Cliff Lee’s usual 230 innings it is ~5 WAR. Then if you assume the usual 0.5 WAR per season decrease after a player’s age 30 season then it gets you to a total of 13.5 WAR after 3 seasons, which is 0.8 WAR away from what is needed in order to achieve proper value. However if the option vests then it becomes a total of 17 WAR after 4 seasons, which is 2.1 WAR away from what is needed in order to achieve proper value.

In totality, when regular decline is assumed the back end of the Cliff Lee contract, like most other back ends of contracts, looks to provide the team with less value then they are paying for.

Of course it isn’t a terrible loss in value and it could be argued that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, but once you factor in other variables such as the possibility for injury of an older pitcher it doesn’t seem like it is worth it.

Another potential obstacle is that as of August 2nd the Blue Jays would be the 20th team in the waiver order for Cliff Lee. That means that there is 19 other teams that could and would (Dodgers?) make a claim on the Cliff Lee.

One final obstacle is that even if the Blue Jays were awarded the waiver claim on Cliff Lee, the Phillies could simply take him off waivers and then attempt to trade Cliff Lee. Beyond that, before the trade deadline it didn’t seem like the Phillies were at all considering taking on any of Lee’s salary, yet they were still looking for big name prospects in return. Not a combination AA would likely embark on.

One last thing, which isn’t really an obstacle, but more of a point is that many knowledgeable people don’t expect anyone to claim Cliff Lee. In his initial tweet Jeff Passan didn’t expect anyone to claim Cliff Lee and in his report on MLBTR Ben Nicholson-Smith didn’t expect anyone to claim Cliff Lee. Mainly because whoever would make a claim is taking on a big contract in return.

Beyond that, the fact that the Phillies placed Cliff Lee on trade waivers isn’t at all significant. In fact last year Alex Anthopoulos told the media that it was club policy to place every player on waivers at the beginning of August. It isn’t an uncommon practice among other teams either…lots of teams do it. It is a good way to gauge potential trade interest and if the player makes it through waivers then they can be traded in August if needed. If the player doesn’t make it through waivers then the team can be taken off waivers…no harm, no foul.

Quick Thoughts on Cliff Lee and August Waivers
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